Greetings, readers! It feels like it’s been quite sometime since I posted a pre-show hype article, and what better time to do it than this summer season? Whether it’s keeping busy by reviewing rad albums that come across my radar (here’s my latest!), doing visuals for shows that have transcontinental coverage by Chiptunes = WIN’s very own Adam Seats, or attending MAGFest’s first West Coast expansion event, MAGQuest, there’s certainly never a dull moment in the life of the Prof.
As 8bitLA’s two year anniversary has passed, the cohesive team composed of Kevin “Wizwars” Martinez, Jesse Avila, Rob Duffy, Terence Calacsan, Tim Abad, Jamie Cristal, Calvin (redacted) and myself, have smashed noggins together in the height of the Freq.Fest era and will be invading San Jose, CA with 8bitSF to present the inaugural edition of Freq.Fest.NorCal, taking place September 11–12 at SLG Art Boutiki & Gallery!
Through my stay here on the ChipWIN Blog, I’ve written many album reviews about a handful of talented musicians, and thus a plethora of eclectic coverage has emerged. Through this journey, where I once started as a novice but passionate listener, I feel pretty confident in my ability to decipher the thoughts in my head as to why I think something sounds great. While I am not a classically trained musician, or studied music theory, or even identify as a musician (…yet), I have become much more constructive when I listen to an album. Leading up to this very album review today, I tend to gravitate toward releases that satisfy a minimum of three requirements: Personality, Composition, and Mixing—and I can very confidently say that these very three things are ubiquitous throughout ‘Ghost Stories’, Together We Are Robots’ first studio album released through Bandcamp on March 11, 2015. (more…)
crashfaster. You know them as that rockin’ Bay Area quartet with unforgettable stage presence, and you know that pseudonym through association of high quality releases that do anything but disappoint. Every. Single. Time.
If you recall my last crashfaster album review, which you can read HERE, ‘further’ was an album that emerged from ‘the ashes of discarded technology’ in a thoughtfully composed narrative arc. As a whole, ‘further’ is a metaphor for the never-fleeting feelings of isolation, numbness, and emptiness that one may encounter throughout their life, and is largely an autobiographical commentary by Morgan Tucker, crashfaster, 8bitSF and monobomb records’ frontman. Envisioning an explorer, Tucker remarks that the entirety of ‘further’ is a metaphor of the contemplation of his life and eventual journey to find the truth by ‘casting aside his former life and shedding each layer of his humanity.’
Transpiring from the personal anecdote alluded to throughout the course of ‘further’ is ‘superchroma’, an EP whose energetic presence and masterful evolution from the album prior is one that can’t go far from unnoticed. Released fresh on Bandcamp on July 22, 2014, ‘superchroma’ pays homage to what crashfaster had been, but also sets the stage to what the band WILL become. Despite what such a busy man he is, Morgan was very gracious to answer a couple of questions that I had about the evolution of the band, the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’, influences, and the future of crashfaster—because I love all of you, read on for the interview with the man himself!
Professor Oakes: Hey Morgan! Thanks again for being able to do this!
Morgan Tucker: No, thank YOU! I really appreciate you interviewing me!
PO: Psh, I do all the easy lifting ;) But seriously, thanks again for taking the time. I know how busy you are with being a father, frontman of crashfaster, 8bitSF and co-founder of monobomb records! You certainly sound like you never take a breather.
Can you tell me a little bit about crashfaster and the significance in the pseudonym?
llustrations courtesy of Phylissa Li, 2014
MT: crashfaster is meant to infer to both technology (ephemerality) and physicality. I’m fascinated by how much we rely upon technology to feed our souls. I believe we must strip away distractions and excess in both the physical and spiritual realms in order to discover our true nature. crashfaster is a call to action – destroy both your digital and physical selves to reveal the truth that lurks beneath the surface.
PO: I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and I was very excited to see you evolve from a single-person band into a quartet. Can you tell me how the transition from a single act to a full-man band means to you? Are you happy with the sound now that you have extra hands (and friends) on the team? How did you meet one another, anyways?
MT: There are two aspects of working with a band that have had a significant impact on crashfaster. In the studio, songwriting possibilities multiply exponentially. Each one of us has distinct and disparate musical tastes and influences. This has made our sound more rich and varied. In a live setting, there’s a lot more energy on stage to play with and off of. It’s hard to be one guy behind a Gameboy and keep the crowd’s attention. There’s a lot more for people to connect with when there’s four of us thrashing away. crashfaster was always intended to be on the dancey side of things, but something interesting happened when we began writing as a band.
On “further” we each naturally fell into a rock mentality, and the music became more aggressive and a little less beat-oriented. On “superchroma” we’ve pulled the sound back towards something that will make you move. I think we’ve found the right balance in our new material.
As for how crashfaster formed into a four-person band, it happened by chance, mostly. A few years ago I wanted to start stepping up the impact of my live performance, and I thought the single best way to do that was to introduce live percussion. I met Devin through a mutual friend of ours (The Glowing Stars’ Lizzie Cuevas), and we had an instant bond. We both saw eye to eye on where the project could go and shared the determination and work ethic that could make it a reality. A little while later, we got a shot to open for Anamanaguchi, and I wanted the band to sound even bigger.
The man, the myth… the Ryan Case. Photo by Lester Barrows
I asked Ryan (who was a coworker at the time) if he thought he could learn our songs in a week. He said yes, and he did! We met Keiko at the farewell show for our old singer. The rest is history.
PO: Wow! What a history and inspiring happenstance. While I certainly love the sound of old crashfaster, I love the direction you all have been going in now that there’s four of you. However, I especially LOVE the direction you went in this EP, and it has to be one of my favorite crashfaster releases. With that said, can you tell me a little about the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’ as a whole?
MT: “Superchroma” was meant to be more of an evolution than a departure. We wanted to both pay homage to what crashfaster had been, but at the same time set the stage for everything that we could become. Our musical influences are deep and varied, and I want the band to reflect that moving forward.
Working at Different Fur with Patrick Brown and Sean Paulson opened our eyes to new workflows and songwriting possibilities. As soon as we finished up “further”, I was ready to get back in there and do it all over again, but this time we’d be armed with new ideas that the studio experience had spurred. “Further” was very much a protracted labor of love…from concept to completion, the project was in development for more than two years. While this allowed us time to refine lyrics, hidden meanings and aesthetic synchronicity, it didn’t let us experiment much while recording. The album was more or less what we came into the studio with. It was only afterward that we realized how much this held us back.
On “superchroma”, we decided to come in sans preconceived notions. We had about 20 rough sketches of songs that Patrick immediately whittled down to 10. From there, we started messing around with each of them until we found the voice the track. We knew we had 10 days from start to finish, and the goal was to get as much done as possible, while reserving the right to chuck things out that just weren’t working. This process was incredibly freeing, and allowed for many happy accidents, serendipitous guest appearances and just more…fun. I think that really comes through in the recording.
PO: Now that we’re talking about production and the gift of group collaboration, what hardware and software do you use?
MT: crashfaster uses a Gameboy loaded with LSDJ, a Gameboy mGB (midi), a NES with midiNES, a SIDstation, sammichSID, a Commodore64 with MSSIAH, Plogue Chipsounds 707, 808, 909, VP330, a Juno 106 & Ableton Live.
PO: Such sweet, sweet tunes for my ears. This hard and software you use—do you have any formal training as a musician? The rest of the band?
MT: I don’t have any formal training as a musician. However, I went to art school for Audio Production. I worked on Foley/SFX/Sound design for several indie films before I started crashfaster. Devin is classically trained and the most experienced musician in the group. The rest of us are pretty much self-taught.
PO: If you could categorize crashfaster’s genre and place a finger on what the band sounds like, what would it be?
MT: Electronic/Industrial/Synth/Rock. Or something.
PO: I’d say that’s pretty accurate! No reason to have to straddle one genre! What would you say influences you all? Music? Movies?
crashfaster performing ‘GO!’ live at the DNA Lounge, 6/22/14. Photo courtesy of Lester Barrows
PO: Oh, definitely! I feel like “GO!” is straight out of an actual anime—IT’S PERFECT and incredibly energizing! Would you say you have a favorite track on ‘superchroma’?
MT: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a single favorite, because I’m really happy with how the entire thing came out. But if I had to pick, it’d probably be “lost”, because I think we were able to pull off the emotional intent of the lyrics in a way that hits me every time.
PO: I’m curious of the conception of the album name. Does it signify anything in particular?
MT: We were playing with these visual concepts that were heavily inspired by early 90’s rave/cyberpunk culture and anime, and we wanted the music to *feel* colorful. When we were coming up with names for the album, we tried to find something that felt as hyper-kinetic as what was in our heads. Thusly…superchroma!
PO: This colorful and kinetic mood… it’s totally off the spectrum than that of its precursor ‘further’. Would you say the birth of your child had any affect on this newest album and your artistic vision as a whole?
MT: Yes! The idea for “further” was something that preceded my child, and I had been suffering from a loss of purpose and feeling in my every day life, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to find happiness. The construct allowed me to explore the concepts of duty, destiny, assimilation, isolation and self-destruction both lyrically and sonically. Once my daughter was born, I was overcome by a new feeling…not one of numbness, but a crushing awareness of time. I feel, now more than ever, that time escapes me at a pace that I find…unsettling. After all, my biggest fear in life is that I will have regrets (would’ve, should’ve, could’ve), and now I am extremely conscious of the fact that I don’t have forever to do all of the things I want to do while I’m here.
PO: Would you say there’s an overall theme of ‘superchroma’?
MT: Looseness. Ultimately, I wanted this album to act as a “mix cd that you’d have on in your car as you drove around at night in San Francisco.” This lighter construct allowed me to explore more varied types of music…things that I’ve been a fan of but never really found a way to make work within the context of crashfaster.
On this EP, we’ve got everything from a funky synth-pop tune to a faux anime theme song to an industrial club banger. Though the styles are seemingly unrelated, with the help of Patrick Brown, we were able to tie them together aurally in a way that works surprisingly well.
‘superchroma’ by crashfaster. Album artwork by Phylissa Li, 2014.
PO: Now that your album is wrapped and now live, what does the future hold for crashfaster? Tour? What does it mean to you since you were the founding vision?
MT: More music, and more shows! Through crashfaster and 8bitSF, we’ve built up the community in the Bay Area to the point that I believe it’s one of the most vibrant and diverse scenes in the US. We recently joined forces with LA artists who formed 8bitLA, and we’re working together as sister organizations to bridge the physical divide in California chipmusic.
As far as crashfaster, we’re going on tour with Everything Goes Cold in late August, which will take us from San Francisco to Chicago. After that, we’re hitting the East Coast to play 8static Festival in Philly in October.
PO: I’m looking forward to your Los Angeles stop. You never disappoint! Just thinking about touring the country and doing what you love sounds so incredible. With that said, before we depart, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
MT: Oh, absolutely! Be humble. Be persistent. If you’re in it for the music, you’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. Destroy all excuses. Stop talking about why you can’t do things…make do with what you have.
PO: Excellent! Thank you so much for providing those nuggets of advice—I’m sure our readers can relate. Anyways, that just about wraps it up for our interview. Again, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon!
MT: Absolutely! Take care.
That’s all for this (special) edition of Chip Treatment with Professor Oakes! Don’t forget to check out crashfaster’s music, and follow 8bitSF on ALL THE THINGS SOCIAL MEDIA for future events. Also, if you have some time, be sure to check out the series of music videos for ‘GO!’, ‘goodbye‘, ‘hi‘, ‘lost‘, ‘photograph’, and ‘tonight‘ created by Gabriel Roland, 8bitSF’s resident visualist and mastermind behind Noukon Films.
Greetings, readers! Boy oh boy has my life been a whirlwind of craziness lately! If it’s not helping organize the Los Angeles SHADOWTRAVEL tour stop with Nullsleep, Stagediver, Starpause, and Trash80, a free E3 party with Japan’s legendary Chibi-Tech at a local barcade in Downtown Los Angeles with Meishi Smile, Space Boyfriend, Space Town Savior, Timon Marmex, and Trash80, or attending not ONE but TWO Anamanaguchi concerts within the same weekend (at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and the DNA Lounge in San Francisco) respectively, it’s planning additional 8bitLA events, dreaming about attending out-of-state concerts like BRKFEST, and moving into a new apartment — I swear! I DO work full-time on top of all of this!
Despite all this crazy shenanigans, it’s good to be back writing this album review for this wonderful blog. I’m here to administer another dose of Chip Treatment the Professor Oakes way, and it is with great pleasure that I bring you a review of ‘SPACE FUGITIVES’ by TORIENA — so sit tight and read up!
Released by MADMILKY RECORDS, a Kyoto Japan-based label founded by TORIENA and NNNNNNNNNN (pronounced as no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no) in 2013, ‘Space Fugitives’ is a REMARKABLE album released through Bandcamp on January 28, 2014. Beginning her career as a composer and a performing chip musician in 2012 (she’s also an illustrator and web designer!), Sae Shimizu (TORIENA) released her first EP entitled “ORBIT” through Vol.4 Records, and later ‘Black Dance Hole’, her first 10-track album, later that year. Exclusively using her front-lit DMGs and LSDJ to create the music and running it through Cubase 6 (she also uses a Behringer Pro Mixer VMX100USB), Shimizu has dug herself a spot in the chip scene as one of the best international acts, as she performed during Blip Festival Tokyo 2012 at Koenji High in Tokyo (alongside Abortifacient, Aliceffekt, Batsly Adams, Bit Shifter, Chibi-Tech, Covox, and Nullsleep to name a few) and was awarded ‘Best New Artist’ in the World Wide Chiptune Awards, according to her website.
With energizing stage presence (as this video of TORIENA performing at Blip Tokyo 2012 can attest), Shimizu’s passion for music began with her parents (her father is a DJ) and her enrollment in junior high band (Shimizu played tuba, double bass, and bass guitar). Shimizu began her journey in electronic music in junior high after discovering Kraftwerk and Daft Punk, and later Gold Panda and Squarepusher in high school, but remarks her interest in music is “quite fickle because the mood at the time can change.” (ICON.jp, January 17, 2014)
Receiving wide support from Pedro Silva of Slime Girls and Shane Banegas (watashimo), and featured on DJ Cutman‘s ‘This Week in Chiptune‘ on February 19, 2014, ‘SPACE FUGITIVES’ opens with ‘Fetal movement’, as TORIENA creates an memorable, rhythmic introduction to the album at large. The calmer precursor to the latter half of the album, ‘Fetal movement’ is surely the calm before the storm. With BPMs ranging from the upper 110’s to lower 130’s as it starts to take speed, ‘Fetal movement’ is a brilliant example of dreamy, low-fi tracks that produce a sense of nostalgia, as Shimizu includes the Gameboy start-up sound as an element to the track, and a drone element which she pitch bends (which reminds me a lot of the sound the cars make upon accelerating in RoadBlasters and an element that The Depreciation Guild used quite often.) Another stylistic choice (whether intentional or not), is the slight humming her DMGs make throughout the course of the track—if you listen carefully, you can hear panning clicks laid on top of the melody she creates using her pulse channels, and the hi hats in her noise channel. There’s nothing more appealing than the true, natural sound a DMG can make, and I could never understand why artists would ever want to hide that!
‘Call me again!’, very appropriately mastered near the conclusion of ‘SPACE FUGITIVES’, is one of my absolute favorite tracks on this album. Sitting at just about 3 minutes long, the track throws you through a tornado of emotions as soon as it commences. Oozing at the seams with an unforgettable j-pop vibe, Shimizu mimics Mario’s jump and fire flower sound elements, which she very strategically places throughout the track. Leading up to about the 55 second mark, ‘Call me again!’ is a wonderful example of Shimizu’s ability to masterfully build up the emotion of the track using a rather static BPM and glitch-like elements, to then launch the listeners into a whirlwind of adrenaline-pumping elements and a much quicker tempo. Uplifting, hyper, and incredibly fun, ‘Call me again!’ sends me on a wild cat and mouse chase as I truly feel like I’m not able to rest until the conclusion of the track. Unlike its precursor ‘Fetal movement’, ‘Call me again!’ is far from anything calm, soothing, and dreamy (but rather insane and wild!)
‘SPACE FUGITIVES’ can be purchased through Bandcamp digitally for $8. This is an album I definitely recommend buying (if you haven’t already!) as I assure you it’ll make your way to your list of top favorites. While TORIENA has not yet performed in the western hemisphere, she tells ICON.jp that she would very much like to perform outside of Japan in the future—so keep your eyes out and catch her performing when this happens!
That’s all ChipWIN readers! Until next time on Chip Treatment—Professor Oakes signing off!
So, as MAGFest came and went, I found myself suffering from PMD (Post MAGFest Depression). The reality of finally meeting all of my friends that I’d been talking to for months face-to-face, being able to spend quality time with them, and then each going our separate ways so soon was disheartening. While it certainly felt like forever waiting for MAGFest to finally descend, it concluded way faster than I was ready for. Leaving the Gaylord left a huge hole in my heart; I soon realized that the friends I met at MAG were ones that I wouldn’t see again for another year.
….Until the final days before Frequency 3.0. Soon, my PMD was a thing of the past—I was now just days away from co-hosting one of the largest (if not only) chiptune festivals on the west coast with my cohorts (Kevin Martinez, Jesse Avila, Tim Abad, Jamie Cristal, and Jonathan Pendergrass) in 8bitLA. While months of planning, logistics, and chats back and forth on Facebook seemed daunting and tiresome, Frequency 3.0 was finally becoming a reality.My passion for chiptune soon blossomed in an almost out of control measurement after I was asked to join 8bitLA in August 2013, and it was no longer just myself being interested in the music and culture—it bloomed into wanting to represent the ‘chipmunity’ that I’ve been passionate about for so long for no payment in return other than kind words, hugs, and thank you’s for the best weekend of someone’s life.
While my fondest memories of Frequency 3.0 were certainly eating delicious food, which included ramen in Little Tokyo with Hoodie, Kevin ‘Wizwars’ Martinez, and Steven ‘The Syntax Sin Tax’ Hendren, Snap Chattingan0va before load-in/tuning in to the LONELYROLLINGSTARSlistening party on Arecibo Radio, playing the showcased indie games (‘Mega Girl.git’, ‘Keys of Rage’, ‘Dodge Club Party’, and ‘DarkEdeNight’) and the gaijin Little Tokyo ‘romaine the streets’ takeover and purikura photo booth mob, nothing can quite express the spaghetti I spilt over such quality artists that performed. While I had no doubt that Frequency 3.0 would be awesome, I still can’t get over how incredible and eclectic the music was over the span of three days. Whether the Frequency-goer wanted a mixture of electrochip and drum ‘n bass (Mike Bleeds), progchip and progmetal (Buried For A Day), or straight up shoegaze (Meishi Smile), each of the 20+ performers really outdid themselves and made the event one of the SOLE contenders for the best weekend of my life… EVER. If you didn’t go, you certainly missed out, but that’s OKAY! There is a Vimeo video of Day 1 here, and two week archived streams available here (Day 2) and here (Day 3) as it took place in Downtown Los Angeles at the Smell for you to watch until your heart’s content.
While there was PLENTY of weekend chip performances that blew my socks right off my feet, my top three acts (in no particular order) are as follows:
What can I say? I have had a soft spot for this quartet since ‘Further’ was released November 19. If you remember my previous article, ‘Further’ is an album quite unlike I’ve heard before, and the four of them very appropriately preformed a majority of the tracks from this album. Their performance was absolutely mind blowing—their LIVE stage presence was accompanied with bouncy and melodic rhythms, as well as a wide range of styles and techniques through the blend of complimentary vocals very similar to that of the album itself (seriously, they must be wizards to be able to achieve such mastery.) The coolest thing ever? The four of them are the sweetest, most humble people you’ll ever meet, and I am very delighted to have had the honor of meeting them! If you missed them at Frequency 3.0, crashfaster is making an appearance at Rockage 3.0 in San Jose on February 7, as well as at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on February 10.
2. Slime Girls
Blending a fusion of digital punk rock and head-bopping chiptune, Slime Girls (headed by ‘Pedro Invader’) from San Juan Bautista, California, combines Nintendo Gameboys, guitars and energetic drums to create fast, melancholy surf jams and danceable ska music tied very neatly together with melodic chip. Gaining influences from Bomb the Music Industry!, The Flaming Lips, Perfume, and The Aquabats, Slime Girls is anything you’ve ever dreamed of, and quite literally, personifies anime. Therefore it was no surprise that the Slime Girls had cosplayers in attendance. With visuals created by Eliot Lash, the three of them rocked the closing night until 1:10 in the morning without a single person dropping off from exhaustion (seriously, they were all too busy not trying to break something from crowd surfing or launching an anime body pillow in the air.) If you happen to be in San Jose, California around February 7, they are also playing at Rockage 3.0 and I assure your they will NOT disappoint. Hell, they’re even Danimal Cannon certified:
WOW. What a performance! I’ve seen Virt play a handful of times before, but this past performance at Frequency 3.0 was SO MAGICAL. While the dance floor was quite literally packed, claustrophobia couldn’t lay a finger on everyone who was sardined together during his set. Playing tracks from FX4 (including ‘Incident Zero’) and Mighty Switch Force 2, his performance was an absolute treat in that most of the tunes from FX4 were never meant to be performed live as some of the parts are too complex (seriously, this dude never ceases to amaze me.) Virt’s stellar performance of combining his versatile, charismatic style through’ big’ harmonious compositions left his fingers feeling the repercussions:
The greatest thing ever? That special, sneak peak, never before seen ‘Shovel Knight’ video game trailer that he wrote the music for. Oh man.. I’m excited just thinking about it!
If you were unable to attend Frequency 3.0 this year, make sure you can make it out next year (same venue!) on May 22-24, 2015. 8bitLA is already in the works of planning 4.0 with more information to be released as time progresses. Feel free to join the 8bitLA Facebook group, follow us on Twitter or Instagram, or download the artist sampler here if you’re suffering from Frequency feels very similar to how the rest of us on the team are.
That’s all folks! Until next time! Professor Oakes signing off!