Wednesday, April 29, 2009

INTERVIEW: Cyr3n and Dekker Deyer on the newly launched 8Bit FM

Video games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are when I was 6 or 7 and my parents took us up to a family resort in The Muskokas called Cleveland's House. In the main lodge they had a table-top version of Space Invaders. Back then my weekly allowance was a quarter a week, but my dad always treated me to a game after dinner every night. It was a nice way to end a long summer's day.

Later, I discovered the Atari 2600 (liked it), the Intellivision (loved it), and the ColecoVision (determined I needed it to "complete me" and never stopped asking for it till I got one for Christmas). Later I moved over to an Apple IIc, and then a few years later a Sega Master System which my parents bought me as a goal reward for losing weight as a teenager (well, it got me there, and back again). I then pretty much stuck with PC games till about 2 years ago when I bought a Nintendo Wii - mainly out of curiousity about its new controls. I also had a few GameBoys, and play games on my iPhone occassionally. At one point in my life I was probably something of a "hardcore" gamer and would construct maps of dungeons for games like The Bard's Tale using pencil and some graph paper. I have fond memories of playing Smurf, Q*bert, Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom, and BC II: Grog's Revenge with Jamie and Jeff for the Coleco. Great memories playing Shark-Shark, Frog Bog, Utopia, and Bump 'n' Jump for the Intellivision with my buddy Aaron. I always loved those text adventures like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Bureaucracy (anyone remember Miser for the PET), and later all those Sierra "Quest" games - wish people would make more games like these. I loved all those "shrimp kid" games like Wonder Boy and Kid Niki for the Apple II, and was possibly addicted to Phantasy Star (the SMS swan song). In my twenties when I lived in Copenhagen, a favourite Sunday passtime was smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and playing Command & Conquer: Red Alert in the various net cafes around the city, followed up by a few rounds of Unreal, and a little BomberMan. These days I mainly play Mario Kart Wii, and consider myself a basic simpleton in the gaming world - but I kind of get a kick out of 8 year old kids passionately advising me on which character I should use in games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl. (Ike is where it's at apparently).

Why am I telling you this? Well, an e-mail came across my desk last week for a new station called 8bit FM - the new brainchild of producer/director couple Dekker Deyer and Cyr3n (Julia Howe). In short, if you - like me - see video games as a part of the social fabric, then this is our soundtrack. While I must pay respect to stations like All-Games Radio, and Slay Radio: Stations which play [among other things] music from video games; 8Bit FM is distinguished in that it plays both retro video game video game music but also music borne out of the culture of game music. I've been listening for over a week now and in summary I would say that its rotations are very tightly and professional programmed - but will need to work expanding it's playlist. If you were to pipe 8bit FM at a party for a slightly geekey Gen-X/Y crowd, I'm certain it would be well received.

In spite of 8bit FM's retro name and inspiration, there's something futuristic about the stream. I am so very fortunate to have Cyr3n and Dekker participate in this interview.

Q1 Neil: Dekker I know a little about your backround from your Wikipedia page, but for the benefit of our readers, what is your career background? Is it true your parents were travelling puppeteers? What was that like?

A1 Dekker: Ha! Well, I don't actually get asked about that much. It was fun. I was very young, and an only child. My mother would tell me the puppets were my brothers and sisters. They were very large. It was... eerie, but just part of growing up in an artistic family.

Q2 Neil: Julia (Cyr3n), what's your background? How did 8bit FM get started?

A2 Cyr3n: 8Bit//FM is probably a closer match to what I do in my day-to-day than Dekker's bag! =D I've been an independant game developer and gamer for years. My first major project was "Rubies of Eventide" mmorpg where my role was scoring original background music. Simultaneously, I was running a terminal-mode BBS system for Cyber Warrior Inc's Internet Service Provider, known as Cyberwar ISP to the '201' folks. Since then, I've worked as a Game Producer on 2 other mmorpg titles, and am now the Community Manager for Vogster Entertainment's larger than life PC game title "CrimeCraft".

Q3 Neil: 8bit FM feels like a new concept - something more than just retro video game music. For example, some segues between tracks have a punchy anime quality. Occasionally I hear some dude who sounds like Dennis Hopper (from Blue Velvet after inhaling nitrous oxide) say "This is MC Frontalot you're listening to 8bit fm." Different. I like it!. How would you describe 8bit FM's concept and vision?

A3 Dekker: MC Frontalot is amazing! It's about artists like him. It's about artists like BitShifter and Glomag. I was appearing at an anime convention where these guys were performing and I was blown away. I'd seen MC Frontalot at a private party for G4 a year earlier and a comedian I worked with on a show named Kimmy Gatewood had made a documentary about him even before that. When I saw him performing with these lunatics playing music on Gameboys I was hooked. That's when I knew that the game music, the chiptunes, and the nerdcore hip-hop could work together in a lineup.

Chiptune artists have become the breakout stars of the station. Chip music is this generation's punk rock. It's people using these low-tech tools to make amazing sounds. At a chiptune show you can feel this thick magnetic energy. We needed to bring this to as large an audience as possible.

A3 Cyr3n: Dekker's summed it up pretty well but I'd just like to add that as a gamer girl, the crowd this music draws is very nonjudgemental. It's all about coming out of the game closet and having fun with people who share a common hobby with you without awkward introductions. One thing that stands out about chiptune events in particular is the lack of "chicken-hawks" and creepy dudes looking to hook up with drunken co-eds. You don't have that element here. Everyone's primarily here to support their friends, dance, and have a good time!

Q4 Neil: You refer to a "nerdcore" as a type of music on your site. What is nerdcore, and who are the major players?

A4 Dekker: Nerdcore is just another flavor of hip-hop. It speaks to people who love sci-fi, comics, video games, anime... it crosses so many themes... but it's about a lifestyle. Most people probably heard nerdcore for the first time on Adult Swim's show Sealab 2021. MC Chris was working at Williams Street and started laying down tracks about things that were insane at the time, like Star Wars characters. He got the genre a lot of exposure, but there are so many artists doing it. It's real. It's from the heart. This doesn't speak to a subculture, it speaks to the mainstream, they just might not realize it yet. There's even a concert, Nerdapalooza, happening in Orlando this year.

A4 Cyr3n: What can I say... "Nerdcore" is like the cooler hipper younger brother of "Filk" that got all the good genes! There have been mainstream artists in the past who've peppered their works with encrypted nerdy lines, brief homages to their favorite video games and comic book heros. But that doesn't make them nerdcore. To qualify, one has to be part of that cadre of hip-hop artists who are openly rhyming about geeky topics, have a history of doing so, and self-identifying themselves as "nerds". The power players who are getting the most requests on our station are MC Frontalot, MC Chris, MC Hawking, and Optimus Rhyme.

Q5 Neil: I've heard of bands like the "The Minibosses", and travelling orchestras like "Video Games Live" and "Play! A Video Game Symphony". Do you see these as one-off gimicks, or are we seeing a growing proliferation of bands reinterpreting classic video game music?

A5 Dekker: Actually, I got an email from Tommy Tallarico the other day. He's a certified bad @$$ and one of the composers behind Video Games Live. He's been really supportive. Bands like The OneUps have also really embraced the outlet, and I'm glad that we're able to help open up a new venue for this kind of stuff. I don't think it's about "video game music" as some kind of a genre, I think it's all MUSIC which just happens to be composed for games. Games gave us new sounds. It wasn't just guitars. It was strange and we grew up on it. As the games became more complex so did the music we played them to. That evolution is hard-wired into everyone that played Nintendo as a kid. It's about hearing elements of the familiar and using that as a launching pad to something even more exotic.

A5 Cyr3n: Oh yea, I think its here to stay. Why is it that weird though.. Considering music from other origins get remixed and played by cover bands? Maybe people are looking at it as a gimmick because its "game" music and not generally accepted as music for music's sake? As a person with a musical background I don't find game music getting redone as orchestral or chiptunes as weird. Bards will always find a way to make music no matter what the medium =)

I guess what's striking people on the outside of this movement as strange is how connected people are to their video games. But it's not that hard to imagine when the average RPG game can take longer to complete than reading a book. Compared to other forms of entertainment like a movie or a play, you're interacting with a game not just passively observing it. So all things considered, a classic game tune from your past can summon massive feelings of nostalgia. One's associative memory has strong somatic-markers linking childhood with classic video games... especially for our 25+ crowd.

Q6 Neil: I discovered this addictive remix of the Super Mario pipe music - a track called "Super Mario Bros (RAC Mix)". I couldn't find anywhere to buy it. Where do you get this stuff from? Is it possible to buy?

A6 Dekker: It's tough! We have people scrubbing the internet looking for these remixes and new artists. It's still kind of an underground scene. Some of the soundtracks and remixes are available as Japanese imports. In Japan it's been common practice to sell the music of a particular game, especially if it's a series, in record stores for decades. A feature that we're trying to add is a way to track down these albums for purchase and we're going to roll that out as soon as it's ready.

A6 Cyr3n: We're getting new artists into the request catalogue as quickly as our monkey-fingers can handle! Some of our artists are published with fans, others are emerging from the underground scene with their own style. It's a welcome challenge from our end to serve the needs of artists on both sides of the spectrum. Our primary goal with 8Bit FM is to give artists more exposure and help generate numbers self-publishers can work with.

Q7 Neil: Getting back to the original composers (most of whom I assume are Japanese), who are the titans? Do you have any favourites?

A7 Dekker: I'm going to go out on a limb and say Kōji Kondō. His compositions have proven to be so versatile while maintaining an iconic sound. Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Pilot Wings, Star Fox... his sound is haunting. You can play it with a heavy beat, you can orchestrate it... you can rip it apart and chunk it back together and it still sounds like Kōji Kondō. There's an album we've been playing as nerdcore called The Ocarnia of Rhyme which features artists like Snoop Dog. It uses samples from Legend of Zelda games almost exclusively. It's a perfect example of Kondō's modular music.

A7 Cyr3n: Growing up in Japan, my favorite video game composers hands down are Koichi Sugiyama (Dragon Quest series) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross). They take their craft very seriously and really know how to match the mood of their music to their games' visuals. I think the Japanese game studios put a great importance in the quality of sound and music .. moreso than other studios in that era. These days its undeniable how music and sound are key in establishing real emotional value in video games.

Q8 Neil: A common question that comes up in video game circles is whether or not a video game will ever be art in the same way a movie or book is. I go back and forth on this one. How do you see video games in this regard?

A8 Cyr3n: There are many genres of video games these days and some are easier to promote as 'art' than others for different reasons. Games are multidisciplinary endeavors and I don't think the merits of their art department alone can define whether a game is aesthetic or artful. I think the best litmus test is what the game's output is in terms of end user experience. Like all art, its in the eye of the beholder.

Q9 Neil: Is there an 8bit FM theme song/anthem? If not, then what would it be?

A9 Dekker: We're not playing favorites! This is why we have the Top 20! All requests weigh into the Top 20, so make sure you request the tracks you like to hear. Right now Antenna by New York chiptune artist Bitshifter is in the top slot.

A9 Cyr3n: 8Bit//FM is trully the sum of its ever evolving parts! Like the music we play, everything is in motion.

Q10 Neil: Dekker, Julia: Thanks so much for doing this TUN3R interview. What's in store for the future of Dekker, Julia, I know you've got a ton of irons in the fire? What else are you working on?

A10 Dekker: I'm gearing up to shoot a horror movie this summer, which I can't talk about yet. But after that I'm slated to shoot a series a created with actor Phil Morris called Emissary. It's a gritty super hero show that has other great guys involved like Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica and Brian Thompson, one of the scariest (and funniest) actors I've had the pleasure to meet.

A10 Cyr3n: I'm primarily working on CrimeCraft, which is now taking closed-beta applications. Anyone who wants to play a totally new genre PC game should head on over to and fill that bad boy out! For Mnemosyne, we just released a new client for "Rubies of Eventide" with some snazzy new content and "Tentacle Grape" is doing purty well for being a hentai soda brand (probably because we're the ONLY hentai soda brand) but I nerdgress.. 8BIT//FM is poised to make a huge splash this year and we intend to promote the hell out of it! The party calendar on is looking ram-jammed with events this Summer so that's definately a destination to bookmark.

Thank you for taking the time to interview us! It's a pleasure being part of the Tun3r network and we look forward to watching the chiptune and nerdcore genres grow with your listeners' support.


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