Nullsleep creates powerful data pop using repurposed low-bit electronics in a relentless search for new ways to circumvent their limitations. Bittersweet melodies and driving, rhythmic pulses are coaxed out of small plastic devices to produce a surprisingly intense sound. In 1999 Nullsleep cofounded 8bitpeoples, a collective of artists interested in the audio-visual aesthetics of early home computers and video game consoles. He has since released a number of recordings through 8bitpeoples, Astralwerks, Aniplex and others. Based in New York City, Nullsleep has performed extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, including the 20-date International Chiptune Resistance world tour in 2006.
This year marks the 10th anniversary since you co-founded low-bit art collective 8bitpeoples, together with Mike Hanlon. What are the most important moments you remember from the beginning of the 8bitpeoples crew?
Well, the moment when it all began certainly stands out in my mind. I remember sitting in my college dorm room when Mike and I first talked about starting this collective and calling it 8bitpeoples. I had to be convinced about the plural form for the name. If you would have told me then that this project would still be going strong 10 years later, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. But I think that if anything, 8bitpeoples is stronger than ever and it’s thanks in large part to some of the other key figures that have gotten involved over the years.
Meeting Richard Caraballo (minusbaby) for the first time in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a pivotal moment, considering the large part that Rich would have in establishing the visual aesthetic for 8bitpeoples. Rich and I played a show together soon thereafter – the first time either of us had performed live. Then, not all that long afterwards, I got an email from Josh Davis (Bit Shifter) asking for any advice I might have for another guy performing live music with a Game Boy. Josh and I would go on to play countless shows together, tour the world, and build 8bitpeoples into what it Proxy-Connection: keep-alive Cache-Control: max-age=0 today. Along the way, our paths crossed with Mike Rosenthal from The Tank – a non-profit performing arts space in NYC. What CBGB‘s was for punk, The Tank was for chip music. Mike gave us a homebase to operate out of, and a regular venue for putting on shows. This relationship would eventually lead to organizing the first Blip Festival in 2006. And most recently the rise of the low-bit VJs / visualists has been an important development. Incorporating graphics from guys like Paris Treantafeles, noteNdo, the C-Men, NO CARRIER, and VBLANK into live performances and online projects has definitely taken things to the next level, showcasing some of the aims of 8bitpeoples outside the realm of music.
Who is the 8bitpeoples crew now and what are the latest releases?
Artists who release their work through 8bitpeoples don’t have any specific obligations to the group, so it’s up to them to decide to which degree they want to be involved.
We’ve got a couple of great releases out from gwEm and Counter Reset and M-.-n right now. And we have some unbelievable surprises and amazing (long overdue) releases in store for the rest of the year too. As far as the crew, it really depends on how you define it. We’re really pretty fluid in how we operate. Artists who release their work through 8bitpeoples don’t have any specific obligations to the group, so it’s up to them to decide to which degree they want to be involved. But the core group can probably be said to be made up of: Steering the ship: Myself and Bit Shifter; Behind the scenes: Mike Rosenthal and 2 Player Productions; Making things work (and look good): Openback and minusbaby; Go-to guys for graphics: minusbaby, Otro and a rotating stable of additional gfx badasses; Audio wizards and / or hardware haxx0rz: Trash80, Glomag, Random, x|k, Johan Kotlinski; The music makers: All of the guys shredding those squarewaves.
These are just the most consistently involved players. There are many, many more that have contributed in very significant ways to the development of 8bitpeoples.
In 2006 you were in the ”INTERNATIONAL CHIPTUNE RESISTANCE” world tour (Japan, Europe, US/Canada), together with Bit Shifter. What are the differences you discovered in comparison with the 8-bit from NY and what was your feeling after this tour, at the level of experience?
The ICR tour was an amazing experience, some of the best times I’ve ever had. It was interesting to perform in such a diversity of venues in rapid succession, because it really did give you a sense of the individual character of each place.
One thing that the tour really reinforced was the sense of community within the chip music scene.
Some of the crowds were full of complete maniacs (Malmö comes to my mind) and others were more restrained. But I don’t think there was a single bad experience we had on that tour, with the exception of some lost luggage. One thing that the tour really reinforced was the sense of community within the chip music scene. We really would not have been able to pull it off without the help of all our friends and fellow musicians along the way. When we got back home, we missed everyone so much that we had to put together that first Blip Festival in order to bring a bunch of the guys from the tour back to NYC with us. And the fact that the festival was a success as well was further proof of the dedication that both the artists and fans have in this scene.
An increasing number of mainstream artists (e.g: Crystal Castles, HORSE the band, Junkie XL…) are influenced by the 8-bit music. Pixelh8 was recently invited and broadcast on BBC Radio One; also, Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur) presented Pixelh8 during a radio broadcast, people listen to more and more chiptune, and there can be felt a ripening of the community and a new inspiration source for the mainstream. What do you think of that?
I never really know how to answer questions like this. Usually I tend to respond diplomatically, but the truth is I don’t really give a shit; it’s not something that I give much thought to. We’re doing our own thing, and operating outside the world of mainstream music gives artists a whole lot more flexibility and the opportunity to take risks and experiment more often. If things progress in such a way that some chip musicians begin to break through into the mainstream, that’s great. I just hope that they’ll hold strong to their ideals and artistic integrity through that transition. Not an easy thing to do for mainstream artists, apparently; just take a look at the outright pillaging of the chip music scene by the likes of Crystal Castles and Timbaland. I’m not interested in being a part of that world.
All that being said, I think Pixelh8 may have caught some friendly fire. He has done some cool stuff and I’m interested in hearing the results of his ”Obsolete?” project with the National Museum of Computing.
Finally, what are your plans for 2009?
Curing cancer, perfecting time travel, and performing live at the Large Hadron Collider.