Classic video games and music are quickly merging together to create an all new genre for the nostalgic generation. Alongside the likes of our beloved chiptune artists and the many talented composers behind OCRemix are those who lurk behind the term 'nerdcore'. We sit down to discuss the pixels and polygons with musician Doc Isaac in something completely different.
Collecting retro games and playing 16-bit titles to our heart's content, every once in a while you happen to stumble upon something that resonates with you on many levels. Bullet Hell, a video game inspired track knocked me for six, so here is an interview with the mastermind (and fellow gamer) behind that track, Doc Isaac!
RetroCollect's Katsu: Hi Doc and welcome to RetroCollect, let’s start off with a bit of a background on how you started getting into music production?
Doc Isaac: I come from a programming background, but since middle school I've been enthralled with how people can make music entirely on their own using only a computer. I would look at MIDI and Modtrack files to try and figure out what sounds good and then create my own songs and mixes from there. Somewhere down the line I figured it'd be fun to record some tracks and inflict them onto the Internet. That's where we are now!
RC: What separates you from the other producers?
DI: I'm not sure what separates me from others, honestly. I just like looking at things and putting the pieces together in a creative way. My aim is to have fun with it and I hope other people enjoy hearing the results.
RC: Which other artists inspire you?
DI: The thing that made me want to do what I'm doing now was ytcracker's "Nerdrap Entertainment System". There was more than one cram session in college where "Surgerunner" was played on loop. I'm a huge fan of the current nerdcore scene with Beefy, Random and Adam Warrock being some of my favorites. Otherwise, I jump everywhere. I'm loving the latest Devin Townsend album.
RC: What makes Nerdcore, Nerdcore? http://www.last.fm/tag/nerdcore sometimes I think there are too many cores *looks at Gradius* :D what’s your opinion on this??We think it’s essential to be open minded with regards to games & music, as it is really easy to rule yourself out of some really great gems… Always better to give something a go and see what all the fuss is about hey?
DI: There's almost too many subgenres within subgenres at times! Nerdcore is typically known by many as hip-hop with nerdy stylings and even that is subject to debate. For me, though, it's more about the subject matter and being able to identify with the song, whether by pop culture/life events that just happen to be a bit nerdy/off/etc. It's actually hard to put into words! Mostly, it's a positive outlet for all those awkward moments in my life or whenever I want to yammer on about NBA Jam!
RC: Why did you decide to focus on game related music / choose to create tracks based on video games?
DI: I go all over the place in fandom and pop culture with my songs, but I feel it important to connect my music with what makes me, well, me. Gaming is a huge part of that. I grew up reading Nintendo Power and fawning over tiny little thumbnails of the SNES games to come. I would get Mega Man tunes stuck in my head for days. I was that kid who rented Earthbound over and over again all the while hoping that noone erased my save with one where the characters are named after profanity. It connected me to my friends even when I was stuck far away. Most of all, I love telling stories through music and gaming is the source for many of those stories.
RC: You really can’t beat the days where we had to rely on those magazines for any kind of glimmer of the future game related goodness! Do you miss them as much as we do?
DI: I do, in a weird way. Mostly, I miss all the extra content Nintendo Power used to do. The Starfox and Link to the Past comics were great! Also, I like making funny lyrics to obscure game trivia.
Doc Isaac - Bullet Hell
RC: Tell us the story behind your Bullet Hell track
DI: Bullet Hell is basically a love letter to the shoot 'em ups. The original sample melody ("Asteroid Zone" from Astro Warrior) got stuck in my head and the best way to cure that for me is to mix it up. I spent a lot of time growing up yelling at games like R-Type, Ikaruga, Gradius and Mars Matrix, so it seemed like a good fit to play with the tropes a bit. Still yell quite a bit at them, actually. I'm looking at you, R-Type.
RC: Did you write the lyrics to Bullet Hell? Seriously, hearing the 1st verse of that track I was hooked, pure genius!
DI: Thanks! Yeah I did. Everything on the track was done by me.
RC: What have been the high and low points on your musical journey so far?
DI: As someone who's relatively new to releasing songs on a regular basis, it's always great to hear reactions from other people. It's what strives me to keep going and keep sticking to it. Occasionally, I'll wonder about releasing a song that samples a game/movie/show that it seems like only I remember or will get, but then someone else comes from left field and recognizes it excitedly. That's the type of thing that pushes me forward.
RC: I love listening to any tune where I can recognise the sample on any level, it just adds something for me? Any regrets along the way?
DI: I think I'm still too early into this to have any real regrets. Maybe that I didn't start doing this sooner?
RC: Listen and learn people, NOW IS THE TIME! What was your first gaming system & which is your personal favourite now?
DI: The first gaming system that I owned was an NES, but I pretty much stole my older brother's Atari 2600 for River Raid. Despite that, he was the one who bought my favorite system, the SNES, for me under the condition that he could beat me in Mortal Kombat, He made good on that promise!
RC: There appears to be a bit of a pattern with people being beaten on Mortal Kombat, we are not sure why..? Would you say you are more of a Nintendo gamer than any of their rivals? Did Sega, Atari or the Turbo Grafx not temp you at all?
DI: I was definitely in the Nintendo camp growing up, but I wanted a Genesis so bad! A friend had one and I'd go over to his house all the time and play Mega Bomberman with him on it. On a very rare occasion, I was allowed to rent a Genesis, usually whenever a new Sonic game came out. Good times!
RC: Do you collect for any game systems?
DI: I'm a huge game collector! I'm not the type who like to keep things in mint condition on a shelf to look at, but I will never, ever let go of my SNES copy of Chrono Trigger. The big things in my are collection are two arcade machines-- Mortal Kombat II and a converted Neo Geo Cabinet-- that I got off of Craigslist for a good deal. I called in sick that day for work, rented a U-Haul that was three times bigger than what I actually needed and tried to move both of them on my own the hour or so drive back to my apartment. Its a wonder I got them there in one piece.
RC: We’d love a play on that MK II cab, games are for playing first & foremost! Would you care to elaborate on some more of your collection??
DI: I own pretty much every Nintendo system, with the exception of the 3DS and the Virtual Boy. I'm pretty proud of my NES collection, except I just realized I don't have Mega Man 5. I need to fix that! The lesson here: Particle board is heavy, kids. An arcade machine's weight is equivalent to how much your friends hate you for having to help move it.Anyway, I have Magical Drop III in the Neo Geo cab, so life is mostly complete.
RC: Having owned a Virtua Striker 2 model 3 cab I can vouch for the HEAVYWEIGHT in woodies, you must really love the thought of relocating??
DI: I'm moving into a new apartment from a friends place (Where the cabs are) right now actually! They... I think they're going to stay over there for a while.
RC: I’m a massive Trad Shooter fan! If you had to create a top 10 shoot ‘em up list how would it pan out?
DI: Hmm, that's a hard one. I haven't been keeping up with the scene as of late so I'm sure there's a lot of newer ones I missed. But here are some favorites, in no particular order:
- Mars Matrix
- Raptor: Call of the Shadows
- Aero Fighters 2
- Strikers 1945
- Guxt (Freeware Shmup by Pixel of Cave Story fame!)
- Raiden III
- Gradius III
- Galaga 3
RC: What is your favourite game?
DI: Mega Man 2. That's my idea of comfort game, oddly enough. There's just something satisfying about using Metal Blade to wipe out everything known to robotkind.
RC: Mega Man and comfort are rarely heard in the same sentence! Are you a big Mega ‘Rock’ Man Fan? Capcom need to really step up and do him some real justice!
DI: I'm a huge Mega Man fan! I would really dig seeing a new Mega Man X game done in the style of X1-3, actually. We'll see if that ever happens though.
RC: Is there a track you have produced where you thought to yourself why on earth did I create this mess & why?
DI: I tend to go up and down on my opinion of a track even while working on it. I'll think it's perfect one day and come back the next going "No, it needs at least three more of everything!" The important thing is that I'm constantly learning from it and I'm loving that.Sometimes, when a couple of friends of mine don't visit a certain message board, I'll make little songs about how they need to check the board just to annoy them. That's still fun, though. I regret nothing!
RC: Haha, everybody should totally do this! Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler, becomes: Total Eclipse Of The Cart! “Open your eyes Cauterize, every now & then I buy a cart!” Feel free to run through the forum/tweets & create the rest of the song for us??
DI: I think you got a pretty good start, there!
RC: Which track would you say is your most accomplished work?
DI: That's hard! I like Bullet Hell quite a lot and there's a few tracks in the works that I can't wait to show off. There's also a few songs I did prior to releasing stuff regularly that I want to revisit and improve on. I'm looking forward to finding the time to work on those.
RC: What do you have planned for the future?
DI: Currently, I'm working on an EP that I hope to release on bandcamp in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I'm releasing songs for free on a regular basis at my site.
RC: If you could change one part of gaming history what would it be?
DI: DLC. Not because I dislike it entirely; I love the idea of additional content to stretch out a game's enjoyment (When it's done properly and not as hidden on-disc content, as certain publishers love to do) It's just that I worry for the future of game collecting, where large portions of the game are unavailable due to DRM, lack of services making it available or reasons beyond everyone's control. There will be ways around it, I'm sure, but we don't need to make playing older games more difficult than it already is. Otherwise, I would have loved to have seen the Dreamcast be successful. I want my Shenmue III.
RC: Good call, DLC sounded like such a golden opportunity to create some really magical moments from feedback across the globe giving the masses something to potentially love and nurture for a happily ever after. However it appears to have turned into an excuse for unfinished work and spreading out your purchase? Did you take part in the give Yu Suzuki the Shenmue License campaign on twitter??
DI: I was unaware of it, unfortunately. I have a feeling if they did make another Shenmue game, I'd spend the majority of it still playing Forklift and collecting capsule toys. Please make four discs of forklift content, Sega!.
RC: What series/titles from the past would you like to see updated to current platforms?
DI: Startropics! I don't know how well it would make the transition, but I want to explore islands and use unwieldy weapons on dangerous enemies in a not-so-serious fashion.
RC: Startropics looks like fun may just have to seek that one out at some point?
DI: You should! Be warned: It's very difficult, even for the NES era. Fighting the final boss is an anger management session.
RC: Has anything eluded you so far in the gaming wise that you would have liked to get your hands on?
DI: I'm still looking for my very own copy of Earthbound. I wonder if the scratch-n-sniff stickers that came with the game are still scratch-n-sniffable? I'd probably regret finding that out.
RC: Yeah we imagine they may be a bit off by now? How about hardware was there anything unusual you fancied back in the day??
DI: As terrible as it was, I wanted a Power Glove so bad. I blame the Wizard profusely for that. By the time I tried to get one, they had already been discontinued. I finally got one off of a eBay a couple of years ago and it controls just about as bad as you would think.
Link: Doc Isaac on Tumblr
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