Hey, what’s up ChipWINners? Welcome back to Raw Cuts! This time around, I managed to snag a chat with super chiptune veteran whom, after years of performing and organizing shows, has pulled all the stops out for what may be his biggest venture yet! So sit back, relax, and unwind as I talk music, creativity, family life, and one of the biggest shows of the year with Kevin Martinez, the dynamic artist known best as Wizwars!
Kuma: So first off, Kevin, I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview! I know you’re a busy guy, and I know it’s not easy for you to take the time to sit down and derp it up in a convo with someone between parenthood, musicianship, and whatever else life throws your way, but I appreciate it.
Wizwars: It’s my pleasure! I even just almost broke three toes about five minutes ago and I’m still glad to have a chat with ya!
Kuma: Damn! That is some dedication! I’m honored, and sincerely hope you’re alright, man! That being said, let’s start from the beginning. You’ve been in the chiptune game for a long time, you’ve put out numerous EPs and recently put out your very first LP. What got you into chip in the first place, Kevin? What made you become the man we all know as Wizwars?
Ah yes, Virt: a man so talented and gifted with cluckies he could inspire Wizwars to make cheepy chippy tunes for himself.
Wizwars: Ever since I was a little kid, I was really intrigued by the sounds and the music found in old video games, especially Nintendo games. I was one of those nerdy kids who used to make cassette tapes of the music from games and whatnot…anyway when I was fifteen a friend of mine gave me a pirated version of the music software Acid, and of course I used it to primarily take clips from Nintendo songs and layer drum beats under them…this was all in 2001-2002. I never did anything with this stuff except annoy my mom with it. But anyway, in 2003 I think it was, I found a chiptune cover of a Dream Theater song that Virt had done (at the time Dream Theater was my favorite band, facepalm), and I was like oh fuck yes, people can make music with Nintendo sounds!
So I did some searching and found 8bitpeoples and became hooked on that chiptune sound for life. Got into tracking in 2004, finally felt brave enough to release an EP in 2006 under the name Wizards and Warriors, later shorted to Wizwars. Probably 15-16 demo EPs, 60+ shows (including a Blip Fest) and one LP later, here we are today.
I…I still really like this band’s early work. …I’m still very much 17 inside
Kuma: God damn! That is quite a journey! And so concisely put, as well! I love it! I gotta say, I’m with you in being one of those weird kids that always liked game music. My first walkman was my gameboy (I’d listen to the sound test on king of fighters 95 constantly). Also, if it makes you feel better about the dream theater thing, I still sometimes listen to 30 seconds to mars and saosin. That digression aside, lets delve into those years a little more, as well as your personal tastes and inspiration in music. Where do you draw your inspiration from to make your music and from whom? Which artists–scene or otherwise–make you keep doing what you do?
Wizwars: I listen to a lot of different music, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of both subconsciously and consciously incorporate elements of whatever I’m listening to at the time into my own music, so it’s kind of hard to pin point exactly who or what my influences are at any certain time. Within the chip scene, I’d say my biggest influences have been Bit Shifter and IAYD. Outside of the chiptune scene, damn…there’s too many to list, haha. In the earlier days I was also heavily influenced by NES soundtracks such as Wizards And Warriors, Castlevania 1-3, Mega Man 2 & 3, and Willow.
My main inspiration to write my own music these days just comes from a deep rooted love of music that is both high energy and melodic. Anything happy that can put a smile on your face just by listening to the beautiful, infectious melodies.
Kuma: Awww. That’s freakin’ beautiful. Although considering the love I’ve heard you express for groups like Jimmyeatworld, I’m surprised you didn’t just say, you know, jimmyeatworld. That aside, you certainly have done a great job of crafting that sort of sound. Hell I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m moved every time I hear “Handheld Hero”, which may arguably be your best known song. It certainly has strong emotional resonance with me being as its one of the few songs I distinctly remember for Blipfest. Which brings me to my next question: since I first came into the chipscene via Blipfest, that weekend was also very significant for you because it was the weekend you got married. Has marriage and also parenthood affected your creativity in anyway? Do you find you approach music differently now that you’ve gone home and become a family man?
Kevin: Note to anyone reading this – never plan your honeymoon around a Chiptune festival, too much stress! [Note from Kuma: that means you, Hoodie. ;) ]. But yeah, I’d definitely say that taking Guile’s advice has affected my creativity in a number of ways. Throughout 2011 and some of 2012 I was part of the “Chipthrash” movement of musicians, which for those who do not know was a few people taking Game Boys and trying to push them to extreme limits with incredibly harsh, noisy and chaotic music that made you want to thrash about and punch people. Various people in that movement had different reasons for wanting to make this kind of music, but I did it because I was coming out of a really dark depression and not very happy in my life, and I vented my frustration through my music. But after I met Monique (my now wife), got engaged, and especially after we found out we were expecting and got married, I was filled with so much happiness that it made it really difficult to write that kind of music anymore. Without the anger and the inner turmoil behind it, it just fell flat, and I found myself drawn to writing more happy and melodic music because I had finally found some happiness in my life.
On the negative side, having a child has of course limited my ability to write music as often as I was once able to, as it’s rather difficult to compose when a baby is crawling on you trying to steal your Game Boy!
Kuma: Well if Bob Baffy’s song “Forgetro” is any indication, one day that lil man of yours is going to figure out that what you’ve been doing all this time is playing music and games on an ancient version of his Xbox and that he’d rather just play that instead. XD
I’m happy that you found your way out of that dark place, though, because if you were still there, I don’t think we’d have what I’m about to bring up now, or at least, we wouldn’t have it to the scale it’s reached. Let’s talk about Frequency, which is now approaching it’s third installment! Tell me, what prompted you to create it, along with 8bitLA?
Wizwars: My reasons for creating both Frequency and 8bitLA are the same – the chiptune scene in Los Angeles had become really stagnant, and, hopefully I can say this without offending people…after a certain point, most people really weren’t willing to do anything. In 2011 I was part of a large collective called Obsolete, that consisted of many of the LA chiptune artists working together to run a monthly chiptune event. It lasted for the summer of 2011 and it was great, but then we lost our space and we couldn’t really agree on a new location because everyone had a different opinion as to what the event should be like or where it should be held (warehouse party vs being at a bar vs all ages venue). And thus it kind of just died, and after that no one was really making any moves towards booking regular chiptune shows out here.
So in the Spring of 2012 I said fuck it, I’m going to throw together a chiptune festival and shake shit up a little bit in LA. If no one else was going to step up and do it, it would be hypocritical of me to complain or to talk shit about others for their lack of activity if I wasn’t putting out the effort myself. And the first one was a flop. The music was great but we did it at a tiny (now defunct) DIY spot that very few people knew of; not many people came out, but I did meet Jesse Avila of 1000 Needles there, who is the other co-founder of 8bitLA. Without him I probably would’ve never moved Frequency from a small DIY space to one of the more popular indie venues in Los Angeles (The Smell), as we did with the second edition, which was exponentially more successful than the first, and we’re hoping that the same will continue with Frequency 3.0
Kuma: Let’s talk in depth about Frequency 3.0. I take it that considering the line up you got, that this is not only the largest show the 8bitLA crew has put on to date, but it looks like you’re really looking to raise the standard of large scale shows! Tell me, do you draw inspiration from the other pockets of chiptune that have done well in pulling off these events like 8static and BRKFest, and if so, what do you feel they did that you’d like to emulate, and what sets you apart from them that you’d like the community to take away from this experience?
Wizwars: It’s definitely the biggest show I’ve ever worked on. I’m actually cocky enough to say that Frequency 3.0 is probably the largest and most ambitious chiptune event that has been held on the West Coast. As far as I know there has never been a 20 artist 3 day chiptune festival west of the Rockies, and I’m pretty proud of that! (Hopefully no one can prove me wrong :P)
I actually do not really look to the other chiptune festivals for inspiration. I have a lot of respect for people who put these kinds of events together because I know firsthand that it’s a lot of work coordinating everything, but since I haven’t been able to firsthand experience any of those festivals (being poor sucks), we (8bitLA) just kind of look inward and think what we would personally enjoy as someone attending a chiptune festival, and try to make it happen. We’ve got a line up of fantastic chiptune artists ranging from scene legends to up and coming folks you might have never heard of, but are incredibly talented. We have (in my humble opinion) the best chiptune VJ around, Tim Abad. And we’re having a pizza party, and there will probably be some video games somewhere. What more can you really ask for?
Kuma: Yeah, I guess you’re right. I really couldn’t ask for much more than that, other than I’m curious to know what’s on the agenda for you guys after Frequency?
Wizwars: Well, the first order of business will be recovering from the inevitable Frequency Flu. After that, hopefully by summer of 2014 8bitLA will usher in the return of a monthly chiptune event in Downtown Los Angeles. We just have to find a space first. There will also be random one of shows (hopefully more than we’ve done this year, now that we have a bigger and better crew) and also our soon to be legendary annual 4th of July BBQ show (which will also apparently be a pool party this year). And of course, planning for Frequency 4.0!
Kuma: Nice. I know the steady venue thing seems to be what the scene struggles with most in the various pockets it exists in, but I’m glad to hear that you’ve got a plan to keep moving things forward.
Kevin, once again, I’d like to thank you for sitting down with me and taking the time to conduct this interview. is there anything you’d like to say in closing to our readers?
Wizwars: Hey thanks for asking awesome questions and making this a fun interview! Everyone reading this should feel free to book tickets to Los Angeles over Martin Luther King weekend next month and come rock out with us in DTLA at Frequency 3.0! West Coast is the best coast, y’all better watch out for that real Cali chip!
And with that, we close out this month’s edition of RCwK! I’d like to thank all ya’ll for sticking with us here at ChipWIN and highly recommend you heed Kevin’s advice! If you’re on the west coast and haven’t done so already, snag yourself tickets for Frequency 3.0 cause not only is that show going to be awesome, but it is a wonderful substitute for those who couldn’t make out to MAGFest this year and an excellent follow up for those who did! I also urge you to check out Wizwar’s music and keep up with both him and 8bitLA on social media to not only stay up-to-date on frequency goodness, but to be in the know about the cool events and music coming out of the Best Coast chipscene.
Peace and Love to all my fellow ChipWINners. Keep on rocking.
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Facebook (Page) (Group) | Bandcamp | Twitter | Frequency 3.0 (Fb event)
[Editor’s note: Be sure to catch both 8 Bit Power Hour (8pm EST) & geekbeatradio (10pm EST) this coming Monday (1/13) to hear directly from the 8bitLA folk about Frequency 3.0!]