YOU REACH A DIFFICULT LEVEL, EVERYTHING GOES FAST…IT’S EXCITING, THRILLING
Writer Nathan Meunier interviewed Alec Empire about his Gameboy album which originally was released in 1998. Since then game boy music has really developed into a genre of its own. We had some request from subscribers to re-publish the interview as it is hard to find on the internet.
ALEC EMPIRE ON „WE PUNK EINHEIT“
-How did you come to use the game boy as a tool for creating music?
ALEC: It was very obvious to me. When I started Atari Teenage Riot, I loved the idea of using a tool which is supposed to be a videogame only.
Of course the Atari back then was a proper little computer, like the Amiga. When Nintendo released the music programm I just had to get it. Since I started DJing in the early 90ties I was always playing video game music in my sets. Not the usual novelty joke stuff, serious game music which I find amazing as music to listen to.
-What game boy program did you use specifically to compose „We Punk Einheit“? What other game boy programs, if any, have you used to create music and what are your impressions of those programs. (The main programs I’m aware of are the game boy camera, Little Sound DJ, and Nanoloop).
ALEC: I did We Punk Einheit with the game boy camera. But then started to use Nanoloop live in all of my solo electronic shows. The programs are limited but it that’s the challenge of it. The feedback that I got from people was ‚how on earth did you come up with that on this little machine?‘
I think it’s a mind set, many people look at an instrument like this and see it as a gimmick. I respect it in the same way I respect a piano or a guitar.
When I used the game boy live , and I use different ones, the first one, the second one and so on, because they all have different frequency ranges, I mean a different sound, I realized how powerful the machine really is when heard over a big P.A.
-How long did it take to create „We Punk Einheit“? Tell me about the composing and recording process used to create the record.
ALEC: I can’t really tell how long it took, because I did the record in between recording sessions for an album I have done called ‚Miss Black America‘. I would guess I did one song a day. I remember making the music felt like when you reach a high level in a video game, old school video game, you reach a difficult level, everything goes fast and you react quick…it?s exciting, thrilling…your body releases adrenaline or something…that’s how it felt…very similar how I record music in general.
A lot of super quick decision making. When a pilot flys in a fighter jet, he or she can’t step back and think, because then it’s too late. You have to trust your instinct in that moment.
-Musically or thematically what did you set out to do in creating this
ALEC: There is a link to the old game Space Invaders or Astroids, also in the artwork. To me these were quite nihilistic games, because you could only lose.
The aliens would always take over. I loved that when I was a kid. The music and sounds that came with it. Very cold , like an unstoppable machine which destroys you, the player. You can be sure about that when you start the game.
We did game boy parties in 1998, they were called the ‚Out‘ parties, DJs were called ‚bodysnatchers‘ and not DJs. We played video game music, no wave and weird Japanese art records there. It was a strange atmosphere there in Berlin. With the double album I wanted to capture that vibe. We Punk Einheit ist he document of that time.
I was so bored with the British music press praising the Beatles on and on. At those parties we wanted to draw a line once and for all and reject the old tradition of music making which is (still) stopping or slowing down the evolution of music….if you know what I mean. I grew up in Berlin. The artists in Germany made a fresh start after the Hitler regime. They thought that if a society that evil came out from the art created before it, then we must invent a new way of thinking and creating. Sometimes you have to let go of the past, and this is what we did back then.
-What was your favorite and least favorite part of working with a gameboy to produce the record.
ALEC: I had a great time the whole time…because once I got in there, it was like composing in a little articifical world on its own…if you know what I mean. It felt like being in the world of 80ties space invaders or house of terror. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being in these worlds.
-Have you incorporated game boy sounds into any other records you’ve put out?
ALEC: Yes, I have on various ones….CD2 from ‚Intelligence and Sacrifice‘ or ‚The Live Sessions in London 2002‘. And more… I always have it ready to go, it’s sitting next to all my other instruments in the studio.
-Have you used a game boy in live performances and if so how was it utilized? Have you used other video game hardware to create music?
ALEC: I used the game boy many times live. I was even once attacked by another musician at a show in Helsinki at a festival. He was angry at me because he said it?s not ‚music‘. Using the game boy can provoke many people in an audience.
It is looked at like the ‚anti-instrument‘. Which is not right of course, because it is a mini computer with a synth. I have never used other video game hardware live. Mainly because the game boy really sounds good.
-what are your thoughts on some of the music out there that has been created using game boy hardware?
ALEC: I think people should stop treating it as a ‚fun‘ tool and get serious with it.
To me that?s the part where the humour comes in. To go ‚haha this is a game boy , it makes ping pong sounds‘ is a joke told too often already. It really reflects on the person using it.
– Thank you very much for your time.
NTR’s album will be available again next week at The Hellish Vortex