Happy June, folks!
The last month has been pretty insane for me. I just moved from Boston to the glorious concrete jungle of NYC for work, and part of my plan is to be closer to the scene here, and other great music scenes I love. New York City is a breeding ground for inspiration if you look in the right places. There’s always something to do, someone playing a gig, someplace hidden that’s DIY filled with passion projects. There are young people and people who’ve become worldly throughout the decades, taking what they know and using it to hopefully inspire others. This brings me to this month’s article: I wanted to cast some light onto some of the people in these converted warehouses and buildings to showcase the positive difference they’re making with art, visuals, music, sound, and booking.
Last month, I had a really cool opportunity to play at a Kick.Snare event, held in Bushwick. The event is hosted and run by Kris Keyser (also known as ‘Onism’) and Christophe Richard (also known as ‘Note!’). I’ve also had the opportunity to attend my first PULSEWAVE show, which was the second time I was at Babycastles. This article is about the last month and the kind people I’ve come across at a few NYC events.
I think everyone in this scene is aware that a lot goes into creating a show. There’s marketing to promote it, there’s finding venues who’ll host it, there’s the need to get your friends interested in going, and for them to bring their friends. In order to do all of that, you need a solid set of professional people who have something very interesting to showcase to venue owners. Multitalented with both music and visuals, Kris & Christophe have been putting on different varieties of shows whenever they can. Last month, I got a chance to be a part of their showcase for ‘chill.snare’, which focused on darker, melodic, and atmospheric varieties. The bill also included Kris’ new project, Onism, and the comeback of Virginia native, Datacats. I always love meeting new people at shows for the fact that it’s educational (both from what goes on with your sets, to learning how the other folks set up theirs).
Kick.Snare’s ‘chill.snare’ took place at Pine Box Rock Shop, which is a bar and venue in Brooklyn that’s been renovated from an old coffin factory. I was insanely nervous to play. It was my first gig in NYC under my artist name, and between the three of us, the table was filled with synthesizers, effects pedals, Ableton rigs, guitar and bass, and DI boxes. Onism was showcased live for the first time, and Datacats traveled all the way from Virginia. I think everyone was nervous; I was so excited for everyone else, but (full disclosure) I wanted to throw up. It definitely helped that we had a good turnout, especially since it was filled with friendly faces and really, really supportive people. I guess what I love about New York so far is that it’s easier to find people who love the arts and who love to go out. I’m a hermit and I’m used to a smaller and more spread out scene, but here everything is so much more accessible. It’s definitely inviting and motivating to get out there a bit more.
First off, Onism is sick. I honestly don’t know how Kris was able to come up with a new project that contains different gear, and managed to perfect everything, while maintaining his signature sound. It takes a clear end goal and finding your true sound to conquer this. I’ve always thought that Kris Keyser’s music (both his by name project using Gameboys, and Onism) sounded like what every Sonic the Hedgehog fan would crave for an upcoming soundtrack, with an original twist. Alongside this feat, I have a lot of appreciation for both him and Note! for making sure everyone was having fun and kept everything totally organized. After hearing samples of Onism before the show, I kind of wanted to pull out of the bill because I was so intimidated. Hearing the music live really made me dig more into Korg products & Ableton tips and tricks; everything sounded flawless. I have so much respect for Kris.
Watch the video by Planet Zaxxon here.
Datacats was equally great. I was pretty nervous during this show, and stressed with moving and leaving my job and starting a new one, so it was reassuring to be reminded of that, hey, music is work but it’s FUN and you can have FUN with it if you stop stressing out! Chris had amazing energy, and mega props for live bass playing. A friend of mine from college who came out watched him play and said, “Man, it would be so great if they had a live drummer.” Another person overheard and said, “I’d learn drums to play live with them.” Stuff like that is what I love about positive people. Chris killed it on both Gameboy and bass, and I appreciate instrumentalism quite a bit, especially mixed in with the digital age.
Watch the video by Planet Zaxxon here.
I brought Chris in for an interview, since I’ve never asked him questions before on the blog. So, without further ado, it’s Datacats!
Hey, Chris! Thanks for your time. I wanted to ask first off: How did you get to NYC? Did you fly?
I actually took the bus. I live in northern Virginia, so it’s about 4 1/2 hours of non-stop driving.
What advice can you give to someone traveling from that far away? How did you make sure all your gear got in safe?
My advice would be to keep anything valuable or delicate on your person at all times. Anything you can’t keep on you, pack away extra safely. If you have anything you don’t want destroyed do some research on how to transport it safely. Guitars, for example, are very sensitive to changes in humidity. Also, have a bare-bones rig that you know you can transport safely just in case you lose anything.
This was a comeback show for you, yeah? What sparked your interest in playing live? What caused the hiatus?
Yeah it was a bit. I have been working on material for my follow-up, so I haven’t had time for shows. As far as playing live, it’s something i’ve done almost since my start. I love the energy of playing live, so I write my stuff to sound better playing through a big sound system. The hiatus was due mainly to me feeling kinda down on my current body of work. I wanted to have a solid 30-45 of new or improved music before I started doing shows again.
I’m guessing that, with new music that you played, that you are coming out with a release soon. When will it be out?
Yeah! I’m gearing up for my most ambitious release yet. I don’t have a name for it yet. That usually comes along when the release is 100% done. I’m aiming to have it ready to go early next year or so. Hopefully sooner.
What’s the theme?
I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, so the theme will be humanity finding a new home among the stars prompted by the destruction of earth. It will range from somber to hopeful.
Where did the name ‘Datacats’ come from?
The name Datacats has a weird kinda history. About 6 years ago, I was able to play my first show. It was organized through http://8bc.org (rip). At this time, my handle was 8bit_chris (super corny, I know). When I showed up to the gig, the organizer told me that the name sucked and they made one up on the spot. dj cats was born. As my style got more defined and more downbeat, the name didn’t fit anymore and I eventually landed on Datacats, because it had some common lineage while also sounding cooler.
Do you usually perform with bass & Gameboy?
This was my first time playing guitar throughout my whole set. I’m a big post-rock nerd, so I wanted to integrate it for a while. The Gameboys have been with me since the beginning. Composing with them feels like second nature now.
You kept it so positive the entire show. What’s your show prep like? Are you always excited to play live?
That “positive energy” is mostly me overcompensating for being nervous as heck. If I ever get nervous in life, I just start talking and that just spills over into my live shows. My show prep up until recently was minimal. I usually just decided on an order and play all the way through. For my last show, I spent months writing and practicing guitar parts for most of my songs as well as moving between them. I am almost always excited to play shows! For me, it’s an emotional release as well as seeing friends and making new ones!
Where can we follow you online?
I’m @datacats on Twitter.
I’m also on Facebook and Soundcloud, but I rarely use those anymore.
I mentioned, previously, about how I also went to PULSEWAVE. The show was on May 28th, and had a couple signed artists to Telefuture (Arcade High and Rolly Mingwald), alongside Tate Gregor. All are electronic artists currently residing on the east coast (Arcade High from Pittsburgh, PA, Tate Gregor from NYC, and Rolly Mingwald from Meriden, CT) , who came down to perform their own original music. All artists have a love for chiptune, but the show really showcased more than that: There were synths, there were MIDI Fighters (I lost track of how many), Novation controllers, an MPC1000, powerful live vocals by Tate, and some pretty amazing visuals done by industry veteran and graphic designer, CHiKA. Most people in the area who have been to a PULSEWAVE are probably familiar with Emi Spicer, who was one of the show’s coordinators, MC, and photographer. For really excelling at wearing many hats, I think Emi & the crew at Babycastles really deserves a virtual round of applause for not only bringing in some great acts, but making sure the open mic had a chance to showcase some really cool performers. Also, huge shoutout to that night’s sound tech, Karl, who was super knowledgable on running sound that night. As you all know from previous blog write ups, it’s so important to acknowledge whoever is running sound. So, another virtual round of applause for this dude. You can hear Arcade High’s set filled with upbeat 80s inspired dance beats here, Tate Gregor’s gorgeous processed vocals over curious and dark chords here, and Rolly Mingwald’s 80s life soundtrack here (all A/V by Planet Zaxxon).
Babycastles, in general, seems like an extremely artist friendly venue; both times I’ve been there have showcased different art all over the walls (last month’s featured the moon phases) and it’s clear the in-house volunteers really try to make the atmosphere interesting. Places like this could absolutely use your donations; everything is volunteer run and there’s a lot of passion that goes into it.
Alongside Datacats, I was able to bring in Rolly Mingwald for an interview. So, again, without further ado…
Hi, Carl! I noticed a pattern between my show and yours: There were two C/Karls and 3 folk with similar names (Chris/Kris/Christophe). How many times did you turn your head at yours, thinking you were being asked questions about the board? I was confused and my name isn’t even Carl. Haha!
Carls everywhere! Yes, I was answering to each Carl call even when it was a Karl call. Oops!
I appreciated your setup: I’ve been getting more away from performing without a laptop, and I think your MPC performance was really a game changer for those relying on laptops for syncing/output/composition. What was it like for you to perform with the MPC, as opposed to your Radlib performances with Adlib Tracker?
What synths were you using live?
This past show in NYC was the first time I played out with an all hardware setup. It was very exciting! For Rolly Mingwald, I gig with three synthesizers: an Ensoniq SQ-80, Ensoniq ESQ-M, and Ensoniq ESQ-1. Yes, I am a huge fan of the mid to late 80’s Ensoniq synths. :) All 3 synths are different variations of the same synth architecture, so all the patches I create are capable of being used on each of those synthesizers. The different models just vary in tone slightly from each other. And as mentioned above, I use the MPC1000 to sequence the SQ-80 for the main core of the song. Then, I play other leads and chords along with the song using the ESQ-1. The ESQ-M is a backup in case one of the other synths has an issue or problem when using it live.
I noticed that each act you perform after has a really different aesthetic vibe to it. How do you dress for Rolly Mingwald, and what inspired it?
Rolly Mingwald is all about the 80’s vibe while using synthesizers from the 80’s to create music. I like to go for the suburban semi-prep 8th grade dance look of 1984.
CHiKA really put on some amazing graphics for you; there were 80s movie clips, and nice effects. What was the direction you wanted her to go with for this visual performance?
CHiKA nailed the vibe by mashing up the video from my debit album, “The New Girl,” which contains footage from Valley Girl and other various 80’s VHS tapes. As long as it’s colorful and interesting I’m good with that and CHiKA had free reign to manipulate/portray the content in her style. Which I feel she did perfectly.
You tend to stay calm before a performance. Do you give yourself a pep talk before performing?
What’s the connection with 80s BMX? I noticed some footage of them during your performance.
As well as being into 80’s music and technology, I also am very much into building, restoring and riding 80’s bmx bikes. I own a couple myself so it only felt natural to stick with the era and combine 80’s bmx footage with some music composed on 80’s synthesizers, right? :)
When can we hear a new album!? I loved that everything was new except for one track.
I plan to release a new album mid to late summer assuming all goes well. It seems I am on the correct track so far!
Do you have a girlfriend?
And that wraps up my insight on the last month of shows I’ve been to in NYC. There are so many artists here who are not only good people, but super talented, and I look forward to digging more into their records and catching their shows. If you have something going on that you want me to check out, feel free to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Till next time,