Sabrepulse is, arguably, one of the greatest pioneers of chipmusic. Two of his earliest albums, 2005’s ‘Famicom Connection‘ and 2006’s ‘Chipbreak Wars‘, can be considered as two of the foundational pillars for the chipbreak subgenre. Over the years, Sabrepulse’s style shifted slowly to a more drum ‘n bass influenced vibe, and with the release of ‘First Crush‘ in 2011, a much more modern influence could be heard in his music. Now, with ‘Blood Eagle’, his first of two releases in a three-and-a-quarter year hiatus, Sabrepulse shows us yet again just how well he can adapt to the modern music scene while showcasing his roots as a chipmusician.
The album’s first track, ‘Here Is To Forever’, begins with some phenomenal synth work while chip chords ring out in the background. A kick comes in with perfect timing, and punchy snares coupled with the track’s optimistic melody follow. The combination of 2A03 square waves and incredible synthwork reminiscent of 80’s science fiction movie soundtracks give this track a beautiful, retro feel. ‘Addicted 2 Love’, the album’s fourth song, is another track with a bit of a nostalgic sense to it. Elements of house music can be heard throughout the song; the track’s rhythm and bassline are both minimalistic in nature, and the melody is catchy and simple, making for a highly memorable and extremely danceable track. A climb in tempo allows Sabrepulse to transition from a house vibe straight into a drum ‘n’ bass motif flawlessly, making for an incredible second half of an already amazing song.
For the most part, the rest of the album is more influenced by modern electronic music than that of yesteryear. The album’s namesake, ‘Blood Eagle’, is a hard-hitting electro anthem fused with those 8-bit voices we all know and love. An exciting build-up leads to one of the most impressive drops I’ve ever heard, fusing non-chip voices and exhibiting absolutely amazing use of LSDj’s WAV channel. Square waves take a backseat in ‘Blood Eagle’, letting the listener focus more on the rhythmic phrasings of its percussion and bassline.
Each track on ‘Blood Eagle’ shows off Sabrepulse’s incredible technical talent, but a truly prime example of his impressive musical technique is the album’s fifth track, ‘Flux’. The song features an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from pitch-shifted vocals and resounding hi-hats to the samplings of a marimba-like instrument. Fast note cuts and volume swells make for an incredible drop, and with the addition of note delays by the end of these heavier sections, ‘Flux’ proves itself to be a glitchy electro masterpiece.
Several songs on ‘Blood Eagle’ clearly show Sabrepulse’s love for the drum ‘n’ bass subgenre of electronic music, alongside his talent for producing such music. ‘Supernatural’ takes the listener on a journey through a fantastic soundscape filled to the brim with resonant chip voices and punchy snares. The vocal samplings in this track are of particular note; pitch-shifted samples from Katy Perry’s ‘E.T.’ are completely transformed, and the result is nothing but divine. Another of Sabrepulse’s tributes to DnB lies within ‘The Ghost That Haunts Us Both’. Chip elements are used sparingly during a few passages, but fit in perfectly with the rest of the voices. Breaks, emotional lyrics, and a soothing melody combine to make this song a hit, especially for fans of liquid drum ‘n’ bass.
‘Blood Eagle’ is definitely somewhat of a stylistic departure from the last decade’s chipmusic, but as the times change, Sabrepulse has always found a way to integrate chip instruments into modern music. My curiosity about this album led me to reach out to Sabrepulse, and as a result, we have for you a truly special treat. Without further ado, I present my enlightening interview with Sabrepulse!
Aydan Scott: How long did it take you to write ‘Blood Eagle’?
Sabrepulse: I actually had a full record almost ready to release in late 2013, but my laptop and backups were stolen and I lost nearly a year of work and some really great tunes. At first I attempted to recreate some of the lost tracks, but lost focus (and motivation) if I’m honest. I put the track ‘Blood Eagle’ out at the end of summer ’14 and wrote an EP around it, which grew into something a little over the course of 5-6 months.
A: What was your motivation behind the album?
S: At its simplest it’s a fun, chip-themed dance record. A lot of it is carefree and isn’t afraid to switch up genres or sensibilities – there’s a section in ‘Addicted 2 Love’, for example, which climbs from 128 bpm (beats per minute) to 174 bpm and back again. Then there are tracks towards the end which speak a lot deeper about me and the people in my life over the past few years. It’s me trying to portray that audibly but strike a balance without getting overly sentimental.
A: What different trackers, programs, and/or instruments did you use to write this album’s music?
S: LSDJ on the Game Boy was used for 90% of the chip stuff, with Plogue Chipsounds accounting for a few leads/arps here and there. I used a DIY Eurorack Modular and Arturia Microbrute for analog basses/leads & noise. Ableton Live 9 was used pretty exclusively to record everything in and arrange/mix the rest. I’m considering moving to a different DAW this year as the amount of crashes & conflicts I’ve had with Ableton has driven me up the wall. We have a love/hate relationship.
A: Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
S: (looks at phone) Right now it’s a heavy rotation of Trey Frey, Monodeer, Toriena, J3WEL, Galaxy Wolf, Fearofdark, Henry Homesweet, IAYD, 4mat, boaconstructor, [and] Wiklund for the chipstuff, with DnB from Nu:Tone, Etherwood, Champion, Booka Shade, Aeph, Fred V & Grafix and like a million other artists that don’t make music on Game Boys or computers. Music is awesome and everything can be inspirational. I’m mainly inspired by my amazing friends & people I meet on trips away.
A: Stylistically, your music has changed over the years from a more chipbreak-focused vibe in ‘Famicom Connection’, ‘Nintendokore’, and ‘Chipbreak Wars’ to a more drum ‘n’ bass and EDM-based sound in ‘Verao‘ and onward. Was there anything in particular that sparked this overall change, or was it a gradual process?
S: I’ve been writing music as Sabrepulse for a little over a decade now (whoa…) and the music I listen to, things I’m interested in, [and] books/movies I’ve seen have changed my tastes considerably. I’m still a fan of breakcore/chipbreak, but the fast paced/aggressive sound and hasty production methods haven’t appealed to me in a while. Drum and Bass/Liquid has always been on the forefront of what I listen to, go to clubs to see and love to make, even before I started out. It’s an important scene for me here in the UK and being able to write DnB even half as good as some of my favourite artists is what I strive for. ‘EDM’ on the other hand is a touchy subject – in the UK it’s always just been dance music/electronic music/whatever. House music and techno is something I’ve always wanted to try, and I think the marriage of those sounds with chip is something I’ve conveyed in an interesting way.
A: You’ve been a part of the chipscene almost since its inception, and you’ve always been a pioneer of it as well. Can you tell us a little bit about what the chipscene looked like nearly a decade ago?
S: In 2005 I remember downloading MP3s from the 8bitpeoples discography and dreaming of making my own stuff and performing it live. I learned how to put together songs like ‘Famicom Connection’ and ‘Dot Matrix Hero’ in Fruity Loops/FL Studio within a few months, and in May I played my first show supporting the metal band Bring Me The Horizon. I had no connection to anyone in the chip world outside of the internet, and there was absolutely no electronic scene in my hometown. This was before laptop gigs were de rigueur, and a skinny kid putting an Acer on a bar stool and blaring amen breaks & square waves through the local venue P.A. was incredibly strange and probably terrifying for even the most liberal music fans. I started to play more shows and pick up traction on Myspace, and through that and the forums met people like Bit Shifter, Anamanaguchi, FirebrandBoy, [and] Henry Homesweet. At the time it seemed like the chipscene was confined to Tokyo, New York, Stockholm – or just MicroMusic and a collection of people on the Yahoo boards who had a shared interest in LSDJ/8bitpeoples/chipmusic.
A: How do you feel about the current state of the chipscene?
S: It’s grown large – much larger than people who were doing it in the early 00’s could have seen. The live scene is so thriving it’s insane – bands like Anamanaguchi have blown up and a generation of people know what chipmusic is. Yearly festivals happen all over the world. In ten years all of the Blipfests happened – Eindbaas and Superbyte in Europe started – MAGFest, Square Sounds Tokyo/Australia – that would’ve been totally inconceivable back then. New artists are making music – doing technically incredible things with the hardware. I’m a relative newbie really, veteran demosceners were doing it a decade prior and are still able to play at shows and release new music to audiences today, that’s pretty amazing. I’m quite nostalgic and look back to the mid 00’s as being a ‘golden era’ with records like Bit Shifter’s ‘Information Chase‘, Anamanaguchi’s ‘Power Supply‘, USK’s ‘PicoPicoDisco‘ being in my all time top 10 – but as good as those records are, seriously – Trey Frey’s ‘Refresh‘, cTrix’s ‘A for Amiga‘, [and] 4mat’s ‘Decades‘ are some of the most accomplished collections of chipmusic ever published. I’m glad there was nothing that good back then because I would’ve given up.
A: Chipmusic is slowly making its way into mainstream media; names like Chipzel, Anamanaguchi, and Sabrepulse are becoming more commonly recognized. Do you think this trend will continue? Why or why not?
S: I’m really happy with the state of the scene today, I run a monthly chip night and a special bi-annual event here in London and the audiences for each just seem to grow and grow. I don’t think it’s ever going to attain mass-market appeal beyond what the most popular artists today have already achieved. Artists that can harness the crossover appeal of mixing chip with modern sounds helps, but eventually 8-bit music will fade into relative insignificance as a generation of kids with no reference or nostalgia to those consoles will look on it as a cute curio. Or maybe not? Maybe it’ll keep growing and people will find this article in ten years and laugh at me.
A: Overall, do you think that ‘Blood Eagle’ was a success? Is there anything you would want to change about the album now that it’s been out for some time?
S: I usually gauge the success of a record by the crowd reaction at a show, or by critique/discussion by other artists I respect. It’ll take some time before I’m able to assess both of those but I’m pretty positive. I think looking back, I’d add a few tracks or break the heavier tracks up a little – but there’s no regrets, only future records.
A: Can you tell us anything about what’s next for Sabrepulse?
S: At the end of February I’ll be releasing the ‘Blood Eagle’ remix album, with tracks from some really great chipmusicians and a few remixes/bonus tracks of my own. Live-wise – aside from the regular nights I host in London, I’ll be playing throughout mainland Europe this year, and I’m going over to PAX in Boston next month to perform some showcases. Then there are video game music commissions I’m working on (Star Mazer and a secret project from the guys who made BeatBuddy) and finally I’m working on releasing a follow-up album to ‘Blood Eagle’ with an ETA of late summer/early fall.
‘Blood Eagle’ is available on Sabrepulse’s Bandcamp for just under $7.75 USD, and it’s truly a modest price tag for the work of such a talented musician. With this album – and his following release, ‘Paragon’ – Sabrepulse kicks off this year’s chipmusic catalog with a bang. 2015 is sure to be an amazing year for chipmusic, and this is only the beginning.