Hey, ChipWINners! Many of you are probably familiar with the prolific and talented VGM remixer Benjamin Briggs, especially all of you OCR veterans out there. Benjamin Briggs’ music is always of the highest quality, and his newest release – filled to the brim with completely new and unique music – is no different, and could honestly be one of his greatest releases thus far. Hot on the heels of his ‘Patreon EP’ is ‘FEARLESS LIVING’, an album based on the last six months of Ben’s life itself.
The album opens with the triangle bass-heavy ‘Recurring Dreams’. Kick-snare patterns common in electronic music are combined with octaves, string voices, square-tone melodies, and several unique chordal sequences in order to achieve a very mysterious sounding tone. The album’s namesake and its fourth track, ‘Fearless Living’, introduces the listener to a simple chromatic note progression, and builds on it with a glitchy, breakbeat-esque drum pattern before segueing into its sawtooth bassline and eerie, danceable tones. The track changes in mood close to the two-minute mark, and Ben’s musical prowess really shows with a flawless key change to go with it, finishing off with a return to the main theme of the track, but slower, adding a slightly more relaxing feel to what was previously a tense track.
Influences from dance, funk, jazz, and game music can all be heard on ‘FEARLESS LIVING’. The album’s third track, ‘New Game Plus’, is a perfect meld of dance and game music, for example. The track’s melody may remind the listener of the end credits to an old game that they just can’t quite put their finger on. A looping percussive rhythm, the likes of which appear in many popular dance tracks, helps encourage the listener to pay more attention to some of the more intricate touches in the track, such as the quiet arpeggiated square chords behind the melody around the 2:18 mark, or the harmony played behind the same melodic phrase at about the 2:30 mark. Upbeat, swing and dance vibes abound in this track that’s sure to be a fan favorite.
As can be heard in tracks from his previous releases, such as ‘The Grinding of Isaac’ from ‘The Briggs Effect 2’, Ben’s music displayshints of jazz and funk overtones. One track where the influence really shines through is ‘Sweet Berry Wine with Flexstyle’, a mellow, melodic solo-driven song. Memorable chords in a bluesy key provide a backdrop for square-tone riffs and FM-esque synths that are sure to please. The chip melodies in ‘Selecting Continue’ are also reminiscent of jazz music, being laid over a very catchy rhythm. The album closes out with ‘We Could Quest Together’, featuring some seriously phenomenal guitar work that works very well with the chip and other electronic voices throughout the track. Improvization is a huge aspect of jazz music, and a majority of the track sounds improvised to a great extent, making this one of my personal favorites.
Ben Briggs isn’t the only musician to show his incredible talent on the album, however. Two guest artists provided remixes for Ben’s tracks, the first of which being ‘Methods (Flexstyle’s Mad Scientist Remix)’. The track screams house and electro influence, and an extremely aggressive bassline in this remix helps to bring this danceable track to an awesome climax at the three-minute mark. The second remix, ‘We Could Quest Together (General Offensive! Remix)’, changes a number of the voices and solos in the track and gives it a much more heavy metal feeling, but not before faking the listener out with a calm, acoustic opening, making for a flawlessly expectation-shattering introduction. Chip instrumentation is prevalent, and the snare roll buildup morphs the track into a headbangingly excellent ballad.
Each individual track holds a lot of meaning to Ben Briggs, as was hinted at near the beginning of the article. The album details his own journey for the last six months of his life, and you can really feel the emotion and love put into every song. The album is available as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, and this is definitely something that every avid chipmusic enthusiast should pick up. Keep your eyes peeled for an exclusive interview with Ben Briggs himself about ‘FEARLESS LIVING’ soon, right here on The ChipWIN Blog!
Composer, arranger, performer, health nut, net streaming personality.
Quite the character, Ben has been composing and producing music for the past decade in an effort to achieve super stardom. Starting out at OverClocked ReMix, he moved up the ranks of remixers with an impressive collection of re-imagined video game tunes; sometimes collaborating with fellow artists and creating newbands in the process.
Yes, Ben has been around for quite a while. Having worked with the guy in the past and coming to know him as a great friend over the past 2 years, I can certainly tell you he was determined about one goal throughout the years, far above the others: being a video game composer. Ben has picked up quite a lot with his time spent in FL Studio. Utilizing his abilities to create originals and video game remixes alike, his skills grew exponentially. When he had told me he got a gig as a video game composer, I knew one of his lifetime achievements was met. (more…)
Sup y’all! It’s your homeboy Kuma comin’ at ya with something a little different this time around! Quick Shots is my new review column that focuses primarily on lesser-known and up & coming talent, a handful at a time! Here’s how it works: each album listed is given a paragraph or two of breakdown, emphasizing their strengths and weaknesses. These paragraphs are then followed up with a couple stats, such as cost, replay value, and an overall grade that reflects the thoughts expressed in the breakdown. All that info is designed to help you determine if an album is worth your time and your money, because while all the artists I’ll review deserve some recognition, I know damn well that #thestruggleisreal and #timeismoney! So let’s not waste any more time! Come join me as I review work by Tommy TSW, Toni Leys, Jonocade, MissingN0 and Yerzmyey!
Tommy TSW’s ‘TSW’
TSW’s self-titled debut album is a surprisingly enjoyable ride. An LP composed of 17 songs, most of which are 2 minutes long, the album comes across as Tommy’s attempts to catch fireflies in a mason jar and share the nostalgia-inducing luminescence with everyone, and he succeeds in doing so! Many of the songs on the album mimic that special magic lightning bugs have: their glow enchanting those who witness them briefly, only to fade away, leaving you in awe. Similarly, each melody triggers its intended emotional response successfully, but all these moments pass quickly, so as not to be overwhelming. This allows TSW to use the album as a sort of portfolio, allowing him to showcase his various talents so that he can pursue his dream of making a game soundtrack. From the playful opening track ‘Back Again’ to the very Adult Swim sounding ‘Pop Pop Game Start!’, TSW is an astoundingly diverse producer who’s definitely worth a listen, even if he himself feels that he has a lot more hurdles to overcome.
Fave song/s: Pop Pop Game Start!, Xvenus, Moving on
Price: $2 AU ($1.85 USA)
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor: 4/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
What’s presented as a concept album about an ancient and powerful ship via a dramatic intro track is actually a deceptive cover for Toni and his numerous friends featured on the album (a solid two thirds of the album feature guest artists!) to have fun making the kind of chiptune I’m a sucker for: chiptune you can fucking party to! The album does this by blending traditional fare many of us grew up with in our vgm, such as r&b and new jack swing, with more modern offerings such as trap, electro and trance. The result is an EP that’s highly reminiscent of releases like Joshua Morse’s Lunch Bug and Ben Briggs’ Mystery Gift. You can just as easily groove to this awesome album on the dancefloor as you can just chill and bob your head to it on the train ride back home from work! That said, this album purposefully (to my chagrin) suffers the shortcoming of brevity, mirroring the tragic, mysterious fate of The Thunder Launcher! It’s a shame too, because there’s clearly an awesome world looking to be more fleshed out via Toni’s music, but you won’t be getting any more of it from the last remaining artifact of that legendary ship: the mysterious AI known as Thiele.
Fave song/s: Seventh Town
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Factor: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
Jonocade is an artist who, by his own admission, has only been producing chiptune for about a year. While I don’t know if he has any prior musical experience, what is apparent is that Jonocade has talent. Building on his first EP of the same name, this LP features strong melodies that are complimented by very solid, basic bass lines, subdued rhythms and stunningly restrained drums. The result is an album that shows off Jonocade’s versatility, but also reveals that his talents lend themselves to crafting pop rock chiptune that’s reminiscent of Square Therapy’s work: a truly pleasant revelation that helps separate the album from other recent offerings the scene has produced! That said, with the exception of the final track on the album (a remix of Eagle Flyer), production value isn’t very high on this release. The sound is grainy, and while not disturbingly so, it is noticeable enough that it may turn some people away. Despite that complaint, this album is a very fun ride, and I would encourage fans of Square Therapy to give ‘Our Last Trip’ a listen. Jonocade has clearly put a lot of sweat into making it, and I look forward to hearing more from him.
Fave song/s: Let’s Find a World, Punch It
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay factor: 3.5/5
Overall Grade: 3.8/5
I first heard of MissingN0 after a member of the band named Bailley responded enthusiastically to an encouragement thread I started in the ChipWIN facebook group. Having been inspired and surprised by Bailley’s energy and some solo work he shared, I sought out more from him, eager to see what his band had put out thus far. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with what I heard. ‘Fallen DMG’ shows that MissingN0 has potential, and it’s obvious throughout the course of the EP how much they’ve grown. However, while there are some tasty offerings, the songs of note are too brief to truly enjoy. This is primarily because, conversely to TSW’s short ditties, these brief tunes suffer from a lack of refinement, variety and polish. Furthermore, while TSW feels like it’s meant to be a musical smorgasbord, ‘Fallen DMG’ feels like it is trying to be a solid, definitive statement about what the band is and what they’re about, but it can’t be what it wants to be as it was released prematurely. MissingN0 has a great deal of spunk, and it makes me happy to see such young upstarts helping the scene thrive, but they need to be patient and nurture their babies more before letting them into the wild if they want to make a mark in the scene. If they can do that, I’m almost certain they’ll be able to be part of a large scale chip festival within the next year or two. Keep your chin up, MissingN0, Kuma believes in you.
Fave Song/s: Pluto Frost, Echo Off, Unfinished Date
Price: £4 ($6.75)
Bang for Buck: 2/5
Replay factor: 3/5
Overall Grade: 2.5/5
Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Yerzmyey prior to hearing this album, but when I saw Vince Kaichan say he’s been waiting for this album for a long time, I knew I had to check it out, and God am I glad I did, ’cause jeebus freaking dickbutts made out of ice cream cones is it amazing! Combining foot work, heavy bass, cheesy fun synths, and orchestra hits (OMG SO MANY ORCHESTRA HITS!), over a constant theme of simple piano chords reminiscent of stage 1-1 of Streets of Rage 2, this snappy EP is an example of brevity done right! Each song flows into one another seamlessly allowing for all 20 minutes of the release to be full of party! I’m honestly kicking myself for not being familiar with Yerzmyey sooner, because if this EP is any indication, he alone is worth a trip to see Europe’s chiptune/demoscene crews in action on stage. I just hope he cranks out something more like this soon, because I am in dire need of this 90s style goodness, which honestly may be the album’s only shortcoming: it’s so classically 90s and early 00s in its approach to music that it may alienate some younger audiences who aren’t familiar or comfortable with the EDM scene of yesteryear. But even if you are a youngin who’s used to wubs and electro over heavy DnB, breakbeat, and chillout, I implore you to give this album a listen. It’s just that amazing and refreshing. (note: Yerzmyey has only put a sample song–the one listed above– of the album on soundcloud. If you wanna listen to the full thing, you can download the zip at the link listed in his soundcloud).
Fave Song/s: I honestly can’t pick
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor. 4.5/5
Overall grade: Misfit Chris/5
And just like that, Quick Shots is done as quickly as it started! If you liked what you read and are looking forward to more, check back next month as I review several other albums! I also encourage you to read my other column, Raw Cuts, in which I interview artists in the scene and get inside their heads and comfort zones! Or you can just as easily follow my colleagues here on the blog! Prof. Oakes, Viridian Forge, Pixel Recall, bAby f@ce, and all the others are pretty awesome too, and if you not showing them love, you’re doing it wrong!
Thanks again for tuning in to Quick Shots, and remember: Kuma Loves You!
Hey, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Raw Cuts! This time around, I not only took the time to sit down with someone whose interview was long overdue! Hailing from Philadelphia, this man has become a figurehead in the scene, paving the way for others to perform and become noticed in the vast wave of artists in the community while simultaneously earning the respect and recognition of those he encounters. This man is truly a senpai–nay, a sensei (snesei?)– among us in the scene, and he’s taken the time to sit down with me to talk about DJing, music production, collaboration, his involvement with us here at ChipWIN and some amazing projects that are sure to electrify! Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you my interview with Chris Davidson aka DJ CUTMAN!!!!
Kuma: First of all, I’d like to not only express my gratitude for agreeing to be interviewed, but also my excitement, as well! I’ve been looking forward to this all week! So thank you very much for agreeing to have a sit down with me!
Cutman: For sure! I love sitting.
Kuma: Hahahah! I expected nothing less from you, Chris. So lets jump right in, shall we? You’ve been in the music game a long time. Between your work as a DJ, a producer, founder of the GameChops record label, mainstay performer at various festivals including MAGFest and PAX East, you still manage to be an all around swell guy. Very down to earth. Tell me, how’d you get started in all this? When and how did this journey into video game related music begin for you?
Cutman: Back in 2010 I was working as an recording and mix engineer in a hip-hop studio in upstate New York. I used to stay after my clients left and work on making my own music, mostly chopped up beats sampling video game music. That same year I attended my first convention, MAGFest 8, with my buddy MC Death Bear. MAGFest was a blast, I had never been surrounded with so many like-minded people before!
A couple months after MAGFest, Death Bear asked me to put together some music for his 8-bit art show. I had only briefly been exposed to DJing by looking over the shoulder of another performer at MAG, so I studied up for two weeks straight and built my first DJ set.
After that show, which was both exciting and super stressful, I caught the bug for sharing music. I would DJ out on the street, in coffee shops, and in convention hallways, anywhere that wouldn’t kick me out (and maybe some places that tried to).
I produced a few mixtapes, a bunch of random remixes, and posted them regularly on Soundcloud and other places. I’m still doing that, making music and posting it! Running a label is fun, now I’m collaborating with friends and other producers and DJs I admire. The workload is more intense from when I started, but it’s the same basic mission: make good music, and get it to peoples ears.
Kuma: That’s awesome, and I think a lot of us can relate to the magic that festivals like MAGFest can fill a person’s heart with. That you’re a friend and collaborator of Death Bear is something I think is common knowledge in the scene, but I never knew you were so behind-the-scenes prior to being the persona you are in the community now. Did you ever think at the time, before you decided to start DJing, that you would ever be someone who would apply his skills outside of an studio? Or was that something that never occurred to you to do til after MAG?
Cutman: Haha, in all honesty, before i started DJing, I didn’t realize what it was all about. Now that I have four years live experience under my belt, I’m starting to really understand and appreciate the artistry involved. Just about everyone has had their iTunes on shuffle and an embarrassing song has come on at the wrong moment. A DJ creates the opposite effect, choosing the perfect song. That’s what drew me in to really enjoying performing as a DJ: the ability to take people on a journey and tell a story with music, or to simply provide a brilliant moment for someone passing through.
Kuma: Hahahahaha! I really appreciate not only your response but that you’re doing part of my job for me by choosing quality memes to post in the article! That aside, I not only really like your analogy but never thought of DJing in that kind of light before. You’re absolutely right, though. Whether one carries the philosophy that DJs can also be performers or are just mood setters not meant to be seen, its that creation and enhancement of mood that matters most in the craft.
Lets go back a little bit to something you mentioned earlier, which is getting to work with a lot of people you really like over the past few years. In particular, lets talk about the GameChops crew, cause not only do you have a strong roster working with you, but a lot of these guys are mutual friends you’ve scooped up only fairly recently, I’d say only in the course of a year or so. Tell me, what prompted you to move on to founding your own label, and what do you look for when scouting for talent in the scene?
Cutman: Well, GameChops seemed like a natural progression and a way for me to grow the VGM scene. When I changed GameChops from a mixtape series into a label, there were no other labels providing high quality, licensed video game remixes. No one! I want video game music to be more accessible, so it seamed that something I could do that would bring value to the scene.
Kuma: Wait, what? No… slow up for second…what?
Cutman: Did I miss something?
Kuma: Nobody put out licensed game remixes before you? That…I’m sorry, that just hurts my head! I mean it’s awesome you were the first to do it but still, it’s 2014, you’d have thought someone would have done it sooner.
Cutman: There were a few licensed remix albums floating around, but no labels, no dedicated groups to doing that. Nothing like GameChops: a group of people dedicated to producing high quality video game music, and paying licenses to give back to the game industry.
Kuma: That’s crazy. You know with communities like chiptune, Newgrounds, OCR, you would have thought someone would have done it years ago, but that you saw it hadn’t happened yet and were able to do so first as a label is pretty awesome! That’s definitely something to be proud of!
That said, let’s talk about some of those properties your label has covered, because you guys have done a lot! Zelda, Megaman, Megaman, Donkey Kong, Bastion, Final Fantasy 7, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, and the list goes on! Yet you’ve still only barely scratched the surface of the games you can tap into and remix! Tell me, how do you go about selecting titles to remix and which projects have been your fave to work on so far?
Chris: The source is up to the producer(s) who are working on the project. So if someone has a good idea of a game we haven’t covered yet, we work together to make it happen!
One of my favorites would have to be Grimecraft’s POKÉP. The whole mixtape came together in about three very intense weeks! Also, my album, MeowMeow & BowWow with Spamtron, that features music from Zelda: Link’s Awakening, was a blast to produce. That album was the opposite of POKÉP, it took a full calendar year before it was done!
Kuma: Wow that’s insane! I had no idea you guys spent that much time making that MeowMeow and BowWow. It was definitely worth it, though. I think that album is the closest to my heart due to the sentimental value Link’s Awakening has for me, as it was the first Game Boy game I ever owned.
Also, I’m not surprised at Grime’s speed making that album. At all. Clarke is a damn beast. But for all the bangers and grooves you guys at GameChops put together, I’m always caught off guard by just how diverse the team and the sounds you create are. Tell me, how did you go about recruiting the labelmates you have now? Do you actively seek out talent, have people submit to you, do a bit of both via networking? How do you go about keeping the roster fresh and exciting?
Cutman: It’s a bit of both. I always am keeping my ear to new producers with my show This Week In Chiptune, and also going out to shows and just listening to what other people are making. When I hear someone play something that really resonates with me, or something I would play during a DJ set, I take that as a cue to see if they’d like to collaborate on an album.
Collaboration is hard sometimes. It’s not as easy as producing some tracks on your own. The label has deadlines, budgets for artwork, and plans for promotion. Some people respond well to that little extra pressure, others don’t. So even if someone’s music is great, if they’d rather keep their producing a casual activity, then they may not be the best suited to collab. So it’s a combination of taste, skills, and if we’re creatively compatible. Haha, sound weird?
Kuma: No it sounds about right. For as cool as someone may be, it they don’t work on the same wavelength as you, it probably just won’t happen. Especially someone of your energy levels, which brings me my next question: how do you have time to work with us here on Chiptunes=WIN with all the stuff you do? And how’d you get wrassled up with that dickbutt loving noob Hoodie, anyway?
Cutman: Haha! Hoodie and I crashed in the same hotel room at Blip Festival years ago. We’ve been buds ever since. I’m lucky to have music be my full time gig now, so it’s my responsibility to make time for the projects that are important for me.
ChipWIN is a blast to work on, and although it may sound weird I really do love mastering. When an album comes together it can be profoundly satisfying.
Kuma: I’m glad you’ve managed to find something you’re passionate about that you’ve made it into something you can make money off of. That said, you tend to work at a very consistent clip, whether it’s This Week in Chiptune, working with us at ChipWIN, running your own blog VideoGame DJ, and tons of other projects I’m sure are escaping me at this time. Tell me: what can we expect from you in the near future?
Cutman: The shortlist: Sonic album “Spindash” with GameChops, video streams on YouTube, and lots more This Week In Chiptune!
Kuma: That’s it? What about the long list? The black list? The secret menu list? C’mon, you can tell me, Chris. I can keep a secret. After all: this is an interview, and I’m a blogger.
Cutman: Haha alright, I got you, Kuma. GameChops is releasing an album based on the Sega game Out Run called OutRax. I’m working on an album called OldStyle with my sister. It combines early Baroque music with chiptune and EDM. I’m also working on two albums that take inspiration from the 3DS game Bravely Default. [One is] a licensed remix album REMIX DEFAULT and [the other is] a free mixtape called MIXTAPE DEFAULT.
Kuma: Oldstyle sounds awesome! Yay Out Run remix! And I know my girl is gonna eat up those BD remixes! I can’t wait for all this awesomeness! Chris, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing to our readers before we go?
Cutman: Subscribe to TWiC on Youtube! I had to recreate the channel and lost all the subs. Thanks Kuma this was a lot of fun!
Kuma: This was a lot of fun, Chris! Thank you very much for joining me!
That’s it for this edition of RCwK! Don’t forget to follow GameChops for the latest news about what remixes DJ Cutman and all the other GC artists have to offer! Also, check below for links to several other cool sites, including links for DJ Cutman on social media, the awesome music blog VideogameDJ, This Week in Chiptune, and GameChop’s Youtube channel! And of course, check back with us periodically for more interviews, album reviews, and music! Peace!