Fearofdark is not a newcomer on the scene, but rather a miracle of modern science, a beacon of Chiptune wisdom, and a coffee enthusiast. As a revered Famitracker Wizard and ModPlug Master coming off the back of several successful albums, Mr. ofdark has released a brand new chippy toure de force titled ‘Exit Plan’. The album combines his love of jazz harmonies, four to the floor head bobbing, and pseudo avant garde whole tone weirdness. ‘Exit Plan’ is released through Ubiktune, a label known for their ridiculously complex, progressive music that combines super catchy melodies and riffs with weird time signatures and absurd harmonic progressions. This album is no outlier. It exemplifies everything that I just listed, as this album is masterfully crafted.
Alright team. Let’s go on a journey. Let’s jam!
Fearofdark + Dragons = I should have studied maths rather than music at university
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!
It always astounds me how much one can do with older software. Originally called ModPlug Tracker in 1997, it allowed users to listen to several music modules from file extensions such as .it, .s3m, and .mod. For its time, it was one of the most unique and well optimized audio trackers released. In 2004, the source code for the ModPlug was released and maintained under an open license; eventually, paved the way for OpenMPT: a newly designed, Windows interfaced tracker with VST plugin compatibility and ASIO support.
From the first track, you imagine a vivid sunrise from the deck of your futuristic Corvette. Top down, you stare at the glare in the rear view mirror and look forward to see the city approaching, hundreds of miles ahead. The road is long, but your mind is clear. The city moves closer. What this composer does, he does incredibly well. and every song gives you a calm uncertainty. Just know that every melody is filled with a unique complexity that will challenge the headphones of even the most high-tech audiophile listener. It has that power.
You might say that the album qualifies as dated but, I say it’s a just a damn good album. Before this review was even written, Hoodie and I discussed if it was too late to talk about; it ultimately came down to: it’s never been reviewed here at ChipWIN HQ. As confident as I am to say you’ve probably all heard it, this album is worth discussing again and again. Fortunately, we were able to contact the man himself and ask a few questions!
DjjD: I think I first heard your tune, “Pancake Department” back in 2012, but how long have you been composing and producing for?
FoD: I guess there’s technically more than one answer to this question. I started sharing and releasing my own compositions in public as “Fearofdark” in 2009; nearly 5 years ago! However, I’ve actually been making music on trackers since 2004 or so, tho I never shared them over the internet. In addition, I’ve been studying the piano on and off for longer than I remember.
DjjD: I’m really quite impressed how much you get out of trackers, what do you normally use?
FoD: My first and most common tool of choice is OpenMPT, in addition to several sample packs and things I can find. I’ve also been using Famitracker a lot since 2010. Other than Those, I use things like Beepola for making 1-bit Beeper tunes, and occasionally dabble in other things like Raster Tracker.
DjjD: About the album, I remember hearing a couple of tunes before ‘Motorway’ was released, such as “Surfing on a Sine Wave” or “Rolling Down The Street, In My Katamari”, were they always meant to be part of the release?
FoD: Yeah, pretty much. I made “Surfing on a Sine Wave” initially as a stand-alone track, but then once I started planning the album I decided to include it. “Rolling down the Street” was going to be an opening track but once I got really stuck into the album, the track order went through several changes, things got cut and so on.
DjjD: ‘Motorway’. These tunes certainly are the driving type but did you have any sort of theme in mind when writing these?
FoD: Not particularly. To me, as a whole, “Motorway” will always remind me of the idea of leaving home and traveling. Some songs were written with that idea in mind; “Fast City” was inspired by a trip to New York, for instance, and the final track itself. Others really weren’t, like “An Age of Planetary Pride.”
DjjD: Sort of an odd one but I’ve always wondered, why the name fearofdark?
FoD: It’s a username I came up with when I was really young. Since then, I’ve kinda stuck with it. It has nothing to do with Iron Maiden, as some people might be disappointed to know.
DjjD: To switch things up, I was kinda curious about the S3XMODIT Mania Entries. How did those all come to be?
FoD: S3XMODIT Mania was a weekly knock-out competition held by the Battle of the Bits community, which I took part in. Samples were provided by the members of Botb and each week we’d be given a random (and often ridiculous) sample pack, and then we’d be given about 4 days to submit an it/xm/mod/s3m. It was a pretty fun thing to take part in.
DjjD: Simple one: What are your influences?
FoD: Aha, a lot of things.. too many things probably. I suppose in chipmusic terms, I’ve been heavily influenced by the likes of Kulor, Blitz Lunar, virt, a lot of the regular Famicompo Mini entrants, a lot of the people from Botb and who were on 8bc before its demise (in other words, too many to name). As far as non-chipmusic is concerned, I like listening to and studying a fair amount of classical music – my favourites are J.S Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Beethoven. I also used to listen to a lot of Funk and Prog-Rock (Tower of Power, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, ELP, Funkadelic and so on), but I’ve started looking at electronic music a lot more as well (again, far too many to name). I also get sidetracked by pop music from time to time too.
DjjD: Do you have anything planned for the future of fearofdark? Exciting new projects?
FoD: Hmm, maybe ;) I’m working on a couple of solo projects, which are slowly getting there and might not see their release until late 2014. I’m also working on a couple of things for compilations too. That’s really all I can say.
DjjD: If you had one bit of advice to give to future composers/producers aspiring to use trackers, what would it be?
FoD: Keep practicing, don’t be afraid to take part in competitions and community projects and most importantly, throw love, flair and passion into whatever you make.
DjjD: If you were a genie and a person asked you this wish, “I wish you would not grant me this wish” what would you do?
FoD: Divide by zero… or give them a cat; who doesn’t love cats?
Steve manages to keep my attention throughout this whole album with little effort, but there’s more than meets the ear. You can listen to this album casually no problem, but listen a little closer and it will seem as if the song is yielding more notes than before. Layers upon layers, verses upon choruses ensures that this album never gets boring. Two weeks ago, I was on a trip that took me from here in Arizona, to Alaska (by flight), to Indiana (by car) and FoD was a most popular choice among the 3 MP3 players my friend, Jesse and I had.
This is an amazing album. By far, my favorite track was: ‘Funknitium-99’.
First off, I’m all about the journey tracks. If it’s longer than six minutes and sets you on an adventure, that to me equals perfect. I can’t speak highly enough of this one, guys. It’s super good ‘n funky.
Sure this album is a couple of years old, but why not give it some more attention. I love you, Ubiktune. Yes, that’s a personal statement of love. I come to you, looking for music and you kindly in return deliver things of the highest quality I couldn’t have possibly imagined.
Fearofdark is one hell of an artist, and if you’ve already heard ‘Motorway’, check out his latest creations on Bandcamp which include his S3XMODIT Mania Entries hosted by Battle of the Bits. A little different than ‘Motorway’ but equally as awesome. So diverse. I can only stand by and watch this guy perfect his craft. Highly recommended. All of it.
‘Sup, chipWINners! Its your boy Kuma back with another interview! This time around, I managed to get something super special with not one but two awesome chiptune legends who talk to me about their creative process, how they first met, and a few other unexpected topics! Without further ado, I present my first interview with a duo on Raw Cuts: xyce!
Kuma: It is a pleasure to finally be able to get to sit down and talk with you guys!
How are you two doing?
Tom Offringa (xylo): Good!
Roel Heerspink (cerror): Great! You?
Kuma: Not bad, thanks! Let’s get started, shall we?
cerror: Yes sir!
Kuma: I’m especially excited as this will be my first interview with more than one person at a time, so this should be very exciting!
xylo: Haha it’ll work out!
cerror: Hope it’s not confusing!
Kuma: So, first question: you two both have solocareers as electronic artists, but you definitely seem to have been most prolific as a duo. How did you two meet in the first place?
xylo: I heard a keygen from X-Men and the name cerror came by. I was pretty active on a dutch forum those days and I saw cerror his name across there as well, so I asked him if he was actually the same guy. And he was!
cerror: Yup! So he contacted me and said he wanted to make tunes as well and I started to teach him some stuff.
cerror: And that way we started making music together. That was in 2006, I think?
xylo: Somewhere around 2005/2006 I guess yeah!
cerror: He lived in Groningen and I lived in Meppel (hour away by train) so it was via internet at first.
Kuma:Very cool. That being said, Roel, since you seem to have been doing this longer than Tom has, I’m curious as to just how long you’ve been doing this before, especially since, in your equipment lists on your albums, you seem to be one of the chiptuners that prefers the sounds made with consoles and computers made in the early and mid 80s, compared to a lot of other folk I’ve interviewed who stick to Game boys and such.
cerror: Wow, well I started like everybody else: with gaming. First thing I gamed on was a commodore 128 that belonged to my nephews. And later on I was a big Sega Megadrive (Genesis) fan and also old PCs, of course. That was around ’92 or so. I used to be a drummer and I saw a guy at school making music with Fasttracker II. I got that one online and started to look for music to learn from. I saw this site named traxinspace and it had like breakbeat and trance stuff but also chiptunes made by Zalza! This was around 97.
Thus, I started to learn and remembered the good old days. I also started research and learn and also purchase machines while learning the trackers. I lost 1 hard disk with 800 bad tunes, but I just kept on doing it until today. Only got pretty decent at chiptunes in 2003/2004 I think.
xylo: Our choice of old computers like the Amiga and Atari instead of the Game boy is pretty much based on the sound it makes. The trackers work great, we’re used to them and the chips in both those computers sound awesome.
cerror: Exactly! Of course, I’m heavily influenced by the demoscene (I’ve been a member since 2001) and crackteams I’ve been in.
Kuma: Oh man, that’s awful about that hard drive you lost! I’m sorry about that, but at least those tunes helped you become the artist you are today! I’m glad you mentioned Zalza, as I’m listening to Mosaik right now!
Now Tom, I’m sure it was already exciting for you to work with Roel as it was, but I couldn’t imagine how you must have felt when you got a chance to work with Zalza and RADIx, as well! Does it ever hit you out of the blue that in the…8 or so years you’ve been in chiptune that you’ve come so far and have had a chance to work with so many awesome artists?
xylo: Working with Roel became very smooth. As he taught me pretty much all the basics of Modplug and I was inspired heavily by the same kind of artists Roel was our styles mixed in pretty flawlessly.
cerror: Yeah I have to quickly come in between and I must say that that was an incredibly coincidence . Our styles were pretty much the same. Love for the same type of tunes. Now I shall shut up.
xylo: As cerror was already a pretty known name by those kind of artists and we visited some demoparties it was easy to connect. We talked to Zalza when he was planning on doing a Chipdisk with artists from back then. So because of he mainly knowing cerror and we were working a lot together, he (Zalza) asked xyce to do a track with him. We met him on Revision where the Chipdisk was released!
Working with RADIx was a true blessing, as well. With social media coming up it was suddenly a lot easier to quickly get in touch with someone (asides from irc and stuff). So we talked a bit about chiptunes and the idea came up to do a track together.
cerror: I came in my pants when I got the news from Tom that RADIx wanted to work with us. And not only once, but TWICE! [RADIx has a] New album, too.
Kuma: You have no idea how hard that made me laugh!
cerror: Hehehehehe, it’s true though! I mean, I’ve started making tunes since 2000 or so, RADIx since 92! I am a 3rd gen chiptune guy.
Kuma: I can only imagine! It definitely sounds like the way i would react if someone like 4mat ever said he wanted to make music with me! I’d just….spaghettis everywhere!
xylo: Working with guys as RADIx, Zalza, Malmen, alk and more feels incredible. It’s amazing to work with those that inspire us daily musically and them taking the time to work with us and enjoy making music makes us very happy!
cerror: Whahahaha, I would too if 4mat would ask us! He’s also a demoscener, btw!
Totally! Although I’ve made tunes for a while, I am not as famous as 4mat, RADIx or Zalza. So it’s a super honor for me.
Kuma: Damn! It certainly sounds like you guys have been afforded a lot of opportunities in the scene and that, in particular for you Tom, that most of your career musically since having met Roel seems to have just naturally unfurled for you! It’s pretty amazing! Is there anything either of you wish you would have done that maybe you haven’t had the chance to do or something you wish to do differently artistically? Such as maybe take up more on the visual side in the demoscene or experiment more with your sound? I’m really curious.
xylo: Well, experimenting is something we generally do. cerror’s got his VST music which is pretty different. But when we make music together and try a different approach (for example some doskpop, italo or drum n bass) the happy chords and vibes seem to come magically back in to our songs, which makes them instantly recognizable for most.
cerror: Yeah, I really want to make tunes on more different types of machines. Like the ZX Speccy, Atari XL, Sega, Nintendo (NES, SNES and Gameboy, in particular) and so on. But it’s really hard to learn new trackers. Don’t have the patience/time for it. And I can’t step off the melodies. It’s just hard coded in my brain
xylo: Concerning machines I agree with Roel. Expanding our horizon with more machines would be great.
cerror: I have a lot of machines. Just no time or sd cartridges/transfer thingies. I’ve got a list here of machines I have.
Kuma: Yeah I really have to agree there, Tom: I can spot a xyce tune out of a Coachella sized event on a single mp3 player, but there’s nothing wrong with those happy chords. I think it just adds to what makes your music–and chiptune as an instrumentation and/or genre–unique. Hell, that’s why I fell in love with it in the first place when I went to Blipfest last year.
That being said, one thing i have noticed with your music is the Sega sound and influence in what you produce. It’s almost funny to hear you say you want to expand your horizons more but that sound, or sounds akin to it, are already there.
cerror: Well style-wise it is yes. But the real sound though is missing. That’s what I want in the next album.
Kuma: Is that intentional or do you think that just comes out subconsciously and you haven’t fully realized that its there yet?
cerror: Not really recognize it although now that you say, I can see what you mean. The basslines and chord hits definitely stand out.
xylo: It’s the experience making music on those machines that is really important, as well. Our Amiga Mods and Atari snd’s have a very distinctive sound. Our Fasttracker II tracks (XM) have a bit of clash sound with different kind of sounds, samples and stuff.
Kuma: Since you bought it up, lets talk about your future projects, both together and individually. What do you guys have up your sleeves for the next album? What sorta hardware and software did you use this time around? Did you stick to your guns or did you expand a little more?
cerror: Didn’t really talked about it to be honest.
xylo: Although it sounds like some other machines, making music on the machines alone makes it that songs have the very distinctive sound the machines produces, as the Atari and Amiga do, as well. That’s the main difference between FastTracker II tracks ‘sounding’ like Sega tracks, and tracks actually made on the machine.
cerror: Yup. Sound is important. The feel, etc. That’s why I dislike commodore style VST. And stuff like that. We do it hardcore
xylo: No expending this album with other machines than the usual, but the album has a lot of variety in styles (some easier, some loud etc).
Kuma: I can tell. I don’t even think Radlib/oxygenstar/what’sCarlsnamenow? does it quite as hard as that.
xylo: We used the Atari 1040ST, Amiga 500 and PC just as the other 4 albums.
cerror: We want to do more types of machines, but as I said: it’s hard to learn new trackers. I can make a tune on an Atari blindfolded. But a Sega tune? Hard hard work!
I am 29 now so when I was 17 I had the time.
Kuma: That’s very true. I’m nowhere near even half the guys on cm.o, but I can at least make a little melody or drum beat on piggy tracker or sunvox in a couple minutes. I couldn’t figure out FamiTracker or Schism Tracker for the life of me, though. Also, I have to agree: it does seem–outwardly, at least–like Sega tunes are hard work. Sega guys definitely seem to make up one of–if not the–lowest common denominator of what you see in chip. Hell, outside The Duchess, the only other person I know that does Sega stuff is The Flight Away, and he does samples through his laptop as opposed to working with the hardware directly.
cerror: Coda, for example, is what I want to achieve on the Sega. Unfortunately it will take years and years to get there sound wise.
xylo: Experiencing is always a good thing, but as some other trackers feel way more comfortable and known it’s easy to gripe back to those when you want to push out some inspiration in to notes.
cerror: I’ve already made some patterns with a Sonic 2 drums and bass sound but now we need to make an entire tune. And what Tom says is true: we can still make compelling music on the platforms we know, so why quit? It’s just the wish to make on other machines, but that will come gradually I think. Takes time.
Kuma: Exactly. Thank you for reminding me of Coda, by the way. I came across his work briefly when I was first getting into chip about a year ago. I forgot that this man was just a music making machine.
Cerror: He is marvelous, I adore his stuff. Also a good coder!
Kuma: I’d imagine so! You spend as much time making tracker music as he does or you guys do, and picking up coding seems to become second hand, as well. That being said, when can the public expect your new album, and will you be doing anything to promote it? Go on tour? Radio show listening party? Anything like that?
xylo: We’ll try to get it released somewhere in the next few weeks. Hopefully sooner than later. Promoting not really. We’re discussing a listening party and, of course, yell some around on gigs.
cerror: And, of course, Facebook and gig whore-ing.
xylo: Besides Social Media spamming we don’t do a lot of promoting. The previous albums seemed to go around the internet without a lot of effort (thanks for doing so people/listeners/fans!!!!!!!) so hopefully it’ll work out this time as well!
cerror: And this album is a little bit more high profile, so we hope more people pick it up.
We have help now. From the awesome people at cheapbeats.
xylo: We’re releasing it under the Cheapbeats label, so hopefully a little bigger audience than the last album will pick it up as well.
[Edit: An online listening party has since been squared away on June 8th for xyce’s upcoming album via 8 Bit Power Hour on 8bitx.com. Click HERE for details on that!]
Kuma: I’m glad to hear it! I know your devoted fans, as well as new ones, will definitely be excited to hear what you two have produced! Although it is interesting that you two are relatively quiet about what you make but have found such success in doing so. Were you two always that way or was their a time you pushed harder to be recognized? Or does the recognition simply not matter? Do you guys just not give a damn?
Cerror: Well it’s nice, of course, to get recognition, but it’s not our first priority. We make the music because we like doing it.
xylo: Well I guess recognition is always fun, and to hear people liking the music we make but it is definitely not a priority.
cerror: And live gigs are the awesomest because we get to know new people, get drunk and party while showing our prides and joy!
xylo: That is definitely true! And I don’t really know how to get more known. Talking on social media seems to work. I guess it’s still a niche market and people liking our style will probably come across it some time.
cerror: I have no idea how we got so pretty well known. [It’s a] Mystery to me!
xylo: It’s very fun and actually makes me very happy to see people opening threads about our new works on reddit, for example, without any effort from our side.
cerror: Plus youtube videos and the occasional Facebook ad. It’s good for my fragile ego, but I still don’t see why people like us. Well, we are pretty cool dudes.
Kuma: Yes, that you certainly are! That being said, I thank you both for your time, gentlemen! This was truly a pleasure getting to interact with both of you! Do any of you have anything you’d like to say before we wrap this up? Advice you’d like to give? Promotional, ego stroking goodness? Drunkfest stories you guys wanna share before this all ends?
Kuma: Nice! What about you, Tom? Do you have anything you’d like to say?
xylo: Well, there was one time where we went to Belgium to play with Men of Mega and RoccoW where some girl walked around being extremely drunk. She was on a Facebook picture a few days after and if I recall correctly Roel called her a name on that post. It came to be she was tagged and she didn’t really liked being called that! Hahaha! Awesome keyboard-hero goodness!
cerror: Almost forgot about that! Whahahaha! It wasn’t nice of me but she was acting like a bit of a whore. And we have a lot of good anecdote’s about men of mega guys almost falling offstage and falling on slippery road and drinking too much! Stories like that. Typical gig stories. Hehehehe! Thank you Adam for this interview! Such an honor.
xylo: But to wrap it up! Visit a gig if you’re nearby to experience those in real life! Keep our Facebook and Twitter in mind the next couple of days/weeks for updates on our new album and upcoming gigs and releases! And thank you for having us! Great opportunity!
Kuma: Thank you for being with me!
Hope you guys enjoyed that article! Don’t forget to follow Xyce on Facebook and Twitter so you can keep up with updates about their soon to be released album! Join us next time as I take the time to talk to sleepytimejesse, a chiptuner and music composer who’s making quite a name for himself as a solo artist as well as with an increasingly popular indie rock band called The Zou!