Power Player #4/5: Awesome Force & Freque
Editor's Note: Reprinted from CTUK Chiptune Focus.
Awesome Force and Freque are two collaborators who work chiptune magic to fuse together melodic lead lines, static percussion, white noise and driving bass on their 10 track EP, Versus. The two met online and shared email and collaboration ideas. On a spontaneous whim, Freque using his girlfriend as a human shield embarked on a journey to the University of Massachusetts where Awesome Force is a student, not an axe-killer as might have been suspected. With chiptune being such a niche musical style, it was a surprise to them both to live relatively close together.
They write using LSDJ, Awesome Force on a DMG or Color connected to Ableton Live through a MIDI interface and again Freque using pure Gameboy with LSDJ as the controller. The music is dumped directly into his computer’s line-in port and processed with Audacity and/or Wavelab.
The guys are influenced far and wide by modern music: drum and bass, metalcore, grindcore, 90s hardcore, 80’s minimalism, ambient, electro, folk music and even in some cases, brit-pop. Awesome Force says “When I am writing I try to pull what makes me feel a specific emotion out of the song itself, and I look to everything from Kraftwerk to Oh, Sleeper as an influence.” With modern influences so clearly a part of any musicians input, we ask why they decided to turn back to something so natively pure as the Gameboy.
Freque expands “I’ve always liked video game music alot more than I should. I heard a chiptune on a keygen one day, before I even knew this scene existed. The song was Quazar – Funkystars (Hybrid Song) and it reignited the passion for me. I literally collected and archived over 300,000 micromusic songs in different formats, but I was completely indifferent to the gameboy scene at first, because it deals primarily in MP3. I began writing chiptunes in .mod format, because it seemed true to form, as it is the oldest format of micromusic module. It turned out to be mostly a wasted effort though, the tracks weren’t received well, as the micromusic scene in general seems to be on the decline.
However, I came to see how alive and well the gameboy aspect was, and knew I’d found the right outlet for my new obsession. This scene is small, but competitive, and allows room for growth, which are important incentives for any artist. For the first time in my musical career I think I’ve found something largely unpolluted and worth believing in.” while Awesome Force explains how emerging music influenced him to join the scene. “When I was in high school my friend showed me Anamanaguchi off the Internet. As soon as I got home I pretty much downloaded all of the 8bitpeoples releases and, as I only had Ableton at the time, a ton of VSTs. I really didn’t start writing full songs until around two years ago, before then just playing around with four-measure loops, and that really came from discovering more artists and practicing loads.”
Freque explains how a modern approach influences retro creativity. “I don’t think that corporations should set the tone of a genre. The chiptune scene hasn’t escaped that in the sense that you have alot of people trying to recreate the styles associated with games they played when they were young. I think when you look at how the music was coded back then, and the limitations they were facing, it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room for improvement, without compromising the integrity of the sound. That’s where modern influences come in for me.”
The EP opens with tracks by Awesome Force, with Glass, a progressive, 4/4 stomper with percussive sounds with light twinkling melodies and high speed drum rolls. The second half of the track trails into a floating melody and moves us onto Oceans and Battlefields, which is the perfect, anthemic tune to orchestrate two chiptuners at war. It features a buzzy marching beat, melancholic lead lines, rhythm switches, breakdowns of noise and unexpectedly, vocal samples from Master and Commander before kicking back into the main hook one more time. What prompted this we ask Awesome Force? “The part where Mr. Allen jumps aboard the “deserted” French man-of-war and says “Looks like the job is done, Sir,” just before the fatal head shot and one of the coolest naval war scenes in a movie, really prompted the samples. As far as the retro sounds goes, I don’t think the samples do a lot to take away from the fact that a Game Boy is what is making the music.” Neither do I.
If this is the war between two major forces, then Peanuts and Monkeys sounds like a post war celebration of poppy field opiates and street celebrations. The track skips between a 4/4 to high speed drum and snare rushes. So if we’ve had a post-war party, surely Morning After is the hangover? Slower uptempo beats accompany downbeat appreggiated bloops and lead lines. The drums occasionally step up to rolls and breakdowns. We’re starting to get a picture of Awesome Force’s style and overall theme of the EP, so it’s time to hit the cross-fader.
Things start to head eastwards and beats get ramped up to high speed with Yamantaka ft. Freque as the musical styles start to merge. We are introduced to that familiar ‘noisechannel’ sound. Explain that to us please Awesome Force? “The noise channel is itself, an instrument that goes “SHHHHHHH,” That seems to make sense. Why do you dwell on it so much Freque? “The noise channel is essentially just static when left untamed, but you can shape the static by changing parameters, to create drum hits, helicopter sounds, and zapping noises. It’s the least flexible” Awesome Force performs a swansong by handing over the reins and featuring on Freque‘s track , Vietnam. The tune starts with a heavy, progressive distorted beat with a wandering hook. The track increases in integrity and the BPM drops downwards in some parts. Freque explains “One of the gameboy hardware modifications featured on the release is the underclocking switch, which is used for the slower parts towards the middle of Vietnam. It basically drops the notes 1 octave, and slows the tempo by 50%. That’s the only spot on the album where the switch is used. It’s an awesome mod though, and fun to wire up.”
Now it’s Freque all the way for the rest of the EP, starting with Waldo, which starts with a rubbery bass and kick line, and bouncy electronic percussion. Freque‘s sound is more bassy and heavy in comparison to Awesome Force‘s melodies, but it’s through the EP can can hear their own styles and unique way of writing comes out. Awesome Force likes to keep to a traditional structure of verse and chorus, and songs like Peanut and Monkeys would sit happily atop a warp zone on Fantasy Zone, whereas Freque has a modern approach to breakbeat. It shows how much contrast there is between chiptune artists. When asked hiow they incorporate their influences into thweir chiptune, the duo respond with a surpise. Awesome Force harks back to experience in a band: “I played drums and did some sequencing for a post-hardcore band called Exit Ghost from high school to just a few weeks ago. It was a great time, for sure, and really taught me a lot in the realm of electronic music, strangely enough. The melodic aspects of it, too, surely shaped my composition style.” while Freque is succinct “I just try to stick to listening to only what I perceive as the best of each individual genre, and giving my support to the artists that actually need it.”
The jerky staccato intro to Audia is a precursor for some bendy breaks and metallic snare stabs. Things start to take a turn for the vicious as no competition in my minds eye, my favourite track of the EP (sorry, AF!) Doubt kicks in. It sounds like something Front 242 would have penned if they found someone had put all their synths into the wash and they’d come back out in 8-bit.
The final track of the, Urban Zone has a scratchy, claustrophobic chirrupy intro and beefy beats and breaks down into ear twitching glitchery. The bundle is wrapped up nicely and the Boys of Game take us through an incredible journey. How they can get away with calling it an EP when a full, quality strong 10 tracks exist on this release, beggars belief, but they are simply being modest.
In the real world, is there any animosity between the two? When asked about their feelings about who would be the winner in a real fight, they were not so passive. Awesome Force whispered “I’m going to go Street Fighter and use Hurricane Kick… One, no one likes to be kicked, and two, hurricanes have the force of like a 10-megaton atomic bomb every twenty minutes… translate that into a single kick to the face.” while Freque peeled a single leather glove off and admired his calloused rough right hand “There’s actually an old fighting game for the Playstation called “Vs.” and I was a big fan. There’s a pimp in that game who simply “pimpslaps” his opponents. It’s looks almost like he’s tossing a baseball. I think a few pimpslaps with that kind of enthusiasm would really straighten Awesome Force up. Either that or anything that ended with K-K-K-Killer Combo!!!!!!! Freque wins. Flawless victory.”
The full interview is available here.
(Originally published January 31, 2011)