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 Wassup, ChipWINners, and welcome back to Quick Shots! This time around, in the spirit of the holiday weekend coming up, I’ve decided to do a track by track review of a compilation album that’s like auditory fireworks to go with the magic you’ll see in the night sky this Saturday! Showcasing some of the best the scene has to offer (including several artists that are new to me), this collection is something that’s bound to inspire, make you smile, and bring you closer to your loved ones. So turn up the volume, fire up the grill, and pop open a Bud Light, cause it’s time to fap–I mean, it’s time to review the latest Pterodactyl Squad Compo: Baby Pterodactyl! WOOOOO!!!
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!