Chiptune has a weird place of acceptance in the Buffalo metal scene. Local artists like Danimal Cannon have certainly bridged the gap, but from my experience, the majority of metalheads in this area love their video games; more importantly, their video game soundtracks.
There are many metal bands who cater to video game enthusiasts, who also like their metal extreme. HORSE the band and Genghis Tron most readily come to mind, but the connection between gamers and metalheads is thriving now more than ever.
Recently, I chatted with Anthony Swinnich of HangOnGetReady– a new chiptune adventurer out of Buffalo. Anthony and I used to make music together in the early 2000s, so I was already familiar with his style and tastes. His new EP, ANYYES (I love those gamer puns.) is a far cry from our old heavy rock band, but most of the guitar and vocal melodies in that band came from unique licks he would write on his piano. That same unique Swinnich style still shines through on these new chiptune songs. The EP was a fun listen and I’m excited to talk about it, but first, some background:
Interview (conducted in February 2017):
Mike Marlinski: How did you first discover chiptune?
Anthony Swinnich: Somewhere around 2005 I was pointed toward The Minibosses and Metroid Metal by a friend. While those aren’t chiptune, they started me down the rabbit hole of looking for similar artists on Myspace. Eventually I came across stuff like Disasterpeace and NESMetal. As time went on and I found other people who were into the style as well, I was introduced to Norrin Radd and RushJet1. And I never looked back.
MM: Can you recommend some artists who have heavily inspired you?
AS: All of the aforementioned artists, so Disasterpeace, Norrin Radd and RushJet1 are at the root. Then there’s folks out there like Chibi-tech, an0va, Doomcloud, The J Arthur Keenes Band and Virt who all have stuff that drives me absolutely insane.
MM: How has your equipment/software arsenal evolved since you started?
AS: Concerning composition, I started in the freeware program Famitracker for Windows and it’s still my main jam. The plan is to finish up my EP then move onto learning LSDJ, which I have the gear for already. I’ve written a few things using the Korg M01D on the Nintendo 3DS. As for live performance, I have an NES that is capable of playing my songs on the actual hardware and I play the leads through a synth and keytar setup.
MM: What advice do you have for newcomers to this genre who are looking to start writing their own songs?
AS: Just start doing it. It’s really as simple as downloading Famitracker or picking up LSDJ and diving in. There are plenty of Youtube tutorials that will teach you the basics. I even teach an Intro to Famitracker class in Buffalo once or twice a year, and I’d imagine there are similar programs elsewhere. Also, don’t get discouraged if your tracks don’t sound how you want them to right away. Learning how to work within the limitations of old hardware is a unique challenge, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to push the hardware in ways that didn’t seem possible before. It’s like learning any instrument really — you get better with time and practice.
MM: Do you have any “go to” programs or samples when writing?
AS: Famitracker is my go to. I’ve moved into importing my own drum and voice samples, though I do have access to a library of vintage NES drum and SFX samples as well.
MM: Name your favorite video game system(s) of all time.
AS: For me it’s the NES – It’s still the most direct route to my heart in every way.
MM: Favorite games?
AS: It’s safe bet that if you put me in front of a Castlevania, Mega Man, Super Mario or Zelda game, I’m going to be happy. Ecco the Dolphin on Genesis doesn’t get enough love. The Bit.Trip series, Cave Story and Shovel Knight are definitely up there for me these days as well.
MM: Which game soundtracks have influenced you the most and also, what non-electronic artists have influenced your chiptune writing, if any?
AS: Soundtracks like Ninja Gaiden 1 & 2, almost any Capcom NES game, Silver Surfer (or just the Folin bros. in general) are all huge influences for me. Non-electronic influences, I’d cite things like Michael Jackson and Weatherbox.
MM: Do you have any new music coming out this year?
AS: I have two projects that should be coming out this year. The first is a compilation of tracks from a wide range of video game musicians called “Chip For Change”. Artists are composing hopeful-sounding tunes to help folks find a ray of light in these trying times, and all proceeds will be going to the ACLU. The second is my debut EP, titled ANYYES (my former artist name). It’s about half-a-track away from being complete.
MM: Where can people find your current material?
AS: My work can be found at http://hangongetready.rocks — right now it redirects to my Soundcloud, though once my EP is out it should go to the Bandcamp page instead.
MM: Anything new or innovative you’re bringing to the table that you don’t hear other chiptune artists doing?
AS: I think there are artists out there doing crazy things, so I wouldn’t presume that I’ve pioneered any techniques. One thing that I’ve been trying to do on a personal level is find unique ways to have the channels play off of or into each other. For example, repeating phrases and detuning one slighlty creates a nice chorus effect the system can’t do otherwise. The more tricks like that I can find and use, the better and deeper my compositions can be.
HangOnGetReady offers a 5 song debut EP, filled with a variety of melodies, moods and ’80s- ’90s video game nostalgia. If after reading all this, you still don’t understand what this is doing on a metal site, take a listen to this EP and dive into the melodies, progressions and transitions therein. Most of the lead hooks on this EP (if replaced with electric guitars) would instantly cast shades of Dragonforce, Hammerfall, Iced Earth, older Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius or Lost Horizon. Am I really comparing this to power metal? Of course.
However, this isn’t all about comparing the genres. One should also appreciate the time and effort going into chiptune composition. Those who chalk it up as “pressing a few buttons” are gravely mistaken. Another great thing about this EP is the intricacy present in most sections. You can really hear the time, work and thought put into these songs.
My favorite track is easily track 4: “Night Driver”. The name captures the mood of the music perfectly and it’s easily the darkest, yet most motivating track. Listen to this while driving down a dark highway and you’ll swear you’ve just become David Hasslehoff in an episode of Knight Rider.
All in all, this is a killer chiptune effort from another up and coming Buffalo artist. It’s great to see a scene for this developing in our area. Check out HangOnGetReady‘s EP on Bandcamp, give him a like on Facebook and keep your eyes peeled for future releases! For now, I’ll leave you with the opening track on ANYYES, “Slipstream”.