This month’s edition of ‘What’s on Tap?’ is fortunate in its timing, with a new release matching up perfectly with the beer style I wanted to discuss this month. Combining PAULA POWERED’s new chip punk EP ‘Level Up’ with good weather and a cold hefeweizen is a recipe for success.
Many of the artists that I review on the ChipWIN blog – most notably Danimal Cannon and Norrin_Radd – gravitate towards heavy, complex music. While I enjoy music in this vein, the simplicity of the textures and importance of the message inherent in punk music is something that also really speaks to me. In their new EP, PAULA POWERED blends punk ethos with well-produced chip music mixing vocals, guitar, and the Amiga 1200. Although punk is often intentionally lo-fi, fans can expect to hear slightly more melodic singing and fantastic production from this release; think less Germs/Minor Threat and more Clash/Stooges. Onward!
Greetings, readers! It’s about that time, eh chaps? While it has certainly felt like an eternity since I wrote my last album review (which you can read HERE), it’s good to be back! As I’m here to administer another dose of Chip Treatment the Professor Oakes way, it is with great pleasure to do so by reviewing ‘papillons’ by xyce—so sit tight and read up!
Released by CheapBeats, the label for the Tokyo-based chiptune and lo-fi event of the same name, ‘papillons’ continues to take the chiptune world by storm with Tom Offringa and Roel Heerspink’s release that hit Bandcamp on June 8, 2013. While the two musicians contribute to chip music as their solo acts xylo and cerror respectively, xyce is incredibly prolific as a duo. Hailing from Holland, the two met on a Dutch online forum (which you can read about all about in the interview with Kuma HERE) and joined forces around 2005/2006. Mustering inspiration that varies from France Gall, The Weepies, Children of Bodom, to other chiptune musicians and the demoscene itself (which Heerspink has been a member of since 2001), this bitpop duo’s album boasts 16 remarkable tracks using various hardware including the Amiga 500 and Atari 1040 STe. Coupled with album artwork by m7kenji—a Japanese game app developer who designed ‘Bugtronica’ and the Blip Festival Tokyo 2011 mobile schedule—xyce takes their listeners on a journey as they push the boundaries of the intersection between old school cracktro melodies and a bouncy Europop flare.
Receiving wide support from Bryan C (bryface), Mark Knight (TDK), and David Thorn (Dasid) on Bandcamp, as well as a listening party via 8 Bit Power Hour on 8bitx.com, ‘papillons’ opens up with ‘cloture de jardin’, which translates to ‘garden fence’. While it’s interesting to take note that the track titles, including the album name itself, are in French, such decision instills an incrediblely airy and flowy vibe that seems to take flight as the album progresses. ‘cloture de jardin’, a wonderful precursor to the latter tracks of the album, was composed using an Open ModPlug Tracker ran on Windows 7 (20 channel.xm at 148kb.) However, while I’m sure knowing each and every channel specifics mean a great deal to many musicians I know, xyce has put forth that by making music on different machines, their focus is always the same—melody—and melody is always key regardless of the channels used. Logistics aside, ‘cloture de jardin’ is a wonderful spring-like tune (which reminds me a lot of TQ-Jam) that is sure to have your body groovin’ in place and foot tapping within the first 30 seconds.
‘rainbow dash!’, xyce’s first collaboration on the album (the other being the ending title track with malmen), features RADix, Jakob Svanholm’s project that has earned him a respectable reputation through composing Amiga tunes in the 1990’s. With a hypnotizing key pattern, ‘rainbow dash!’ has an incredibly distinctive melody that changes form throughout the song. Most accurately compared to a melodic rollercoaster, ‘rainbow dash!’ throws its listeners into a whirlwind of adrenaline-pumping reactions that’s very reminiscent of accompanying a video game player in a side-scrolling running sequence. Notably, ‘rainbow dash!’ builds in tempo very early, levels off midway, and then spirals down the latter half of the track.
‘subsonique deux’, very appropriately mastered near the conclusion of ‘papillons’, is the longest track of the bunch and happens to be my personal favorite. Oozing at the seams with an unforgettable cyberpunk rhythm on the Amiga 500, ‘subsonique deux’ is a wonderful example of xyce’s ability to create melodies and key patterns that are undoubtedly polar opposites of the spring-like tracks such as ‘cloture de jardin’. Within the first 30 seconds, listeners are forced to strap in as they are catapulted into what feels like a high-speed jet race. The track, which formally translates to ‘subsonic two’ in English, breaks out in a fusion of Breakbeat and Drum and Bass kicks and breakdowns similar to that of artists such as Pendulum and The Prodigy around the 1 minute and 45 second mark.
While I have reviewed only three tracks that depict the eclectic style and tone of the album, keep in mind that there are 13 other wonderful ones! That being said, ‘papillons’ can be purchased through Bandcamp digitally for $5, or the hard copy for $10, which ships out to your door within three days. Either which way, this is an album I definitely recommend buying (if you haven’t already!) as I assure you it’ll make its way to your list of top favorites.
That’s all ChipWiners! Until next time on Chip Treatment—Professor Oakes signing off!
Sup ChipWINners! Welcome back to Raw Cuts! This time around, I got the chance to sit down and talk with a remarkable young man from Belgium who’s been making the Eurochip scene grind all nice and slow to some of the sickest chip hop beats you’ve ever heard! Having found success in his craft to the point where he’s been featured twice in local newscasts, this artist continues to push the envelope with each album, and I was lucky enough to catch up with him to talk about his new album, most recent performance, and what got him into the scene in the first place! So hold onto japanties and put on your thinking caps as I take the time to delve into the mind of Stephan Tul aka Vegas Diamond!
Kuma: So Stephan, first off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and conduct this interview. I know you’re a busy guy, but it makes me happy knowing I was able to get you for this.
Vegas Diamond (Vegas): My pleasure, I’m glad to be interviewed by you!
Kuma: I’m glad to hear it. So, let’s start with something basic. What got you into into chiptune in the first place? How did you get wrapped up in this world of making music with Game Boys?
Vegas: Well, I’ve always had a fascination with ‘game music’, so to speak. I used to play a lot of Mega Man and Chrono Trigger on SNES emulators, well into my teens actually. I’d always wanted to try stuff like that myself so in 2007 or 2008 I tried my hand at MilkyTracker. I tried to make some hiphop/dubstep stuff on there but that kind of failed.
I then switched to Renoise which is really nice but that also didn’t really work out. It was then I decided making music on a computer wasn’t really it for me. There’s too many options, plug-ins, samples, whatever. So I started making music on a Game Boy and it’s been a nice ride so far!
I guess this also explains what I love most about music on Game Boys/consoles: the minimalism. You have very few tools to work with and that makes you focus on composition and sound design.
Kuma: Wow! I had no idea you had been making music for that long! I only know you through what you’ve been making on your Game Boys, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear you’ve been making music for that long! I do agree with you on what you said, though: options lead to indecisiveness, and when you’re trying to find your sound, your niche, options can be a detrimental factor to self discovery.
Have you always gone by Vegas Diamond, or did you make your work under another name? And what’s the story behind your name, anyway?
Vegas: The Vegas Diamond name has so far been used exclusively for my Game Boy output. The story behind the name is actually pretty bland. I had a track finished and I wanted to upload it to Soundcloud and Facebook, but I needed a name to go with it. At the time I listened to a lot of Rustie and Hudson Mohawke, two musicians I really love, and they have a kind of nonsensical, gangster style going on. I chose the name Vegas Diamond because it is over the top and points towards the music I love most: hip hop and beat influenced music. It also allows me to get away with using a lot of gold and glitter in artwork so that is nice. Although I must say I do take my music pretty seriously so maybe taking such an over-the-top name was a bad idea. I still like it though!
Kuma: I do too, and I’m glad you brought up Hudson Mohawke because I wanted to address something you said before. About how you said you had tried making dubstep on trackers before getting into making the music you do now with Game Boys. You? Dubstep? Really? I’m sorry, but I have trouble believing Belgium’s premiere chip hop beat maker tried making dubstep at one point! Tell me, what made you transition to the music you do now and why?
Stephan: When I say dubstep I think I should clarify that this was before Skrillex and the genre that would become known as “brostep”. The ‘earlier’ dubstep (I don’t know a good name for it) had a pretty chilled out vibe to it, lots of reggae influences and more ‘space’ in between sounds. For me, hearing dubstep was the first time I realized you could make ‘slow’ electronic music that wasn’t your typical 4-to-the-floor fare. I think it progressed fairly naturally beyond that.
When dubstep started getting really loud and ‘drop-focused’, I stopped listening and started listening to hip hop influenced music more and more, Hudson Mohawke specifically. I think the same thing happened with me and ‘trap’ music. I like trap music or trap-influenced beats in general. I do not like the gigantic-sounding drop-focused approach to it. Although I do have to admit I am guilty of putting ‘drops’ in my own songs.
Kuma: Oh shit! So when you say dubstep, you’re one of those rare people that means real dubstep, and not squirellex! Mad respect, my friend!
As far as drops go, there’s certainly nothing wrong with using the technique so long as it’s not the main point of your music. That being said, since you’ve already mentioned Hudson Mohawke a couple times already, who are some of your biggest influences aside from him? Which artists make you want to push your art even further?
Vegas: In the chipscene, I’d say Boaconstructor and NNNNNNNNNN are a definite ‘goal’ for me in terms of production value and sound design. On the other end of the spectrum you have Guardia, who makes the most chilled out hip-hop influenced songs ever. The sheer sparseness of his music is something I go for but never manage to achieve. I always go for one more layer or sound or part. Oh! I should put in a good mention for ABSRDST, too! I love his albums and the atmosphere. I’m not sure if you can consider him someone in the ‘scene’ anymore but I love his albums.
Looking at other music, I really don’t know. I like listening to piano music, jazz, almost all forms of music. I think if I’d have to pick something I’d pick stuff that is influential to me right now. That means it probably won’t be influential to me next week, I’ll probably have moved on to another album. I always run into this problem when having to put together lists, I love (and have loved) so many different things I can’t really put together an album top 10 or things that influence me most.
Kuma: Yeah all those artists are legit, and ABSRDST deserves mad love. Scene or not, he’s one of the more driven talents I’ve encountered and I admire his enthusiasm and determination for what he makes and what he does. And I also agree with you on shifting influences, but I feel that’s only natural for people to constantly move from one outlet to another, both in terms of both intake and output.
That being said, let’s talk about about how your style has evolved over the years. While there’s certainly no escaping some of the unique tones produced by chip tune, I’ve noticed your music, not only stylistically, but tonally, has become less chip. It sounds smoother, and admittedly, more accessible. Was this what you were talking about before when you said you wanted to achieve a production level akin to Boaconstructor? A sense of accessibility to your music despite the method in which you produce it?
Vegas: When I talk about Boa specifically I’m not referring to his music being accessible. I do think his music is very accessible up to the point where you could mix it in with normal EDM and it wouldn’t sound out of place. I’m actually specifically referring to his impressive sound design, to how much ‘power’ and different sounds he can squeeze out of that little chip. Sometimes you hear things on other tracks that make you wonder how they were achieved, I’m all like: “how did he do this?” “is this 1 lsdj?” etc.etc.
Kuma: Ah okay. Yeah there are definitely guys out there that make me wonder how they do what they do what they do with their equipment. Guys like Auxcide blow me away with their stuff all the time, and when I find out tracks like “Realms” are only 2 lsdj, I just feel like quitting. XD
Regardless, you seem to have enjoyed a fair level of exposure doing what you do, and I know because this isn’t your first interview. Tell me, how did Deredactie find out about you for their news segment on you?
Vegas: This was actually a chain of events that started because I was playing Bitgrid in Antwerp. A journalist from the local paper called the organizer and wanted to talk to an artist. Because I was the first one they could reach I was interviewed and got an article in the paper. A few days later I got an E-mail from Belgian National TV saying they would like to do a feature on me. I guess this was a ‘chain of events’ kind of thing which started out fairly small but turned out to be pretty big (and very fun!).
Kuma: Awesome! I love hearing stories about things that just come together like that! And to think it started out as something simple like you just playing a show. Speaking of shows, you recently played a show last week Petra’s Place alongside guys like I Am Legendary Robot and Sporozoite + Grand Aigle! How did that show go? Did you treat the guys there to your newest album?
Vegas: Yes I did! I just made a new set so I played every song on the new album. It went over pretty well, I even got to do an encore! It was great to see part of the Belgian scene again. I’d never seen I Am Legendary Robot or Sporozoïte before and it was cool to see their approaches to chipmusic (which is chipmetal and laptop chiptune/breakcore respectively). Roccow was supposed to come as well but he had to cancel which is very unfortunate because AFAIK he turns floors into fire.
Kuma: Yeah of what little I’ve heard of RoccoW’s music, I could only imagine the guy is a beast live! And I’m happy to hear that you got such a warm response to your music! That’s very cool!
Are you happy with the way the new album–‘Hyper’– has turned out? Are you surprised by people’s responses to it in anyway?
Vegas: Yes! I am very happy with the response to the album. I really didn’t know what to expect since this is my first release made with LSDj and also because the chip hop style may put some people off. I got a lot of nice responses from a lot of people, which I didn’t really expect. The most surprising response was the review by Remy on the Chiptunes=WIN blog! It was so positive it made my heart bleed (but in a good way!). I’d never expect someone to call my EP “one of 2013’s top chiptune albums”!
Kuma: Remy’s a very honest guy and I’m proud to call him a friend and colleague, so when he says something, he genuinely means it. I have to say, we’re usually in agreement on a lot of things musically, your album being one of them! ‘Hyper’ is one of the nicest surprises of the year, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy your music because it’s chip hop can go jump in a well, ’cause your music is legit.
Is there anything working in LSDj taught you about yourself and your method for making music after years of doing so with nanoloop? Has your preference changed now that you’ve put out this album?
Vegas: I prefer LSDj over nanoloop and I think I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I had to really get used to working with it (especially the tracker interface) but now it works better than nanoloop for me. Working with lsdj/nanoloop has taught me that melodies aren’t my strong point. I think if you listen to ‘Hyper’ you will see that the album actually contains very little melody, most of it is bassline and harmonies, which I am fine with and I think suits my music. Also, I love samples (808 snare YESS) and nanoloop doesn’t have those.
Kuma: Nice. I’m glad to hear you’ve found something that works for you, and having been someone whose used piggy tracker for a while, I can definitely say having samples at your disposal in a tracker is very fun!
Well Stephan, it seems we’re nearing the end of our time together. I’ve asked you everything I’ve wanted to ask and you’ve provided some very insightful answers. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing before we wrap things up? Any final words you’d like to leave our readers with?
Vegas: I’d like to thank you for having me, it was fun! I’d also like to thank everyone who is reading this and everyone who has ever listened to my music!
ALSO! I’m still looking for other chip hop artists. I’d be very interested in hearing other artists’ approach to the style.
Kuma: Anytime, Stephan! I definitely look forward to talking to you again and hearing more music from you! Peace!
That’s it for this edition of RCwK! Tune in next time as I bring you a very special edition of Raw Cuts pertaining to an awesome upcoming event you guys should be hella excited about! Don’t forget to follow Vegas Diamond on Facebook and check his newest album ‘Hyper’, which was distributed by our friend Andrew Kilpatrick and the rest of the team over at The Waveform Generators! Peace!