When we’ve got a 50k back track and two dollar mike,
Our knees go all weak and heads all light,
There’s no point in technology when it’s just not right,
When we’ve got a 50k back track and two dollar mike.
The New Pollutants, a combination of the 8-bit mastery of DJ Tr!p and the vocals and production of Mr Speed, are a collision of hip-hop, electronica, funk and lo-fi gaming soundtracks. Their debut album Hygene Atoms has recently received rave reviews and was named album of the week in 3D World. Pretty impressive for two unlikely lads from Adelaide.
Upon arriving at Tr!p’s studio apartment I was overwhelmed by the presence of video games: lots of them, old, new, obsolete and not working. Usually a musician’s studio is crammed full of records, equipment and music gear, but not in the land of The New Pollutants. The studio consists of an Amiga 1200, an Amiga 4000, an Apple 7300, an MD, a mixer, a CD player, a record player, a few mikes and hundreds of video games everywhere. It all makes sense when you listen to the album, there is an ever-present feeling that this is the sound track to a real life game.
DJ Tr!p AKA Tyson Hopprich
“In the beginning I learnt to count on my parents 7” juke box, by matching the numbers and letters to the song, and then when I was about 11, I used to pretend I had a radio show and would do dodgy stutter rap re-mixes of tracks using two tape decks, dropping Public Enemy, NWA and Kraftwerk samples, and pass them out to my friends.
“In Year 7 I got a hip problem, which I used as an excuse to not to dance, so when we had dance classes they assigned me to be Mr Music. I would press play on songs like ‘The Hustle’ and ‘Nut Bush City Limits’. At recess I would bring in my dad’s Grandmaster Flash, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Frank Zappa, and Devo records, and play them to freak out the other kids. My dad was a bit of a hippie and had really good taste in experimental music. I still use those old original records of my dad’s today.
“DJ Tr!p arrived in about Year 10, I still have the original diary in which I first wrote “DJ Trip”. I was getting into trance and techno and didn’t go out much. I conceived concept albums like Trip-Around the World, Trip-Over, Trip-Overdose”it all seems quite prophetic really, for a teenager over eight years ago.
“During high school, my artist name was Wizard for all my computer graphics, games and my first early mods on my Amiga. There was this group of friends who all had Commodore Amigas and C64s and we would have computer parties where we would swap a lot of data and games – that was my first exposure to electronic music, back in the days of tapes and the R-tape loading error.
“I started wanting to take people on a musical journey through styles and sounds of music, then I started maturing my sound. The irony is nearly ten years on I am making music true to my musical roots with the Amiga and the innocent beginnings of it all, which I cherish with pride.
“I have released Vinyl Perplexa, Recyclise, Recyclise Reinterpreted, Rock the beat (EP), Various – Reflex, Various – Obtuse. There are two more in the Various series on the way. I have also had tracks featured on a number of electronic music compilations.
Mr Speed AKA Ben Speed
“As a child when I went to my dad’s house on the weekends, he use to have music like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Dire Straits Brothers in Arms. I use to stand in his lounge room and mime ‘I want my MTV’ doing the air guitar rock thing. My dad was into super hi-fidelity, back in 1986 or thereabouts. When the CD player first arrived, he had the sickest player you could buy, he would get all his friends over and crank up the stereo so loud your body would be shaking, and neighbours would be complaining. To this day my dad has the same sound system because it was so sick and chunky, but unfortunately my dad listens to crap like Aker Bilk and cheesy lounge music. Every Christmas the shitty concept albums get a listen.
“I first started out playing the cello in primary school, but listening to cheesy 80s hip-hop like Vanilla Ice and Del the Funky Homosapien on my dad’s hi-fi, I never got into buying music, just what dad had lying about.
“In high school I started playing the classical guitar in the school orchestra (the air guitar practice finally paid off), then moved onto the high school band playing grunge music, Nirvana covers and rock classics. The transition to electronic music was inspired through cross over hip-hop bands like Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys and then DJ Shadow. I got right into making electronic music late high school and early university days, about four years ago.
“My first artist name was a pay-out to the DJ thing also – I was Mr Tappin Fresh, a cheese hip-hop anti hero and released an EP called Music for Mass Consumption. I then evolved into Mr Speed and have released The Other Half Of Humanity. I still love the cheese though.”
Paul: DJ Tr!p and Mr Speed have combined talents to become The New Pollutants, who have recently been compared to Buck 65, Tricky and DJ Shadow. What’s your reaction to this comparison?
Tr!p: Both of us like and appreciate those artists. I think it’s a journo or writers way of trying to relate to what we are doing, but in no way are we setting out too be similar to anyone. We are trying to produce and release a world-class sound with a local flavour. I don’t get too exited about opinions, good or bad, it’s what I feel that matters. That said, it does feel nice to compared to artists as good as that”much better than being compared to shit!
Speed: I always hate being compared to other artists. I really do want to have my own sound. It’s been interesting though, some of the comparisons. The vocal similarity to Tricky I understand, I have had that comparison before with my solo work, but I am not influenced nor do I want to sound like him either. I mean, I didn’t want to sound like an Aussie, because I don’t sound like that normally. That said I didn’t want to sound like a white boy on the mike either, so my style is trying to be as true to my normal voice as possible, speaking the words, not rapping and rhyming.”
Paul: What’s with the video game fascination, on Hygene Atoms there is obvious homage with Ghouls and Ghosts and Turbo?
Tr!p: The video game thing for me is to keep the child alive and the innocence in me and my music. I try to be optimistic about approaching new ways to make and perform music. Games make up a big part of my spare time when not performing, DJing or recording. The introvert in me collects and plays video games, as opposed to music, to escape and explore the music concepts. When I buy a game cartridge, I buy it for the enjoyment of the game, the music, the artwork and the graphics. But Mr Speed is a psycho collector of movies and that further explains our influences and sounds. One of the first club gigs I did was at PONG retro video gaming club night in 1998 and since then its become more and more of an obsession. I use to have my hard drive on my Amiga full of games and just a few Atari carts and now it’s the total opposite: no more games on the Amiga, I collect consoles and games.
Paul: What’s your reaction to the current 8-Bit SID sound trend in electronic music, are you part of the problem or the solution?
Tr!p: I have always been surrounded by those sounds as a gamer and an audio artist. I think its part of the 20-year cycle for people to innovate and create new styles and sounds by recycling old ones. In the 90s it was the 70s fascination, now in the 00s it’s the 80s sound thing. As high end technology is more accessible we become obsessed with the glitches and cracks in the system, the beauty in malfunction, and that’s bleeding over into video game malfunction as a sample source, hacking away and creating random unconceivable sounds.”
Paul: How do you feel about emulation of the 8-Bit sound?
Speed: Tyson always says you hear people saying “Yeah, you can do this and that and it sounds heaps like 8-Bit”, but why the hell spend $5000 to sound like that when you can spend $5 at an op-shop?
Tr!p: I’m not an 8-Bit Nazi or anything, like some vinyl junkies who only sample the original 45s to get the REAL sound. If people are happy exploring a lo-fi approach from what ever hardware that have then I feel that’s great, it just depends where you are coming from and what you are trying to do. My machines sound lo-fi by default so the challenge is to embrace the limitations. The obsession is similar to the vinyl obsession – its warmth, crackles, packaging, design and authenticity are all alluring.
Paul: When I walked in today you were making a SID sounding track, you called it Sid-Hop. Tell me more.
Speed: Sid-Hop was what you were hearing, its called ’50K back track and a $2 Mike’ The song is 54K in size and Tr!p bought the mike at an antique shop in Port Lincoln for two dollars, hence the name. On Hygene Atoms, there are heaps of 8-Bit Amiga tracker songs that we produced. Now we have gone one step back again before the Amiga to the original C64 files, or .sid files as they’re called.
Tr!p: The SID chip only has three channel sound capabilities producing pure sound synthesis and some programmers worked out how too get a fourth channel and even get samples out of it, as well as crunchy break-beats. The quality is so low at about 12Khz and less and most files are between 600 bytes and 40k so it is extremely limiting. I use my 8-bit mono Amiga 1200 with a 300mb hard drive with 8mb of ram with a 14mhz processor. I use a program called Octamed Sound Studio – it’s a four-channel tracker, which was around before sequencers, and then mix down to stereo. Then I put it to MD and then it goes onto Speeds PC, mixed in twice panned left and right to create a stereo sound.’
Speed: I have two PCs at home and use Cool Edit Pro. It’s a shitty program but it does what I need it to do, full cut ‘n’ paste style. That’s where I add the vocals – because the Amiga runs out of hard drive space and channels quickly when you are recording vocals, we need to get it onto the PC to complete the track. It’s where the lo-fi and the hi-fi meet and so you get the pollution. If the track has no vocals we just master it on Tr!p’s Apple 7300 Pro Tools machine and burn it and bang, there it is.
Paul: Your both born and based in Adelaide. Tell us a bit about the Adelaide scene.
Speed: We both love being in Adelaide, the good thing about it is there are opportunities to be able to make your own kind of scene and voice. There is creative freedom to be an artist and because the scene is small, people express themselves and create on a different level, and don’t try to fit into a particular ‘sound’. You don’t have as much pressure financially here, there are heaps of opportunities and spaces and it’s a good place to mature your sound in. We can always travel and then be the interstate guests, rather than local, so that’s nice.
Paul: What’s the live scene like for electronic acts in Adelaide?
Trip: We do up to two live gigs a week and some really go off. They are all different from venue to venue, gig to gig. There is really nice vibe here when you do live gigs that you love. I DJ regularly at The Crown & Anchor Hotel Wednesday and Thursday nights, which is totally different to my live thing. Our regular favourite live venues are Mojo West, Skylab at Minke, Rhino Room and The Crown and Sceptre Hotel. They are all very different venues but all are great to play in and the audiences are very open and embracing towards live electronica.
New Pollutants recommended listening material:
The Dust Brothers – Fight Club Soundtrack
The Kronos Quartet – Requiem for a Dream Soundtrack
Buck 65 – Man Overboard
The Herd – The Herd
Curse ov dialect
Castlevania 4 for Super Nintendo