Greetings, readers. Under normal circumstances, I’d have a review lined up as an article, and maybe even an interview to cap it off and give you folks a little bit of insight into the artist’s creative process. However, unforeseen hurdles caused me to scrap the review I had lined up, and I went into a creative slump. This article was supposed to publish two weeks ago today, for perspective, but now I’ve worked up the motivation to write again. So, rather than doing a traditional review or interview-review combination, I’d like to talk about something else: the community we’ve fostered for the last six or so years, and what it’s done for me in terms of my personal growth as both a writer and a human being. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Happy New Year ChipWINners! Welcome back to my column, So You Wanna Make A Chiptune! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Normally, I’ve reserved SYWMAC for the review of hardware and software related to the production of chiptune to help you determine what would be best suited for you. However, with this being the first article of the new year, I thought I’d talk about something just as important: motivation.
I’m sure a great many of you have made resolutions to become more active, steadfast and prolific with your creative endeavors. Just like with any other resolution, I know you’re going to need help staying focused. It’s okay: concentrating on new goals, New Year’s resolutions or otherwise, can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources within the scene to help you stay motivated! If you’re willing to work towards your larger goal by doing smaller goals, you’re guaranteed to make your dreams a reality in no time. Let’s not waste any more time. Come along with me as I guide you beautiful unicorns to pristine waters that I hope you will drink from!
Robot Unicorn Attack is TM and C of Adult Swim Games
‘Sup chipbros! Welcome back to RCwK! This time around, I took the time to sit and chat with a good friend in the scene. Hailing from Philadelphia, this dedicated musician turned DJ has had the good fortune to work with some great talent! After having the opportunity to further his reputation through working with them, he’s got a new project lined up that seeks to pay forward that good karma to aspiring artists in his hometown. But don’t just take my word for it: sit back, relax, and grab a bottle of Cherry Wheat, cause this time, we’re cuttin’ it up with Blake Colello, aka Pixel8ter!
Kuma: I’ve known you for a fairly long time, Blake. In fact, you’re one of the first people I met in the Philly chiptune scene and seem to be a staple of the community there. Tell me, how did you get started in all this? Where did your musical journey begin?
Pixel8ter: I wouldn’t say a staple as much as a fan. I showed up late to the chiptune party but should have been here since the beginning. It’s in my soul just like everyone else who grew up with classic gaming consoles.
My musical journey. Well…I’ve been reflecting on things like that recently and realizing how much music was always my natural tendency. For example: at a grade school party I would rather play with drum kits on their Casio than play spin the bottle both out of a social awkwardness, and [as] a preference.
Kuma: Ah yes, social anxiety is the cornerstone of chiptune! You were clearly well on your way even as a youngin’! That said, I take it that curiosity of playing with drum kits and old synths carried through with you throughout the years, yes?
Pixel8ter: I always wanted to play a keyboard, even if it was someone’s midi keyboard program through the computer keys. I always had Casios and cheap keyboards. Now that most stuff is faithfully emulated I can enjoy all the classic synths I never had the chance or funds to use. I would still rather play drum beats on a music keyboard, though.
The chiptune community attracts those with social issues because of its acceptance and common desires, namely to be recognized for who you are, even if that’s just someone who wants to stand in a corner alone and enjoy the party going on around them.
Kuma: Ah you said several things in that answer I’d like to address individually, so we’ll start from the top. I’ve only seen you perform once, but when you did, I noticed you did use a combination of keyboards in tandem with your laptop. Is that style of playing something you reserve solely for live performances or is it also your preferred method of composing, as well?
Pixel8ter: My current setup is simple and effective: a laptop and midi keyboard/controller. I can be easily distracted by endless gearlust so I want to limit myself to only what I need. That being said, I always want to find new ways to interact with the music. I’ve experimented with a Rock Band drumkit and plan on trying a DDR mat. I want to be as “live” as possible both in my performance and in the energy behind the track.
-photo courtesy of Blake Colello
Kuma: That seems to be rather converse to the trend in the scene, but I appreciate your music more now because of that. That said, while awkwardness may be a cornerstone of chiptune, you certainly have had the opportunity and privilege to make well respected friends in the scene. Tell me, how did you first get involved with DJ CUTMAN and become a member of the GameGhops crew?
Pixel8ter: What part is converse? The live part?
Pixel8ter: Energy can be in many forms, and when someone programs their music, all that energy goes into that. [I have] ultimate respect for those that can handle tracking, but right now it’s not how I make stuff. Thinking about exploring it, though. I’m just used to playing traditional instruments like guitar and keyboards, but the energy that some can put out is not about “how” its done. It just comes from inside them and they throw it out there and we feel it.
The prevailing notion seems to be: good music is good music. Your journey is your own and the goal is the same: feels. Although social awkwardness may be common, I only went to a few 8statics before talking to folks like An0va and SKGB. It was pretty easy to start convos with folks.
Kuma: I can respect and agree with that. The idea that energy put into a project is more important than how its done, no doubt. That said, I take it the mutual goal of feels is how you connected with the people you’ve come to work with in your time in the scene, yes?
Pixel8ter: Yes. I played Too Many Games, a game convention in PA, a few years ago. The crowd was sparse. The room was dark. But there was a guy watching it and apparently digging the sounds. That guy was DJ CUTMAN. He liked my stuff and talked about a label he was starting. I was eager to put out some of my music and he was eager to master it. Now I’m doing a few remixes for projects on the label too. It’s a very talented group of people, but there are so many folks i’d love to work with.
Kuma: Yes it is. I’m glad you brought up the story of meeting CUTMAN, because while shows like that can seem unassuming, it’s often those little unexpected things that help us take the next step forward. With that in mind I’d like to move on to the real reason I asked for this interview. Tell me, Blake: what exactly is Electric Philly?
Pixel8ter: It’s an open mic for electronic music. Have you ever been to one?
Kuma:No, I can’t say I have!
Pixel8ter: Yeah, ’cause for some reason they don’t seem to exist. Until now.
You can go to a bar during the week and hear folks practice live performances on acoustic and such but can’t seem to find a place to plug in your laptop or drum machine and jam out. I want more opportunities to perform and experiment and wanted others to have the same chance, so I’m creating that myself.
It’s not specific to genre, just a focus on as much live performing as possible. We can spontaneously collab, improvise noise jams, or even fuck up completely! Most of us just sit in our rooms or dark basements and practice this stuff, but if you want to share it and have some fun with other fans of electronic music, now we can! At least if u can get to Philly…
Kuma: I respect that immensely, because for as welcoming as chiptune is, outside of shows, and a couple small cliques of friends in the community, it seems that due to conflicting schedules, money restraints and distance that often times we are alone as opposed to with one another. As such, I do applaud your initiative in this. Tell me, how does one sign up for Electric Philly? Do they just have to show up? Also, how often are you planning on holding these events?
Pixel8ter:We have a Facebook group page people can join and keep up to date/communicate with each other through. We also have an event page for the first one. There’s a signup sheet link in those that I made to make it easier to organize. I intend to make this a monthly event, but that largely depends on folks signing up, the community coming out to support and buy drinks at the bar. It’s a free event. I want to keep it that way which means the bar has to make some money. I’m not doing this for the fortune and glory. Think about how a comedian does shitty dive bars to work on their set before the pay per view special films. Electronic musicians deserve that chance, too.
Kuma: Yeah that makes sense. Offers a chance for exposure without it being about the money, just the experience.
Pixel8ter: Without it being about being “perfect” too, like the 8static open mic is good for someone to make a great impression and rock the crowd, this is more to have fun and jam some ideas or practice performing. Plus for this event you can get 10-15 mins to play so it can give you a chance to get into deep stuff if u want!
Kuma: And that’s probably even more important than anything else. That feeling of comfort in being able to screw up in front of others without it being mortifying. That’s something that’s absolutely priceless.
That being said, Blake, I wish you the best in all your ventures, and it was a pleasure conversing with you. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing to anyone who might be reading?
Pixel8ter: There’s not too much on my Soundcloud yet, but I will be working to put out some stuff this year. Also, thank you for taking the time to interview me. Folks like you keep the scene as awesome as it is.
Kuma: You’re much too kind, but the feeling is mutual, my friend. Peace.
That’s it for this edition of RWcK! Don’t forget to check out Pixel8ter’s music and keep up with Electric Philly on Facebook! And, of course, don’t forget to keep coming back to the blog for all your chip related interviews, reviews, previews, and recipes!
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!