Back in 2011, before I had been formally introduced to chiptune, I listened to a lot of folk and indie artists. Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Tree People, and AJJ (then Andrew Jackson Jihad) dominated my playlists and YouTube history. I listened to that music so often that as I got older I had to start taking breaks from it because it felt too familiar. But nevertheless, those records maintained their value to me over the years, acting as my go-to answer when asked about the kind of music I like.
So what does all that have to do with ‘.--. ..- .-.. .-..’ by null? Well, there’s a special feeling you get when you hear a song that sounds enough like your favorite band to make you do a double take. When you find yourself wondering if you didn’t get the memo about their early-years alias. When you realize you’ve discovered something completely new, but so similar to what you’re fond of. It’s a good feeling – and when you hear chiptune in it, it’s an even better feeling. And here’s where I tell you all about it.
Hey guys! Welcome back to another edition of Raw Cuts With Kuma. Did you enjoy the last interview with SKGB? I sure hope so! That being said, this time we have an interview with a very well rounded figure in the scene (he came from a background in game design and has found a home in music production), and who’s rather well known on the east coast. I took the time to talk to Christian Montoya, the man also known as Decktonic. We chatted about his music, the state of the current chipscene, and some recent events that have shaken it up in the past couple weeks. Lets get to it!
Kuma: So what got you into music in the first place?
Decktonic: In 2009 I was making my own Flash and iPhone games and I thought I might try to make my own soundtrack music as well, and it was right around the time that KORG DS-10 came out, and I just picked it up on a whim while at my local Gamestop.
I had no intention of making dance music, I was just thinking I would make simple loops for my games, but as I started exploring the program, I realized I could do a lot with it, and that tipped me over the edge of the rabbit hole with electronic music production.
Kuma: Very cool. That being said, as you just mentioned, you did come into this with the intention of doing it originally just to make loops for games you were working on at the time. Would you say that since then, your passion for music has over taken your passion for gaming?
Decktonic: I would say the two have diverged. I still design games for a living, but music is a hobby that I like to pursue when I want to relax while still flexing my creative muscles. My style has also diverged, since I don’t do soundtrack work at all. I’ve been obsessed with electronic music for as long as I’ve been obsessed with video games (as long as I can remember) and I think music production has allowed me to get in touch with this obsession in a very deep way. It’s also very important for me to look at music on its own, not as part of another creative work but for the purpose of making songs that stand on their own as just “good music” (whatever that is).
Kuma: Hahaha. Well so far, I can definitely say of what I’ve seen [of your performances] and heard of your music that you definitely know what good is, but you express a sentiment that I’ve heard echoed a lot among people in the chiptune and vgm scene, which is this dichotomy of wanting to make music for the sake of music but also acknowledging the video game roots that this genre of music has because of the hardware and software used to make it. As someone who’s been on both sides of the fence creatively, was it easy for you to separate the two or is that something you think-even if it doesn’t particularly apply to you- may be a hurdle for the genre in general? Is it not possible for the masses to be able to separate the music from the gaming culture?
Decktonic: That’s a loaded question, so forgive me if I ramble in my response.
Kuma: I’m aware that it is, so pardon me if you feel like I’ve put you on the spot.
Decktonic: No this is good, lemme see… The way I see it, any producer under 30 grew up with video games. Their influence is present in all styles of music these days. Hmmm… there’s chiptunes, and then there’s music made with old gaming hardware. I don’t fall into either of those categories. I make music with a Nintendo DS program that emulates a classic KORG analog synthesizer that was all the rage in electronic music production before the NES existed. If there’s any nostalgia that I’m to associated with, it’s the raw underground electro music of the 80s. The early days of synth music, maybe. That’s what a lot of my work has been compared to.
At the same time, I’m totally comfortable with the EDM community and have been known to play in modern software like Ableton Live and Traktor a few times, but I do call the chip scene my home, whether I fit in or not, and I’ve seen this issue quite a bit. It’s something everyone is still figuring out.
There’s a lot I could say about it, but here’s the best way I can put it: if producers want to take advantage of that retro game nostalgia, that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with it. I wouldn’t be afraid of that. If producers want to keep their distance from it, then chip music needs to establish it’s own culture. Not just an underground Internet counter-culture, but something that speaks to the nature of the music itself. I think chip music was meant to be the new punk, but I haven’t seen enough of that. I like getting down in the pit to some Nullsleep or Monodeer, and if that’s the culture we like, let’s put that at the forefront. Let’s wear it on our sleeves.
Oh, one last thing I was going to add to that. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I think it’s fine if some producers go in one direction and some in another. There’s this false notion that the community needs to be one scene with a common mindset. That would be a mistake. It’s a big community. Niche, maybe, but there’s a lot of potential. I like that things are going in a lot of different directions. It lends itself to more creativity and freedom of expression. We should embrace that.
Kuma: I like that sentiment. It’s very thoughtful on your behalf and I like that you aren’t afraid to tackle the fact that regardless of how chip is accepted or interpreted that its roots are what they are and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter which direction we choose to take it in.
Speaking of directions, I and a few other artists have noticed that-especially with the end of Blipfest (RIP)- chip seems to be migrating out west and seems to be finding a very comfortable spot in Detroit, a state well known for producing and embracing new and cool music historically, from classic Motown R&B and Soul to Punk Rock to Acid House and D&B. As someone who’s been primarily out on the east coast, how do you feel about the focus of chip shifting towards these other states and how do you feel the shifting of the spotlight from the east coast to the midwest will affect what’s happening here in places like NY and Philly? And yes, Detroit is a state now.
Decktonic: (LOL) Honestly this is something I’ve thought about a lot. First of all, it’s great that chip music is finding more “homes” in the USA. It makes sense that collectives should be springing up in different areas, and let it be said that what’s been going on in places like Detroit or the Midwest US (see: BRKfest) is totally home grown. These are local movements that are entirely grassroots born and raised, we are talking about a bunch of young chip heroes just getting together and throwing shows however they could. It’s impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish in a short time, I look up to these guys.
As for New York City and Philadelphia, let’s face it… the music scenes here are very commercial. There are a few established chip monthlies (8static, I/O, Pulsewave) that are doing well but otherwise there isn’t much interest among promoters to do what I will call “weird music.” This is considering that these two cities have a lot of electronic music, but it’s all in the club scene and if you aren’t making dubstep, trap or dutch house and DJing all the top 40 hits then you won’t be getting much attention around here. The chip scene is still just a handful of people throwing shows when they can and usually doing it as a labor of love.
I’ve seen a lot of independent music venues and art spaces come and go in the past few years… it’s hard to make the “weird music” venue thing work when rent is so high. Now I’m not complaining… I love this area. We just have our work cut out for us in terms of growing the audience, taking on bigger risks and ultimately carving out a bigger scene around here. I’m very optimistic. And who knows? If I get a chance to take my brand of bass beats out to Detroit or Kentucky or some other corner of the globe, that would be awesome
Kuma: While I’m definitely optimistic about the future of “weird music” as well, I must admit I’m glad you bought up the idea that New York’s music scene is very safe because it brings us to a much more recent event. I’m sure by now you’ve heard through the grape vine about what happened to Oliver Hindle aka Superpowerless. While -like him- I’m not necessarily surprised by the fact that the judges on Britain’s Got Talent didn’t let him through into the next round, what I am disconcerted by is the idea that he and his friends were made to look like damn fools by the mainstream media. Do you think this recent experience will be a hindrance to the scene and act as a sort of scarecrow, keeping chip and vgm artists away from the spot light of mainstream media fame, or do you think we’ll actually break through that barrier and be commercially accepted? Furthermore, do you think -considering the fact that some of us have found relative success just by being “internet famous”, so to speak- that current main stream media success is even necessary for us to survive and thrive as scene or genre?
Decktonic: First of all I respect Superpowerless for taking such a big risk in all this. I’m kinda torn about the whole thing. On one hand, if I had a chance to be on a show like that, I’d probably jump at the opportunity. On the other, I wouldn’t expect anything different. I see it as a combination of a negative perception of electronic music and another negative perception of “nerd culture.” I don’t really have any advice in this matter, other than to say that we aren’t the first ones to go through something like this. The earliest computer musicians were looked at as a novelty and a sideshow act. For a while nobody was willing to accept synthesizers on stage. I guess all I can say is don’t be ashamed of it. I think it’s futile to try and get validation from people that obviously don’t get it. Do I expect the judges on Britain’s Got Talent to appreciate chiptunes? No. I think it’s a matter of finding the audience that does appreciate the kind of music you are doing, and focusing on them.
For a while electronic music just existed in underground clubs. It was totally separate from mainstream pop / rock / jazz. They had their own labels, their own shows, their own scene. The electronic music movement even had to do their own festivals. It was only recently that we’ve seen electronic producers and DJs sharing stages with rock and hip hop artists. Basically what I’m trying to say is, let’s build what we have and not worry about the people who just don’t get it. It’s an exercise in futility to do anything else.
Kuma: Well said. That being said, there is one last question I do have for you, and that concerns the scene itself. No outside influences or interpretations. None of that crap. It involves age, and I’m not simply talking about the age of those involved in the scene. I’ve met young cats like Chasingbleeps from Ireland who’s only 15 whipping out some great stuff for a first LP and I’ve seen guys like 4mat who have been doing the computer and chip music thing for more than 20 years now, which is astounding to me and makes me respect him and his music even more, but I digress. When I say age, I mean the lifespan of the scene itself.
While there is definitely a lot of life popping up in a lot of places, there are also little pockets, little murmurings here and there already about people concerned about how long chip will last. How long will the Game Boys keep ticking? How long do they really have until it becomes something tired, and they’re talking like it’s already on it’s deathbed. While you’re not a Game Boy user, and you yourself even stated that while you feel chip is your home that you see yourself more as an EDM artist, how do you feel about chip where it is now? Does it feel healthy to you, or do you feel it’s starting to die out a bit too, or do you think this is just the beginnings of familiarity breeding -not necessarily contempt- but perhaps boredom? Boredom of seeing the same people perform or on the dance floor?What’s your take on this?
Decktonic: Man, people have been playing pianos for centuries and I still like to hear a piano when I can! I think when people put forth these kinds of sentiments, like, “chipmusic is dead!” they need to put a big “IN MY OPINION” at the front of it. I think before you can even get the words out of your mouth, some kid you’ve never even heard of is going to come along with a Game Boy and play something that will catch your attention. If people are tired of chip music, they can go elsewhere. I’m still having a good time.
Kuma: I’m definitely glad you are having a good time, because that means a lot more music from you, as well as just the general enjoyment of your company at these venues (although, admittedly, it has been some time since I’ve seen you.) That being said, Mr Montoya, I know there’s a lot more that could be said and could be asked about you, including about your other projects such as Miami Slice (which I still don’t believe exists, just like Ricky Brugal), but I think here’s a good spot to end the interview. Before we go, do you have any closing statements or remarks you’d like to make?
Decktonic: I don’t know if that answers your question at all, but to answer it directly: “LA LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU CAN’T YOU SEE I’M LISTENING TO RICKY BRUGAL GO AWAY.”
Kuma: Hahahahaha! Wonderful! Christian, thank you very much for this interview and for a little more insight about you and your views on this wonderful scene we’re in. I look forward to conversing with you again.
Decktonic: Same! Oh, wait! I missed that last question! One sec! I’m trying to think if I do have any actual last words… Oh! Just, I’m always looking to meet more people that love chip music, so if you see me at a show, say hello! That is all.
Kuma: I’ll definitely pass it along. I have to admit this makes an amusing little addendum to our interview.
Decktonic: ha ha OK! Yeah the LA LA LA part was in response to the second to last question!
Kuma: But it worked so well for the last one, though!
Dectonic: LOL NO!
Hope you guys enjoyed the interview! Tune in next week as I take the time to talk to CompyCore, a chiptune artist and entrepreneur that’s looking to make a name for himself in fashion and in chiptune!