‘Pretty in Pixels’ by Marissa Hapeman is the start of a beautiful chiptune friendship.
Hit play on the title track ‘Pretty In Pixels’ below, get hooked, and jump into the full review!
‘Pretty in Pixels’ by Marissa Hapeman is the start of a beautiful chiptune friendship.
Hit play on the title track ‘Pretty In Pixels’ below, get hooked, and jump into the full review!
To combine chiptunes with live instruments is to tempt the fates themselves. Is it alchemy? Is it alien technology? Nope. It’s magic, and the ‘Magic Is Real’.
Sometimes two chip-heads are better than one.
Set the mood with the ‘Ben Rear Introduction‘ below; a breathtaking forty-second orchestral introduction to whet your palette.
Despite two distinct approaches to the genre, the influence _ensnare_ and Inspector Vector have on each other throughout ‘Defend Your Ramp‘ successfully weaves a coherence through the album that eliminates any fear of disjointed musical tangents or fragmented direction. ‘Defend Your Ramp‘ is a blending of minds that will blow yours.
_ensnare_’s skill in building and supporting melodies that hook fast and hold firm are showcased off the top of the album with ‘There Is Always Love‘. Heavy beats and bass set the foundation for a fantastic and organic melody. Love it.
Inspector Vector kicks into gear immediately with ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ﾉ (Raise Your Dongers), a rousing anthem with a contemporary chip-house fusion and a hint of “jungle” flare. Imagine if Disney’s Tarzan opened an electro dance club inside Wreck-It Ralph’s arcade machine. Sweeping. Epic. Dem jungle beatz make you raise your dongers ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ﾉ
Tracks alternate between artists throughout the album, but you wouldn’t notice without triple-checking the album liner. Each track flows into the next like it was planned from the beginning, a notion that _ensnare_ assures is “purely accidental”. ‘Defend Your Ramp‘ evolves with a weight that betrays coincidence, giving credence to the efforts of a true collaboration. Despite plans to do “what we felt like doing” says _ensnare_, noting that he and Inspector Vector made no attempt to interfere with each other’s approach, an influence and incorporation of style bleeds in regardless. Both Inspector Vector and _ensnare_ would be wise to take note of their musical affinity, as this collaboration works.
Both _ensnare_ and Inspector Vector were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their experience constructing ‘Defend Your Ramp‘, and that interview continues below:
How did the decision to collaborate with Inspector Vector come about?
_ensnare_: Alex is a long-term friend of mine and he’s fantastically talented. He started doing Fakebit and, as my collab with .moegasus (my previous album Binary Opposition) had gone so well I decided to team up with him.
Inspector Vector: Well, Ensnare is a very close friend, but also has mentored me to a degree over the years in regard to production. He has this amazing ‘no nonsense’ attitude to music production. He doesn’t get hung up on anything people say you ‘should’ be doing, and has a lazer focus on what sounds good and what doesn’t, something that I still find so helpful. Also, I’ve been a fan of his music for well over a decade, so on the one hand it felt a natural thing to do as we’re friends, but on the other it was something I was quite humbled to be able to do as an admirer of his various music. As far as a decision to do it, we just talked briefly now and then for a while about doing a four track EP together, and it kind of just grew quite ridiculously into the final product at over four times that size. I’m a fan of the ‘album’ format so I was happy about this. I am not sure he was quite as happy at my repeated demands for more content…
Do you have a personal favourite among each other’s D.Y.R. tracks?
_ensnare_: Got to be ‘Raise Your Dongers‘ – it’s a ridiculous hit and I’m supremely jealous of the melody.
Inspector Vector: Hrm. Hard!… [His tracks] are exactly the type of music I enjoy; hook based and sound amazing. I often gravitate towards these tracks out of the whole _ensnare_ back catalogue, so I’m really pleased they’re on our album. One part that sticks out for me is about 1:41 into ‘I Need U‘ where this dual lead comes in. I remember hearing this for the first time and being amazed. A lot of focus in production these days is big crushing drops, which is absolutely fine and is an impressive production trick, but it is rarely ‘musically’ astounding. I love melodies in music, and I think that quite simple bit just shows what a great musician _ensnare_ is.
I’ve got to say that the tracks across Defend Your Ramp gel together very well. With two minds contributing to the album, what was the process of working with each other like to maintain such a solid coherence from start to finish?
_ensnare_: Any coherence is purely accidental! Basically, we’d send stuff to each other occasionally but there were no real attempts to change each other’s style – we just did what we felt like doing.
Inspector Vector: Thanks, I’m really pleased this is the perception! We were kind of in contact all the time regarding it, so as we’d write the tracks, the other would be aware of them one by one, rather than just doing all of them independently then presenting them to each other as a set. I think this may have influenced coherence. It certainly made me consider how I mixed the tracks to not be too far away from the sound _ensnare_ was going for, and at points helped me decide what to do next as to what I felt the album needed. There are parts where it doesn’t gel so well to my ear, but I think that’s just symptomatic of each of us doing some tracks that are stripped down/lo-fi and some that are more complex modern style productions. Overall I’m very happy with how it works as an album.
Do you have a soft spot for an effect or piece of tech that you employed during the creation of the album?
_ensnare_: Plogue Chipsounds is still absolutely vital to the _ensnare_ sound – it’s an incredible thing.
Inspector Vector: _ensnare_ and I talked quite a bit informally about the tools of the album in a rambling text file that comes with the deluxe edition, so I’ll try say something else. Obviously chipsounds and FL studio are vital to me. I really respect people who write with the genuine gear, LSDJ and whatnot. Some of them make my favourite chip music out there (monodeer, bitshifter, chipzel), but equally there’s a lot of people like BigGiantCircles (who _ensnare_ remixed on the album, and is a huge inspiration to me) who are using software emulations and are making a different kind of chiptune/fakebit, and I think that the scene embraces it all is a great reason why chiptune is so vibrant and diverse at the moment. As for a soft spot: While doing my half of the mastering, I was using http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq/ on most things. It’s a relatively new (and free!) plugin which I think was developed by varietyofsound, and it is just an amazing easy to use EQ. I write production tutorials and product reviews by day, and this EQ is as good as a lot of the pricey stuff. Functionally, I couldn’t be without the fabfilter stuff, particularly Pro-C, Pro-Q and Saturn.
Was there a “eureka” moment during the production of Defend Your Ramp in which you learned something new or overcame a particularly difficult creative hurdle?
_ensnare_: The Score Attack was a demo I had sitting around for ages that people really liked on Soundcloud, but I couldn’t get finished. Then one weekend I was able to blast through it pretty quickly!
Inspector Vector: Definitely. One was very close to when the album launched. Ben rear with the gear went through so many iterative stages…I was trying a lot of things which just didn’t work, and I was sticking to the ‘formula’ despite the fact it didn’t sound very good. I wanted every element at the fore, which is something I know full well you cant do in production. Sound selection and mixing are very important. I’d totally ignored this, as I wanted every element to be this enormous, frequency filling sound, and thus when it didn’t work I hit a total brick wall. It nearly didn’t make the cut for that reason (I had to jettison another track called blockmania, probably my favourite, as I just didn’t have the time), but I eventually gave in and tried Ben Rear a different way, putting the lead to the fore and making a more simple, triangle-wavey bass. So yeah, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut, and sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board!
Any last thoughts, advice, or news you’d like to share with your listeners?
_ensnare_: I’ve had some health problems for the last year or so which have meant that I haven’t been able to play any gigs – I’m doing a lot better now and I’ll be returning to playing live with a gig at Games Britannia in Sheffield next month.
I massively appreciate all the support as well – ‘Defend Your Ramp‘ is the most popular _ensnare_ project yet so I will try to do more stuff for my fans – both gigs and new tracks – as soon as I can.
Inspector Vector: I’d like to say thanks so much to the people who’ve supported this album. I am hugely grateful to every single person, and _ensnare_ feels exactly the same. Comments have been very kind, and it really makes me happy that people out there, in different areas of the world, enjoy the music we’ve made. Also thanks to my amazing girlfriend Ali for doing the album art, which I’m really pleased with.
Advice? Well, if you’re making chiptune, don’t be afraid to do what you want. As I mentioned, the chip scene is inclusive and interesting, and I think it suffers less than other genres do from silly and arbitrary constraints. As long as it’s got some retro sounds, pushing the envelope in any direction is usually welcome, and that’s what I love about it.
As far as news, I’ll be giving away a remix of a track from Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon via my twitter/soundcloud hopefully within a couple of weeks, so follow me on one of them if that’s something you’d like (on top of my inane ramblings). Also, I’m undecided right now but I am thinking of making a track to submit for the new Chiptunes = WIN compilation, so I’ll have to see! _ensnare_ is honeymooning at the moment, but he is always working on exciting things (not least Frozen Endzone, an ace robot based strategy game), so definitely follow him on twitter too. Thanks so much!
‘Defend Your Ramp‘ by _ensnare_ and Inspector Vector is available on Bandcamp in both Standard and Deluxe Versions.
The Deluxe version includes “a continuous mix of every track on the album, an _ensnare_ remix of a Big Giant Circles track, 3 ridiculous lo-fi comics by Inspector Vector, a drum ‘n chip thing called Crabs on the Rampage by Inspector Vector, 1 4K wallpaper, ultra-HD cover art and an EXCLUSIVE txt chat between our heroes _ensnare_ and Inspector Vector which covers everything from the ethos of fakebit to a cake called Herman” for $19USD or more. The Standard edition is available for $13USD.
No matter which version is right for you, ‘Defend Your Ramp‘ is a must-buy.
PixelRecall (R. Morgan Slade) ~ Support the artists you love ~
Welcome back, Chipwinners! Judging from the good bit of positive feedback I got from you guys regarding last week’s Decktonic interview, I’m guessing that you’re enjoying these! I’d like to thank all of you in advance for the support, and hope that you keep coming back here for more raw, unfiltered goodness!
That being said, this week’s interview lightens the mood some as we talk to Dylan Brown aka CompyCore, a dynamo of a chiptune artist and graphic designer who’s taken the time to talk to us about the finer things in life, such as art, clothing, and Skittles.
Kuma: So lets start with something simple. “Compy”: where’d this nickname come from? I’m a curious Kuma.
CompyCore : Compy is actually just short for Companion. It was an online alias that I would use for Half life 2 multiplayer. Eventually everyone started calling me “Compy” on there, and it became a thing.
Kuma: Ah, very cool. So did you come into the whole chiptune thing as a gamer first, or did chiptunes make their way into your life in a completely different way altogether?
Compy: Yep, video games have always had a HUGE impact on my life. I was raised by a Sega Genesis as a kid, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without games. It probs would be pretty boring.
Kuma: Is it also safe to assume that video games have also had an impact on your style as an artist, as well, or does that inspiration come from a different source altogether?
Compy: Definitely. I’ve been doing pixel art now for 12 years, and graphic design for 2. My start as an artist began as a 10 year old making shitty free ware RPGs with a program called the OHR RPG Creation Engine. Most of the work I did with it was solo, but I did have a few small projects I worked on with a friend of mine that went by “spoonweaver”. It was a fun little rpg creation engine that was really user friendly, and had a great supportive community behind it, too. Highly recommend it to anyone looking to get started into indie games. Back then I used the alias “blue pixel”, so you’d have to look that up to find my games.
Kuma: Very nice. Now that we’re on the topic of your art, I’d like to take the time to ask you about it more in depth, particularly about your most recent project: ToastyCo. After years of making art for and related to video games, and even making music using video game hardware and software, what was it in you that decided to go with clothing company?
Compy: Haha! It was actually a really random idea at the time that sorta snow-balled. The “Play it LOUD!” design was a class project in college, and all my friends and I thought it would make a great tee. I mentioned the idea to one friend of mine, and his neighbor does screen printing. From there, it snow balled into more designs, more interest from friends, more people hearing about it, and before you know it, I’d have 20 different items, and a clothing store opening.
Kuma: Lets talk about this store opening. When and where is it happening?
Compy: The store’s opening Friday, March 1st in Thurmont, Maryland, on Woodside avenue. The shop was an old hang out spot of mine as a kid. It was an old skate shop in town. It was the only real hang out spot in town, so I’d end up going there almost everyday and hang out with friends of mine. The owner of the building’s a friend of mine and he’s been trying to sell it for years. I feel like if I’m gonna have any success in this town it’ll be there, through the memories me and my friends have made there years ago. It only makes sense that it should be the first place I open a retail store. It’s a real small town though, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that it goes well.
Kuma: That’s quite a gambit, considering it is a small town, but from what I’ve seen from having partied with you at 8static and MAGFest, you’ve got energy in spades, my friend. Do you think you’ll be able to bring that same kinda energy to your sleepy little town as you do to the shows you party and perform at?
Compy: Maybe. I do plan on using the building as a venue for tons of parties/shows, so hopefully the people will get pumped about that. I’m also using the back of the store as sort of a “home base” for ToastyCo., giving me a place to do my own printing if I wanted to store shirts, etc. I’m sure it’ll take some time, but things will get going.
Kuma: I definitely have faith in you and your vision my friend, but what you just mentioned now about using it as a venue brings me to something else I wanted to ask you. From what I remember, you mentioned wanting to throw a chiptune party in commemoration of the stores opening. Now obviously, you’re gonna be performing there, but are there any other artists we can expect to see out there? Can we expect to see a regular scene in Maryland now that you’re opening your store?
Compy: It’s really hard to call that one. The only other chip artist driving distance from me right now is datacats. Trey Frey moved to like, 4 hours away. Kedromelon is up in your parts these days. I’m probably going to be the only chip artist preforming there regularly, but if anyone ever shows up, they’re more than welcome to have a stage to dance upon, and an ear to listen.
Kuma: I’m definitely glad to hear that. You know, regardless of how spread out the scene is, we’ve definitely seen success in small movements that grew and grew fast. Solarbear already has the second annual Brkfest in the works and the Piko Piko guys are skyrocketing right now. Disregarding what scenes are hot right now and your current priorities revolving around the store opening; if you could be in any one place–as far as chiptune is concerned–where would it be and why?
Compy: Oh, that’s hard! Haha! I guess either Detroit or Cincinnati I’ve got mad love for everyone in both communities there. I’m actually making my way up to Detroit for the first time this April.
Compy: Yes! Lots of new songs on their way! I might be releasing something tonight actually, so watch my soundcloud for that!
Kuma: I definitely can’t wait to hear it! Heck, I just might include it in this interview when I post it! That being said, I think this is a good place to end our interview, but before we go, do you have any last words or thoughts you’d like to share for our readers?
Compy: Life is beautiful. Stay positive, stay boosted. Also, Toasty Co.: Home of the best shirts in the world! All shirts come with a free packet of Skittles!
Kuma: Yo, why do all your shirts come with Skittles, anyway?
Compy: Because I can’t mail chocolate in the mail! It’ll get all squished up! Also, Skittles are better.
Kuma: Thanks for boosting ChipWin with this interview, homie. Peace.
Hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did! Don’t forget to hit up Toasty Co. for the some of the coolest t-shirts on the planet, all of which come with a bag of skittles and stickers! Also, be sure to follow CompyCore on SoundCloud to hear the latest this spunky, sugar powered chiptune artist has to offer!
Tune in next week for Raw Cuts #4 with Jay Tholen, as we discuss his music, art, faith, and a new project he’s working on that you should definitely keep on your radar!