Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Netlabel Profile: 8bitpeoples

Nostalgia for bygone technology is an inevitable facet of the progression towards more advanced means of doing things. I find the prospect of people making cutting-edge music using old computer game consoles inherently exciting, as it breathes new life into the technology that I grew up with and makes it relevant once again. The sounds that these machines are capable of making could doubtlessly be imitated by simple synths on a modern computer, but the unique set of restrictions imposed upon the artist when using an old console is part of what makes this music so interesting

8bitpeoples was formed in 1999 when a group of artists got together to produce music inspired by computer games, created on the machines used to play those games, and since then the label has released 46 records. What's more, they're all free to download here (or if your firewall won't let you download from FTP sites, most of them are available from archive.org here)

I interviewed Jeremiah Johnson, aka artist and 8bitpeoples founding member Nullsleep (go here for my dismayingly vague post on him) to learn more about the label

How long had you been making music before you discovered the gameboy method?
I began using the GameBoy pretty early on as far as my music goes. I only started writing music during my first year at university, 1999-2000, basically just messing around with a PC and some trackers, sequencers, and softsynths. I was interested in videogame music, and so I found that I was imposing limitations on the songs I was writing on my PC... whether it was only using a certain number of channels or only using sine/square/saw wave generators instead of sampled instruments. I liked the challenge that the limitations created and I liked the pure sounds that reminded me of the videogames that I grew up with. It was in 2001 that I first heard about LSDJ and Nanoloop, and since then pretty much every piece of music I've written has been composed directly on or for a videogame console

I think its fair to say that 8bitpeoples has one of the highest profiles out of the netlabels. How easy has it been getting noticed in an increasingly crowded market?
In 1999, when Mike Hanlon from Detroit first talked to me about this idea he had to start a collective called the 8bitpeoples I immediately loved it. We've had so much fun over the years, building up the group, taking on new members, evolving, and releasing music through it. Everyone involved with the group has really thrown a lot into it, but I can say for myself that it has rarely ever felt like "work" because it's just great to be doing something you love and can have so much fun with. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we never really set out to get noticed. We're just doing what we love, and I think if you do that and people recognize that your passion is really genuine, they will take notice

While the majority of your releases are available for free, I notice you also sell some of them. Do you see a transition in the future to a solely sale-based label? Are you tempted by a Bleep-style pay-per-download system?
One of the central motivations of 8bitpeoples since the very beginning was to provide quality music for free. Later, we began offering CDs for those that really wanted to own something physical, tangible that they could hold in their hands and say, "This is mine." But that is secondary to our cause. I think the pay-per-download ideas are interesting, and I think its good to see some labels adapting their sales models to the times we live in. However, I don't think that is what 8bitpeoples is about, we will always offer free music

I notice that a couple of your artists seem to release records on a number of labels. How hard is it to hang on to an artist once you have released something by them?
Over the years, 8bitpeoples has had the pleasure of putting out releases by some truly amazing artists. I have been blown away time and time again by some of the music these guys are producing, and I feel privileged to know them and help get their music out there to more people. When an artist releases something on 8bitpeoples you know they are doing it for the love of the music, there isn't any business behind it to taint the artistic expression. And I think because of what we've done with the group, and how we've managed to stay true to our ideals, that this is what attracts artists to want to put out releases with us. I think there is a great deal of respect that flows both ways, between the artist and the group. As far as trying to hang onto artists, it really isn't like that. When we put out a release by someone and it really just turns out incredible, do we hope that they stick around, remain active in the group and release with us again? Of course. But there is no pressure from our side, we want them to *want* to stick around too

The internet has had a massive impact on the way we consume music. In what shape or form do you think the next big change will arrive?
Nintendo cartridges are the new vinyl. Albums released on EPROMs. Kids breakdancing on the street corner to a fresh new jam pumping out of a GameBoy hooked up to their boombox

In terms of Nullsleep, are their any conventional artists you would you describe as a musical influence, or is it all down to computer games?
I'm definitely influenced by a wide range of music. Yeah, early era videogame music obviously plays a pretty big part, chiptunes from the demoscene, but there are plenty or more "traditional" musical influences as well. Off the top of my head, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, Laserdance, and a whole lot of other stuff. Everything that I take in has some small influence on what I put out

Early computer games are a great inspiration for a music label. Which were your favourite/most influential?
The ones I was always most in love with were probably Mega Man 2 & 3, Metroid, and the Castlevania games. Their soundtracks each had their own unique atmosphere and style, but they were all brilliant and left a lasting impression on me

Where next for the 8bitpeoples? Do you think there will be eventual limits reached with regard to what the 8bit medium can deliver?
I think there is still plenty left to explore. The C64 scene has been around active for 20 years and people are still finding new hacks and figuring out how to squeeze fresh effects from the little brown box. The NES/GameBoy scene is really young in comparison and I think we'll see people doing more and more interesting stuff with Nintendo hardware. Of course there are limits. The fun part is finding where those limits are and smashing them. We'll be around doing our part


Nullsleep will be performing live at the Knitting Factory in New York on 24th June 2005

Also, look out for new releases coming soon from Role Model and X-Dump on 8bitpeoples, coming later this month


Now, this wouldn't be an mp3 blog without some mp3s...

These are all taken from 8bitpeoples releases in 2005

Goto80 - Ter4.mp3

Goto80 formed part of my 20kbps rec. profile as I thought he stood out on that label as one of most interesting artists, and once again his release has caught my attention. This track's rattling percussion reminds me of Autechre's Under BOAC, while the melody puts me in mind of Venetian Snares' Bonivital (both now offline unfortunately)

x|k - Way of the Highway.mp3
x|k - Connekt.mp3

x|k's music is hard and manic, with Way of the Highway evoking the flickering of a strobe light working at double speed. Intense but melodic at the same time...

Twilight Electric - Body Parts.mp3
Twilight Electric - Table Tennis Breeze.mp3

Body Parts is a stomping synth-pop tune that might have featured in an 80s-revival NES game had one existed. Table Tennis Breeze is totally different, and sounds like a cross between the cutesy world of Plone, sweet-as-sugar J-Pop, and a love scene from one of the NES RPGs - its probably the closest of the tracks of I've posted to a traditional computer game track

For more Nintendo-style music, check out my Saskrotch post for some breakcore remixes of most of the old classics

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