As I first came to know of Toni through ‘Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 3‘, his first impression was a lasting one. I can count at least on 50 different occasions showing that track specifically to friends (who were really never too keen on electronic music in general) that there’s a lot that can be done in the genre. While most just turn towards popular artists and whatever is blaring on the radio, it’s amazing what you can find with just a little research. Now, being a part of this community, I guess it eases the amount of sifting through unpleasant tracks because, by and large, this place is filled with talented musicians and amazing composers. We come here to hear new tunes but we stay for the wealth of knowledge that gets passed around. Now then, ladies and gentlemen, I present Toni Leys.
With a cover like that, you can tell at least one of two things.
Number #1: This guy knows his Genesis commercials.
Number #2: He likes the YM2612 soundchip (a lot).
Before reviewing the album, I wanted to sit down and ask Toni a few questions about his album:
Q: What did you use to create “Blast Processor”?
A: I used VGM Music Maker and DefleMask. They’re both chiptune oriented trackers, VGMMM is specifically designed to emulate the Sega Genesis sound chip (Yamaha YM2612) while DefleMask has a big engine that supports eight different systems including the YM2612.
Q: Were you familiar with VGM Music Maker and DefleMask before you started this album?
A: I’ve always loved the sound of the Sega Genesis since I was a kid and I had it and for years I didn’t really know that it was possible to not only imitate but to USE the Genesis chip to make music myself. That was until 2014 when I smashed my face against one guy in soundcloud: Robugaa. He uses VGMMM and when I found him, I could not believe what I was hearing. I decided to contact him to try to make him understand how AWESOME it was for me that he made that music happen and then he introduced me to VGMMM. Not long after that, we started making a few collabs together. After that Jredd, Dropbit, CosmoBG and Groovemaster303 started spawning in my face with their awesome Sega songs and I joined in the fun. You can find a playlist of my collabs with those guys here: http://soundcloud.com/tonileys/sets/sega-music-collabs-d-this-is-a.
I knew DefleMask after that but I really didn’t want to learn to use another program, but then I made the “Blast Processor Teaser” and it called the attention to Delek, he’s the creator of DefleMask and he’s from Argentina like me!
So we started talking and I decided to use DefleMask for the album too. I learned that it wasn’t that hard to adapt myself to the program since it is a classic styled tracker, and I also learned that it is a REALLY powerful program. You have eight system engines to use and you can link various instances of the program to play together. It really is a huge piece of software.
Q: What were your influences?
A: Well I have a huge battery of music styles and artists I love, so it’s safe to say there’s a lot of various influences. In “Blast Processor” you’ll find elements that resemble Genesis games like Sonic, Ristar, Aero Blasters, Dynamite Headdy, Contra Hard Corps, games from other consoles like the shmups made by Zuntata or Metal Slug; it’s along with unrelated game music like Jamiroquai, Yes, Dream Theater, Transatlantic, and (some will laugh hard at this) Mex Urtizberea and Alfredo Casero. And I’m for sure forgetting stuff that scrolled across my mind when I was working on it!
Q: How long did the whole process take?
A: Ah I started the first tracks at the beginning of 2015 but I didn’t really think about making an album. I worked intermittently on those tracks through the year and a few months back I started organizing all the stuff to give it the shape of an album.
Q: I saw that “Hit The Ground Running” was released as a single before the rest of the album, is that the track that just sparked the whole idea? Or was it already just a bunch of ideas put together?
A: At first there was darkness, ahem…I mean, a folder full of crappy stuff but then I polished two of those and had “Run From Your Soul” and “Piece Of Cake” mocked up. Then when I chose to make the album, I decided I had those two rock/progressive tracks and I needed something catchy and fun. So I came up with “Hit The Ground Running” and I decided to tease my fans with that one while I was preparing the album.
Q: When working with Jredd or swerdmurd, did you guys go back and forth with stems or tracker files? Or did they just develop their remixes entirely by ear?
A: They worked on their own, in fact they can search the cosmos and absorb the information to remake any song in the universe even if they don’t know them. Just for the record: I lent them the original files so they could break down and analyze it if they had any doubt, or if they wanted to use any part of it. Both of them ended up makin’ two great tracks from scratch based on what they heard in my album.
Q: Any shoutouts you’d like to give?
A: Well Michael Stamper did an INCREDIBLE job programming the ROM that comes with the album. He primarily does work in emulators or consoles with a flashcart; I still can’t believe that is a thing that a “non japanese-in-the-90s-programming-stuff-in-godknowswhat-system” person can do.
Another person that helped me with this is Julia Carranza aka Cherry:
She made that awesome artwork in less than a week and undoubtedly saved my bacon with that because I needed to release the thing and I had lost my artist! So, thanks a lot girl!
I want to thank Jredd and swerdmurd who made awesomeballz remixes for the album. They are walking the chiptune road by my side for many years and I’m really thankful and happy that I can call them my bros. They’re actually my Relay Bros, but that’s another story~.
Now really, those guys have some SERIOUS musical superpowers on them. <3
From the starting track, “They Come From Above” you can tell the album is gonna be filled with melodic substantiality. The starting arpeggios – clashing with the drum fills – give a sense of grand scale and scope of this project, when in reality it hasn’t even been 20 secs into the track yet. As it continues, the nostalgia widens and the textures become all too reminiscent of the composers before him that used the same chipset. Though the makeup is familiar, the foundation is fresh, clean, and pristine. As stated from the album description from Bandcamp, he used a combination of DefleMask and VGM Maker for the entirety of this album. I might just have to look into these programs.
For the next track, “Run From Your Soul”, Toni takes the tempo down just a tad, keeping just as much energy as the first. However, this one feels a lot more like he came up with a bassline first, and just developed the song around that. In contrast from the first, it feels like the arpeggio lead is more prevalent and the bassline follows a four on the floor format, much like one of my other favorites of Toni’s, “Player 2“. I really like how this one just feels like a jam session, as if in a digital realm, he figured out how to walk the bass.
I’m starting to sense a pattern with intros here but it’s unclear if it’s intentional or not, so bare with me. The first track was geared towards the high end and what gave it the push to continue was based on what the lead was doing. The second track, did the same but very much on the low end. Now, here we are with “Hit The Ground Running”, which feels percussion driven. Now while each of these tracks seem to be in the 125-130 bpm range, with regards to the composition, they are all unique in context of the album. Also, at 2:16, I knew I was right about point Number #1.
Oh my, bossa nova. As it’s one of my favorite genres in existence, “Procrastinator Elevator” aims to please a different crowd; it’s definitely a more relaxed one. Despite the title pretty much describing my life with an uneasy accuracy – and detailing pretty much how these reviews come to be – it’s really the unique gem of the album. The bell-ish solo starting at 1:44, is really the cherry topping on the whole track. Listening to the counter-melodies that appear at 1:15 and 2:27, I can honestly say there’s enough in this 3 minute track to keep me entertained for hours.
Now while this track doesn’t exactly bring up notions of delicious confections, “Piece of Cake”, certainly is a treat. Starting off with a sweet synth melody, it doesn’t take long for the FM bass to seep its way into the mix and get your toes tapping in tandem with the snare. Was this song just a piece of cake for him to write? Or was he just eating a lump of strawberry chocolate loaf and thought, “Hey, that’d be a great song title.” Some of these intricate drum fills (specifically at 1:57) are just excellently executed. “Procrastinator Elevator” already took 1st place in my heart, but this is a close 2nd.
Now, I’ve seen posts from Jredd every now and then, but I can’t say I’ve really sat down and listened to his whole Soundcloud lineup of tunes. Which is kinda odd, considering he was a writer here at ChipWIN. After hearing this, I regret not taking more of an interest. As one of two remixes on ‘Blast Processor’, “Hitting the Ground Running (Jredd’s Act 2)”, is a unique take on Toni’s original although some of the similar tones are used in both the original and the remix. Some cool sounds are brought in around 0:48 and on the whole, the drums are louder. Which…makes sense. As I stated in the paragraph above about the original, the song is already percussively driven. If you haven’t gotten a chance, check out Jredd’s material on his Soundcloud.
Like Jredd, I’ve only recently just heard of swerdmurd as well; it’s mostly because of a combination of Soundcloud and a little project called “Relay Bros“. Unlike Jredd, this is only track on the album that isn’t entirely about replicating, being influenced by, or utilizing FM in its entirety. It’s a mashup done in the style of (or at least sounds like) the 2A03 chipset; contrasts with the amount of YM2612 we’ve been hearing. It’s cool to hear the two songs redone like this because in some way, it demonstrates that as long as the music is good, no matter what style it’s redone in, it’ll still be every bit as enjoyable as the original.
I love the sound of FM basses. Their prowess and how much they usually kept the beat driving in the Genesis era, is probably why so many artists utilize frequency modulation nowadays. Of course, in today’s day in age, it can become way more complex but, the fond memories of games like Sonic and Vectorman stick with me simply because I could hear the familiar loops over and over, never getting tired of them. In the same vein that Jredd and swerdmurd remixed Toni’s music…my upbringing came from people who simply did the same for the games I loved. A few final words and then I’ll let you all enjoy the rest of your day: If you were ever a fan of those days at home chillin’ by the CRT TV playing an older console because you just got released from school learning some world history lesson where some person did something to spark a war or PERHAPS was just exhausted from watching some student/teacher argument because said student caused mischief with technology…you owe to yourself to check out this album. It’s undoubtedly one of the coolest – also grooviest – albums I’ve heard this year (though it was released in December last year). Close enough though right? Like, Comme—-wait, this isn’t YouTube. Just listen to the damn album, it’s awesome and so are you. \m/