COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Best Joke Ever — Game Boy Musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families
May 14, 2008 8:00 AM |
[Jump Button is a bi-weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week – the second in a series of interviews that explores Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.]
Part of me wants to protest.
After all these years, this isn't how I imagined it. Not like this. It's too much, too fast, and I can't take it all in properly...
And then somehow, this: I'm standing outside, in the cold, after midnight, down some skinny, Melbourne city back street. Half-drunk whisky sour in a cocktail glass. A freaking cocktail glass!
Holding this drink, with these people around me, I feel like a dick. It doesn't help that I want to be back inside the bar, listening, experiencing, ordering a drink that comes in a real glass. But my instincts tell me: stay, this is more important, these two in front of me are the white rabbits that will lead me to the promised 8-bit underground.
I'm so close now; so close I can feel the lo-tek fanboy in me rising. Stealing my games journo cool.
For the past three years I've been looking for a chance--any chance--to experience a live chip tune gig in Australia. And, now, in a single night, I've not only heard Tyson Hopprich rip it up Sid DJ-style at the local premiere of Marcin Romocki's 8 Bit documentary, but I've just spent the last two hours watching a line-up of the best blip artists in Australia detonate the 8-bomb like they'd been set on fire.
Thirty minutes later and I'm standing here, out in the cold, MP3 voice recorder pointed at Game Boy musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY, and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families. Double proof of Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.
A scene that, in some part at least, is intent on looking at the genre through Corey Worthington sunglasses.
'I like to think that we try and be different [to the rest of the world],' says 22-year-old Alex, philosophical expression on his face.
Tom, from Sydney, three years younger than Alex, cutting in with:
'I'm going to be right out there and say that I think we take it less seriously than the rest of the world.'
Adding controversially: 'It's a practical joke that we can get gigs playing Game Boys, really. But you saw tonight; the Australians in the audience that were watching [Marcin's documentary] were asking about the humor in it, and I don't think they realize that the Americans they were watching, there wasn't any humor. They're dead serious about it.
'It's like stupid rock scenes that have come up here [in Australia] that people seem to take really seriously, and they don't realize that they started out as a joke. They started out to be joyful; not to be really, really serious. [Remembering those beginnings, what a scene started out as], that's how you make people enjoy themselves.'
Tom's the talker. Confident, dry-witted. James Bond as an indie kid, martini voice to match. There's no surprise that photos of good-looking girls appear on the 'special people' section of his personal website. Nor that the ability to lead and inspire is seemingly written all over him.
But if Tom is Daniel Craig in a pair of blue jeans and kicks, Alex is the very definition of nerd-geek cool. Decked out in a green, mecha t-shirt and with long, insect-like arms that wave about when he talks, he looks like he could have just stepped off the set of a Wired magazine cover shoot. Talent hangs on him like an aura, making him attractive in ways that undoubtedly piss off athletes and gym junkies alike.
These here, they're just two of the new poster boys of the local 8-bit scene. Game Boy purists who can turn a bar into a living game console. Into an alcohol-fuelled swirlwind of Ninty nostalgia and blipcore carnage.
Not that it began this way for either of them.
'When I first started making Game Boy music it was actually before I knew that Game Boy music existed,' says Tom. 'I found out about [the program] Nanoloop [when I was trawling around looking for game ROMs] and started playing with the demos, messing around with it. I'd never heard any of it before.
'I thought i was doing something new,' he adds, 'which was hilarious. But I suppose I was in Australia, and there was no scene here. A couple of guys in Melbourne, a couple in Perth, but living in Sydney... nothing. I started off making crappy minimalist tech, stuff like that, and it just sort of flowed on.'
'The angle I came at it from,' says the Brisbane-based Alex, 'was high art experimental audio installations at Uni. But I just got sick of it. It was so deep that I ended up having no fun making it. So I started doing lots of stuff that tried to incorporate noise in a fun, dancey way. And that just slowly lead to the Game Boy stuff, which made complete sense as soon as I found it. It was exactly what I was looking for.
'My course was a Bachelor of Music Technology,' volunteers Alex, 'So I did my thesis on chip tunes...'
'I've read it and it doesn't suck!' interjects Tom supportingly.
'...and I got to talk to Bit Shifter and all those guys. The most interesting thing that came out of it all, talking to them, was the differences that the software makes. It kind of leads you when you're composing chip tunes. You choose one for a certain kind of application or sound,' says Alex.
'Speaking of, I'm a big fan of Bit Shifter,' admits Tom, taking the conversation more towards personal influences. 'He's the best in the Nanoloop scene. He's the only person that doesn't rave about himself and hes kind of not... well, he's not like me and uses a kick every beat. He's more about what he doesn't play than what he does, which is a really, really clever way of playing and why he can get away with using just one Game Boy.
'Some of the English guys are really good, too. Like sabrepulse, rest in peace. He quit recently...'
'He quit music,' pips in Alex sarcastically, a wild gesture with his arms. 'Who quits music?'
'But he's kind of liked by everyone,' continues Tom, 'which, I'm not sure if that's why I like him or not. I guess thats why I've heard of him.
'There's a couple of guys that no-one's heard of, though; a couple of guys on my label (Glitch City) that are really, really good. They have an eighth of the fans that these guys have and yet they're the guys that changed the way I listen to chip music.
'I'm going to name one: Pixl Crushr. I think he's 17 and he just owns. I released my first EP, which I look back on now and go, “Wow, I really sucked in minimal tech”. But he wrote these really innocent melodies and then threw me to where he first started. His favorite 8-bit thing was i-cactus, and it's kind of this really innocent, not-trying-to-be-dance music. It really changed my opinion of where chip music can go.
'There are two guys in Melbourne that aren't going to come to any of the shows [we're doing in pubs and bars] because they're under 18. One of them has built up a pretty big fan base on 8-Bit Collective: Raptorface, he's amazing. As is this other guy from North Melbourne called Derris-Kharlan.
You can grab all their music off the internet, says Tom, but 'you've got to go to shows to “get it”', to really understand the scene. And to know what it's like to play.
'Any time you play [live] people dig it,' says Tom. 'Even if you suck it's like, “Game Boys, that's fucken' cool!” And if they're drunk, its even cooler.”
'I think I speak for both Tom and I when I say we started off doing this for the fun of it, and the gigs come as secondary,' says Alex.
'[What we get out of it is] a barrel of laughs. but no money,' admits Tom. 'We got asked to play this after party and i think we're going to make 40 bucks for playing it. Essentially, we get paid nothing to play. I played for free last night, in Sydney, and I'm down with that.'
Alex chiming in with: 'But we've got more free drinks than we know what to do with!'
Tom now, a few minutes later, our glasses confiscated because we're not quite on the premises, not inside. Tom talking about their involvement in the scene, why they do it.
'I know it will sound like a complete wank,' says Tom, 'but right at the moment I'm selling blank [ROM] cartridges at so close to cost price that it hurts. All of the [Australians] who have bought them from America get so torn apart about cost. I'm trying to get the programs (such as LSDJ) out to people—who own them, of course. I'm not trying to break any laws. I'm just trying to make the scene a bit bigger. easier to get into. Thats why we're running [our blog] GameBoyAustralia, just trying to promote it.'
'So we can go out to shows and see guys play!' adds Alex. 'So we don't have to play the [gigs] ourselves.'
'Yeah,' agrees Tom. 'So we don't have to play at every 8-bit show we go to!'
Alex, adding as an afterthought, 'I would love to get some international acts out here.'
What Alex is talking about is exposure. The chance to see more, experience more. Play with new and different artists, and trade methodologies. But more than that: expand the scene; create that “big thing” that truly kicks off the scene in Australia.
'You know,' says Tom dryly, giant grin on his face, 'I'm pretty sure [that big thing] is going to be me!'
Before adding: 'I don't know. I'm just hoping it doesn't turn into one of those shit house indie trends that are cool for 15 minutes, Because it's been going on for ages everywhere else and it's still alive, and I'm just hoping it's not a fad here. I'm hoping it picks up slowly. The more slowly it picks up the more solid the fan base will be, and there will be people who won't forget about it because it becomes cool.'
'I don't think in its pure form it's ever gong to become mainstream,' confesses Alex. 'It's an alternative genre. The main thing will be that there's just an 8-bit club night somewhere.'
Tom thinking bigger again now, more in context with the global scene.
'I'm just waiting for the day that the Australian scene is taken seriously,' he says. 'By the Americans, particularly, because they seem to think they're heaps better than us. I've posted thousands of posts on various 8-bit forums all over the internet, and basically no-one cares about Australia, it's not taken seriously.'
For a brief moment the three of us are silent, melancholic. The joke with the heartfelt punchline. Then Alex, with:
'I think it's about our whole amount of release. the amount of tunes we release,' he says pragmatically. 'It's just down to [the fact that the US has a] bigger population, playing more shows. Thats what its down to.'
[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. Tragically, he is rhythmically deficient to the point where games such as Gitaroo Man Lives! and Rock Band can become digital tools of torture.]
Categories: Column: Jump Button