An interview with Imre Olajos, jr. (LaLa)

Published: 10/06/20


Key points of discussion are:

• Growing up in Hungary with the C64.

• His time and role at HVSC.

• Reviewing and Supporting the remixers.

 

 







1) Can you give us a potted history of how you aquired a C64 and your time in Hungary with it?


Sir Clive Sinclair's ZX Spectrum 48k

Sir Clive Sinclair's ZX Spectrum 48k

You’re asking me something very hard: to be brief. Well, it all started with a big bang… Nah, don’t worry, I won’t go back in time that much!

My family’s background is somewhat unique: my Dad was a computer technician and my Mom was a programmer around the time I was born. Now, you have to remember, we are talking about the late 1960s, early 1970s here, when computers filled a room and mass storage meant giant magnetic tapes and punch cards (stuff with literal mass ;-).  So, thanks to my parents, it felt perfectly natural to me to be surrounded by these modern machines.


The first home computer I ever touched was a ZX-81 that my Dad brought home from work a few days at a time. I was fascinated by it as I was typing BASIC programs into it. Later on I’ve seen a ZX Spectrum at a friend of mine, and it was so colorful and so playful-looking, I really wanted one. (Yeah, I know: highly technical reasons to own one! =) Home computers were far and few between in Hungary at that time (even in stores), but my Dad got the opportunity to go on a business trip to Austria and he promised he’ll bring one back to me. Sounds easier than it actually was, because in the early 1980s crossing the border at the Iron Curtain was still a quite an ordeal for those of us who lived behind it.

But he managed to go there, and when he came home, he presented me with a Commodore-64 instead. He thought its specs were more powerful and it had more potential. I was so disappointed, I’m fairly certain I even cried at that time. But since then not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for his decision, because it had a lasting impact on my entire life.


2) What did/does the SID chip mean for you? Why did it make such an impact upon your life?


The 6581 SID Chip

The 6581 SID Chip

Yet again, I’ll reach back to my family background to explain where I’m coming from. A passionate hobby of my Dad was building electronic organs, mostly for churches around Hungary. And I mean, building them from scratch: soldering the individual oscillator boards, wiring it all up to a keyboard and a control board – everything. Since my Dad was building these in our little flat, I saw him work on them day after day. And, of course, he played them, too, mostly to test them out, sometimes to entertain us, and I have fond memories of the sound of raw oscillators filling our flat with beautiful melodies… So, music made by an electronic instrument was nothing new to me.

Into this came my C64 with its amazing sound. Like most teenagers back then, at first I was mostly interested in playing games with it, but more and more of these games had increasingly sophisticated music and sound effects in them. I liked them so much that I started recording them on cassette tapes from the audio output of our small TV. (As I later found out, I wasn’t the only one doing this back then...)

 

Pretty soon I was a lot more interested in the music than the games or the demos. I clearly remember one day a friend of mine called me over to his house: You have to listen to THIS! He loaded up the game on his C64, its music started blasting from the TV speakers – and my jaw dropped. It was Rob Hubbard’s Commando. It was the first time I heard multiple instruments on the same channel, arpeggiated chords, all overlaid with a catchy melody. It was like a full rock band playing music on a C64! Of course, I didn’t analyze it in such detail back then, I was just an amazed wide-eyed teenager.

 

From that point on I was hooked. While many of my friends and classmates listened to 80s pop music, I was recording tape after tape of SID tunes from games, cracktros, and demos. Because I wanted to listen to this music while doing homework, too, and because I also wanted to share this wonderful music with those friends of mine who didn’t have a C64. Not many of them understood my passion for it…

 

As one of my friends listened to these tapes, he told me: you know, this music is actually by Jean-Michel Jarre, this other one is by Vangelis, that one reminds me of Kraftwerk... I said, Jean-Michel who? Kraft-what? So, he lent me tape recordings of their music, and from that grew a lifelong passion for electronic music in general. So much so that later in life I traveled the globe with a few friends just so that we could attend the mega-concerts of Jarre in person…

 

Another area where it had a huge impact on my life was programming. I wasn’t interested in just listening to SID tunes, but I was also curious about how they were made, and how the demos and games they were in were made. I learned the ins-and-outs of how the SID chip made its sounds, I learned BASIC all by myself, then I learned assembly language all by myself (since only a couple of books were available to me at the time, my young mind was sweating blood trying to understand the underlying concepts…) All that lead to me going deep into programming and software engineering, which is still how I earn a living.

 

I could give you several other examples, but I think it’s safe to say that many current interests of mine have been inspired by the C64 and its SID chip...

 

As for SID music itself – allow me to get a little philosophical here. Time after time it has been proven that limitation sparks creativity. And the SID chip is pretty limiting: only 3 voices, only a handful of oscillator waveforms to choose from… At the same time, it wasn’t too limiting: it had features that no other home computer’s sound device had at the time. If you think about it, thanks to the SID chip the C64 was basically the cheapest available digitally controlled analog synthesizer on the market at the time! And the fact that you could control it with an arbitrary computer program (instead of a fixed set of knobs and sliders, like on a Moog, for example) opened up possibilities such as modifying its sound with custom LFOs, rapid arpeggiation, arranging music with a complex sequencer, hacking the volume control to play back digital samples...

 

All this – coupled with the enormous success of the C64 – generated a wave of creativity. It wasn’t easy, because musicians had to be programmers, too, but just like a violinist has to master his art to be able to play beautiful music on a Stradivarius, SID composers also had to tame the beast of the C64’s assembly language to unlock the potentials of the SID chip. And the result was the many-many wonderful SID tunes that are adored even decades after they were made, and long after Commodore Business Machines went out of business...

 

So, yeah, that’s what the SID chip means to me.

 

Sorry for the long-winded answer, but if you ask me a question like that, expect a long response from me as I get all sentimental on you! =)


3) Growing up in communist Hungary - What was the computer movement like? And how did that compare to when you moved to the United States?


Budapest, Hungary.

Budapest, Hungary.

Boy, I think one could fill a book just answering this one question!

 

Countries behind the Iron Curtain, like Hungary, were fairly isolated at first. First of all, it was tough enough to get your hands on hardware because of the various US and Western regulations prohibiting the export of certain computer technology to the Eastern Bloc countries (the infamous CoCom List – look it up). Software was also very expensive compared to our (well, our parents’…) salaries, so that lead to a huge black market of cracked games. Of course, technically, it wasn’t a black market, but more like a gray one, because copyright regulations were so loose and not enforced at all.

 

On top of this I lived in a town in north-eastern Hungary that felt even more isolated. Most of the scene activity in Hungary seemed to have been concentrated in Budapest, which felt like a far away city for us back then. Plus I wasn’t really seeking out being part of the demo scene or being a swapper at that time, so that kept me further isolated.

 

In the mid-80s our family got the opportunity to travel to our relatives in the US for a few weeks. Across the pond I got to play with an early Mac’s amazing GUI for the first time, I played with home game consoles, I saw Commodore ads on the TV – it felt like I was suddenly transported into the future! There were computers everywhere in this dream-like country! I could see with my own eyes that there was a huge gap between what was happening in Hungary and what was happening in the US – and not just in the field of computer technology.

 

As the 80s progressed, this knowledge gap seemed to be closing as Hungary was opening up more and more. Still, it was only in the early 1990s – after our family immigrated to the US – when I was first got exposed to things like modems and dial-up BBS and stuff like that. Back in Hungary we had to wait for years just to get a phone line, let alone to be able to use it for digital communication!…

 

So, in short, in Hungary I wasn’t really part of the C64 scene, so I can’t tell you much about that, and once in the US, I jumped straight into the world of IBM-compatible PCs, which was very different from the wild-west world of home computers in the Eastern Bloc.


4) I’d Imagine living in Hungary which was then a closed country that it would be troublesome obtaining games. How difficult was it? Or was it straightforward?


As I mentioned before, software prices were way out of reach for the average Hungarian – if they were available in stores at all. So it was mostly about swapping cracked games – or typing in programs from magazines (and good luck if you mistyped a single hex character...).

I was fortunate enough that I had a few close friends who supplied me with a constant stream of demos and cracked games, at first on tape, then on floppies. And we played a lot of games together. And we also listened to a lot of SID music together. And we even attempted to make some music ourselves once we got our hands on early music editors (Soundmonitor, Future Composer, and the like).

 

Swapping was usually about quid pro quo: what can you give me for what I have to offer you? It was like a pure barter-based economy where the mere possession of something new and cool and exciting was the main currency. Honestly, I never liked that part of it. I thought, it’s just bits and bytes that are so easy to copy, so what’s the big deal? It seemed artificial to me.

 

Then there were the copy parties, erm, I mean, computer expos, which many times were officially organized events, either by our local university or sponsored by a local company. People brought their own home computers to these events – and, of course, many-many blank floppies... But even at those events there was a hierarchy in place: if you had a cracked version of a brand new game that nobody has seen before, you were king. And those people were usually very selective about who they allowed to copy their precious warez. That was a rather frustrating part of the experience.

 

Since then I’ve learned that the core swappers in Hungary usually received their warez from Western Europe, mostly through snail mail, sometimes through Western BBS boards accessed via hacked phone lines, but back then not having many contacts of my own, I had no idea. To me games and demos just magically showed up at these events.


Final Cartridge

Final Cartridge

I remember we even resorted to making our own utility cartridge. My friend and I put together some glue code in assembly, packaged up a turbo loader, a machine code monitor and some other tools, my Dad burnt it all onto a few EEPROMs at his workplace, each of my friends got a copy of it, and we were super happy we didn’t have to load all that stuff from a data tape any more, that it was all available instantly at our fingertips. Imagine my surprise when I first saw an ad in a Western magazine for a Final Cartridge – companies sold these things for money?... Well, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, right? ;-)

 

Anyway, I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve touched a store-bought copy of a game in the 1980s. And even that is debatable, since even the computer stores in Hungary at that time were selling copies of games rather than the more expensive originals – not just under the counter, but openly, in the stores, or via ads in Hungarian computer magazines. Think standard branded cassette tapes and floppy discs wrapped in photocopied black-and-white game cover art (if you were lucky). But not just computer games got this treatment: also LP or CD albums copied onto cassette tapes, movies copied from one video tape to another... A massive gray market of cheap, copied content. A wild East, if you would.

 

To be honest with you, after all these decades I still find it hard to talk about this. On one hand, I am now keenly aware of the damage rampant piracy must’ve caused for the game creators back then (especially since in my entire adulthood I’ve also been earning a living from making software). I think my fervent support of SID composers and remixers stems partly from the guilt I must still be carrying around with me from those times, and it’s one way I am trying to compensate them for all that.

On the other hand, Hungary and the other Eastern Bloc countries were so cut off from the markets in Western Europe that without a distribution of cracked games we would’ve never experienced any of the benefits of the home computer revolution of the 1980s – and who knows, that may have also contributed to a different kind of revolution: to the fall of the Berlin Wall? Think about it: this was one of the very few ways in which young people living behind the Iron Curtain had a free, uncensored communication channel with their counterparts in the West. And they didn’t just exchange data bytes over them, but also ideas and pop culture – even if that wasn’t done consciously, only casually. I remember reading some cracktro and demo scroller texts that would not have been taken lightly by the censors in Hungary at that time... Heck, even the cracked version of the game Raid Over Moscow was copied only hush-hush between friends! Seemingly innocuous acts like that certainly had a counter-culture aura around them, like we were giving the middle finger to the people in charge with them.


5) Living in Hungary do you feel you missed out on the whole c64 experience that western Europe enjoyed?


Commodre Welt - German Magazine.

Commodre Welt - German Magazine.

Life is a bit like a poker game: you have to play the cards you are dealt. If you are lucky enough to get a good hand right off the bet, that makes it easier for you to win. But one can have fun even with a worse hand. And I’d like to think we had lots of fun with our C64s as teenagers in Hungary, too. 😊

 

In the later years of the 1980s when travel restrictions were eased our family was able to travel to Vienna a couple of times. I was very jealous of all those colorful German computer magazines I saw in the stores (64’er, CHIP, Commodore Welt, and the like), a few of which even featured my musical heroes. It was in one of those magazines where I’ve first seen a picture of Martin Galway – the picture was fuzzy, it was black-and-white, but it was Mr. Galway himself! I asked my parents to buy it for me on the spot, because I was so fascinated by finally seeing how he looked like! Then there were all those demo parties in Western Europe I’ve only read about in scroller texts and whatnot – I’m sure that if I lived there I would’ve at least tried to attend a few of them... So, yeah, there are several aspects of it that I feel I missed out on.

 

However, I’d like to think I more than made up for it later in my life. At first by being a member of the HVSC Crew, then at the live events where I was able to meet legends like Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Reyn Ouwehand, Jeroen Tel and others in person (BTW, Martin Galway looked nothing like that fuzzy black-and-white photo of his =). Then by enjoying all the wonderful remixes of this community, the live shows on Slay Radio, being a sofa-scener thanks to SceneSat, and so many other things!

 

There were undoubtedly times when as a teenager I felt utterly frustrated as a C64 and SID music fan who happened to be stuck in Eastern Europe. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to be patient and to persevere, because there will come a time when you’ll be able to sit down with many of your favorite SID musicians, buy a beer for them and have a good chat with them...


6) How did you become involved with the HVSC and what role did you play?


Not long after we settled down in the US in the early 1990s I started to get online on this newfangled Internet thing. Through sheer luck I bumped into a DOS version of Sidplay (made by Michael Schwendt) that also came with a bunch of SID files – and a huge light bulb went up in my head: wait a minute, I don’t have to listen to SID tunes from my cassette tapes any more, I can listen to them directly on my PC?!? Before we moved to the US, I had to sell my C64, and the only things I carried with me to the US were my precious audio recordings of SID tunes on cassette tapes. So, it was a huge deal for me that I found another, lot more convenient way to enjoy SID music!

 

This was quickly followed by me discovering other people around the world online who had the same passion for C64 music as I did. I was so happy when I realized that my few Hungarian friends and I weren’t alone with our strange taste of music!

 

Then I bumped into the NemeSIDs collection, which was probably the earliest SID collection available on the Net. I was delighted to be able to listen to even more SID tunes, but I remember being frustrated with its lack of organization. That’s when I found a very early version of HVSC which was published by The Shark (David Greiman), and I was super impressed by its attention to detail and by its accurate credits. I officially joined the HVSC Crew in 1997, because I was eager to help out in any way I could.


SID-Edit v4.02

SID-Edit v4.02

Since I had to sell my C64 and – more importantly – all my cassette tapes and floppy discs before we moved to the US, I couldn’t offer much in the way of new ripped tunes to the HVSC. Also, I quickly realized I wasn’t very good at ripping (the process of extracting SID tunes out of games and demos). Instead I concentrated more on providing scripts and tools to help ease the more mundane tasks of the collection’s maintenance. My fellow HVSC Crew members are probably still awaiting my long-anticipated book The Power of Perl, since Perl was my scripting language of choice at that time, and I used it everywhere I could, much to the annoyance of my Crew mates. =] One publicly available result of this was SID-Edit (csdb.dk/release/?id=24333), basically a Perl script with a Tcl UI on top of it. I remember I was also heavily involved in the creation and maintenance of the STIL (SID Tune Information List). I also organized The Big SID Hunt, which tried to encourage SID fans to rip SID music for HVSC that wasn’t in the collection, yet. Basically, I tried to be helpful to the Collection in whatever way I could.

 

Fun times!


7) During your time at HVSC the team actively searched for the original SID composers for proper credit. In the early days this would have been much more difficult than it is now with the advent of social media. Can you run us through the process of finding them and how elusive were some of them?


High Voltage SID Collection

High Voltage SID Collection

It was definitely more like a treasure hunt: trying to contact people who knew other people who new the SID composers, searching for people on mailing lists or on early websites… You are right: there was no social media back then where you could just look up people, there weren’t even reliable search engines, so it was quite the process trying to find the SID composers. If they were online at all! Because sometimes physical letters had to be exchanged at first... Especially during the early years it was usually a three-cheers celebration when one of us managed to establish contact with a composer somehow.

We tried to contact them for two reasons: 1) to ask them to confirm (or deny) whether they made the SID tunes allegedly attributed to them, and 2) to try to coax additional SID tunes out of them to make the HVSC more complete. A few times they contacted us by themselves, either because they already saw the historical value of such a collection, or because they wanted us to remove tunes they never intended to become public.

The feedback we got was largely positive, but initially there was some resistance, too. Purists didn’t like that some tunes (especially digi-tunes) had to be modified for the collection, because of the limitation of SID emulation at the time. This stemmed mostly from the fact that for the PlaySID on the Amiga – which was the first ever SID emulator on any platform – it was easier to play back digital samples directly on a separate Amiga channel then to try to emulate the C64 technique of playing them. And HVSC catered to not just the PC/Linux crowd, but also to the Amiga crowd, so it was important to maintain Amiga compatibility. (This was later rectified with the RealSID file format, which strictly requires a true C64 environment for proper playback.)

Then there were composers who didn’t like the lack of control over their music – which is completely understandable. We were fueled purely by passion at that time, and – at least initially – we didn’t think much of the legal ramifications. But we tried to work together with those composers, too, and while we totally respected when they wished to remove certain tunes from the Collection, it also pained us, because we felt it removed a bit of SID history, too. But I think we managed to strike reasonable compromises over the years, and everybody came to understand that HVSC is chiefly an effort in preservation, not just distribution.

I am forever grateful for the work Chris Abbott has done at that time, because with his guidance and help HVSC established itself as a collection that respects the original copyrights, too. (There’s a reason the HVSC documentation contains a separate copyright notice and disclaimer...)

 

HVSC operates more like an open-source community where the output is not code (or an app, or a tool), but a collection of SID files – an HVSC release. And even though I have worked with many teams in my professional line of work, I can tell you there were not that many I worked with that was as organized, as tight-knit, and as passionate as the HVSC Crew is (past or present). It is no accident that over the past decades HVSC has become the de facto SID collection that everybody references online.

So, in summary, many times conversing with composers was a fine balancing act, but I think it speaks volumes of the individual qualities of the HVSC Crew members that the Collection has become as respected as it is today. And I think I can speak for the entire HVSC Crew when I express my enormous gratitude for all the SID composers for allowing HVSC to be the caretaker of their past creative output. It was truly an honor for me to be one of those caretakers for the first 10 years of HVSC.


8) You are heavily involved in the remix scene by reviewing and commenting on various remixes. Before we get into this can you name your three top remixes and why are they amongst your favourites?



Please, don’t do this to me! I will torture myself for weeks trying to whittle it down to just 3 remixes! There have been so many great remixes made and published, not just on RKO, but also on CD albums and elsewhere, it’s an impossible task to single out any few in particular. Plus, which ones I prefer to listen to also depends a lot on my mood at a particular time, on the time of day, on the season, on the current phase of the moon… Let’s just move on to the next question, please.


9) What do you look at in a remix when reviewing it?


Remix.Kwed.Org

Remix.Kwed.Org

Reviewing music (or reviewing art in general) is a mostly subjective exercise. Just because I like a particular piece doesn’t mean everybody else will, too, or vice versa. Having said that, there are some elements of music that can be judged more objectively. For example, no matter how good your guitar skills are, if you used a crappy microphone to record your playing, it will not sound good and probably no amount of post-processing will save it. While I try to see past such limitations (after all, not everybody can afford expensive studio equipment), I am only human, and it will affect my opinion.

 

I definitely have a different mindset when reviewing a remix published on RKO versus a remix that was published, say, as an album. There are a wide variety of skill sets, budgets, equipment, etc. among remixers who publish on RKO, but once you decide to take it to the next level and go into professional publishing, I will raise my expectations, too. I find it perfectly acceptable if you experiment and go out on a limb with a remix on RKO, in fact, I welcome tunes that do that. But if you decide to publish on a CD or on an online service, you bet I will be listening to your output with a more critical ear.

 

I think with this question you’re asking for a list: here are the things LaLa is looking for in a remix – if you check all these boxes, he’ll give you a red smilie. I tried to break it down like that, but there are just too many exceptions I can think of. For example, one of the questions I ask myself when listening to a remix is: does this piece have an emotional impact? But even when your mixing is shaky, even when your technique is only so-so, if your remix touches my soul, if it stirs my heart, you will get high marks from me. And then there are the technically perfect tunes, with top-notch instrumentation and impeccable mixing that just leave me cold as ice. So it’s not as clear-cut as that...


10) How important is it to supply such feedback to remixers?


Great question! My simple answer is: hugely!

Let me try to give you a more elaborate answer by explaining why I am doing it. When you become part of a niche community like ours, you can contribute to it in multiple ways. Many choose to contribute with remixes – that is great, I mean, that’s the whole purpose of RKO and AmigaRemix, right? To honor those old tunes, and to bring them to a whole new audience. Kwed chose to contribute by starting RKO – to make that website a free and easy-to-use creative outlet for remixers, to collect all remixes into a single site. You, Tas, chose to contribute by starting Remix64 with LMan – which is also awesome, because it gave the community a whole new platform where people could chat, exchange ideas, and contribute in other ways.

 

I chose to focus on giving reviews of the remixes. I started way back in the late 1990s when the remix community was still just a mailing list. At first I did this because, frankly, sometimes I was frustrated by the low quality of some of the remixes, and I wanted remixers to get better at it, and I wanted to tell them why I did not like their remixes and how I thought they could make them better. I felt I could do this, because I also made some SID tunes in the 80s (never released any, though), I released some MOD tunes in the past, too (but nothing to boast about), so I thought I had at least some idea about what it takes to make a good piece of music. When Remix64.com was started, we transferred many of those early mailing-list-bound reviews of mine to that site.


Looking back, in those early years many of my reviews were harsh and raw. Some remixers were no doubt put off by them, but I also got feedback from several people that they appreciated my honesty, because it made them try that much harder next time. Some appreciated that they got any feedback at all – sometimes I was the only one who reflected on their hard work. I was also more of a purist back then, so when a remix strayed too far from what I thought a particular SID’s remix should’ve sounded like, I tended to put it down. I guess, I was looking more for straight covers rather than remixes. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake, and I can only hope I did not scare away too many people from the scene back then with my single-mindedness...


The highest vote at Remix64

The highest vote at Remix64

Even though Remix64 instituted a rating system with the smilies, I felt that simply pushing a button on the website was not enough to express an opinion about a remix. So, I kept leaving notes to the reviewers about my thoughts. Over time a few remixers actively sought out my opinion before publishing their tunes – I am very honored every time I get a request like that, and I am more than happy to give my feedback, because it means the remixer cares about his or her piece deeply enough to have the opportunity to change it. Or they can choose to ignore my opinion about it, too, no hard feelings! But I think in general it’s always helpful to ask somebody else to listen to your work-in-progress before release, because they can listen to it with a fresh set of ears and they can hear things you may have overlooked or just got tired of.

 

So, to get back to the original question: why is it important to give feedback? Because I’d like to think it makes the remix community better and better. What really makes the community better is better remixes, of course (and better here can mean many things: higher quality, more innovative, etc.), but if the other end of the community – the listeners – didn’t participate in it, then it would quickly become very one-sided and boring.

 

To put it in other terms: when a musician starts selling a piece of music, people vote on it with their money – they either buy it, or they don’t. When a musician makes a piece of remix available for free, we can show our appreciation for the effort by voting on it on Remix64, or – better yet – by giving feedback on it. Even if it’s just a few words: why you liked it, why didn’t you like it. Because if we, the listeners, don’t even do that, then why would anyone want to publish on RKO or AmigaRemix? Especially these days when many other online services also allow people to leave comments (think YouTube or Soundcloud).

 

But, I think that most importantly – and I cannot stress this enough – leaving a review is a show of respect. Here are a bunch of talented, creative people who spend hours upon hours creating remixes of beloved SID tunes, and then they make it all available for free for all of us to enjoy! The least we can do to respect the time and effort they invested in them is to tell them that we listened to their creations and tell them what we think of their pieces. The least.


11) Always a hot topic are the charts at Remix64. Some remixers love it whilst others detest it? What your opinion on why this is and what do you think of the charts as a platform for feedback?


Amiga Remix and RKO are both supported by the ratings/charts System by Remix64

Amiga Remix and RKO are both supported by the ratings/charts System by Remix64

This will sound like corporate-speak, but I think the charts are a very cool value-add of Remix64. The charts are like a never-ending ongoing compo – except there’s no time pressure, and there’s no particular demo party to go to with your submission. Because of the long history of Remix64 it’s getting harder and harder to get into the top on the all-time chart – which is precisely why I like the idea of breaking it down into a yearly compo with the ROTY Awards, and even further with the monthly charts.

If you don’t like the idea of charts for something as subjective as music – feel free to ignore it! Nobody is forcing you to look at them! Just have fun creating your remix, publish it on RKO, and hopefully, others will have fun listening to it, too – no pressure!

Many times we don’t realize the value of something until it’s gone. So, think about it: if you take the charts away from Remix64, then what would we be left with? An also-ran alternative to Soundcloud and its increasing number of competitors?... A site collecting and publishing remixes was innovative in itself back in the early 2000s, but these days there are so many potential alternative outlets for creative minds, that’s not enough to stand out from the crowd.

The charts are also a fun way for remixers to measure themselves against each other. I know that some are making remixes with the explicit goal of trying to top the charts! That is fantastic, because it means they will try really hard and the results are usually amazing professional-quality tunes! And some are making remixes just for fun, or just because they had to get it out of their system (which I can totally understand) – we should be encouraging them, too, but more about this later.

The way RKO, AmigaRemix and Remix64 stands out from the crowd today is by a) focusing solely on SID and Amiga remixes, b) by providing the means for the community to express itself (reviews, forums), and c) with the charts. All on one site! A single place where the community can gather around.

 

I know this mission is getting tougher and tougher, because since 2000 (when RKO first popped up) the available online options have multiplied many-fold, not to mention the dominating presence of social media that became the overwhelming choice for online discussions. Ultimately, the choice of the future direction of the remix scene is in the hands of its members – us. The remixers, the listeners, the site owners.


12) There’s been a discussion privately about supporting newcomers with constructive feedback to help them grow and to feel part of the community. It’s a good point - Do you feel this is something as fans/remixers we all could play a part in?


Absolutely!

 

To be honest, I wasn’t always on this opinion – my stance on this has changed dramatically over the past years. As I mentioned before, in the beginning (early 2000s) I tended to be overly critical of remixes – I hoped this would encourage remixers to get better and better, and maybe it did, I don’t know. But I also applied the same filter in my reviews regardless of whether it was their first remix or their tenth. Mostly because pretty much everybody was a newcomer back then and I was an equal opportunity critic.

Then I saw oldtimers go, new faces pop up, some stayed for only a short while, some for longer, and as the dynamics of the community became more clear (i.e. that it shrank), I realized it’s on me, too. Not that I think my feeble reviews had any impact on this dynamics, but I figured, if I can do my small part to try to encourage people to join this community and to stay, then we’ll all benefit from it.

 

Then there’s also the sad reality that people who grew up with the C64 and the Amiga are getting older – and people born later just don’t have the same attachment, the same nostalgia towards those tunes as we do. And since Remix64 remains focused on those two old platforms, it’s just the natural order of things that its community is shrinking, too. Which is why these days I am especially delighted when I see newcomers discover the seemingly endless treasures hidden in old SID and Amiga tunes. They may not have the same nostalgic feelings towards those tunes as us, oldtimers do, what they’re doing is just as commendable, just as respectable, if not more. And sometimes those newcomers are actually oldtimers like us, but maybe they started releasing remixes only recently.

 

But regardless of how they came to RKO and Remix64.com, I think we should welcome everybody with open arms! Listeners should encourage them by voicing their support for them, and remixers should also encourage them, maybe by helping them with advice, or just with a few nice words.


13) Is there a C64 tune that has yet to be remixed that you’d like to hear remixed? Maybe a call to remixers out there?


Is this some clever psychological trick to try to get me organize a remix compo or something?... 😊

 

Yes, I do think there are still uncovered hidden gems in HVSC (pre-1990 tunes) that deserve a remix treatment. But I think part of the fun is stumbling upon those gems. If I just call them out, it would feel like I am trying to commission a remixer to make something out of them, and that feels more like work than the work of passion, which is usually not a good recipe for a quality remix. And I wouldn’t want to hear a low quality remix of a high quality gem just so that we can check a box next to it: yep, this one has been remixed now, too!

 

I would be delighted to hear more and more uploads that remix some of the newer hidden gems in HVSC – which would be mostly post-1990 or even very recent demo tunes. Many times such remixes give me an excuse to go and listen to the original SIDs (yes, shocker: there are tunes in HVSC even I am not familiar with!...) and I am usually pleasantly surprised by them (both by the original SID and by its remix)


14) Some former C64 musicians have embraced the scene and that’s fantastic. Some however have totally distanced themselves from it. For me it’s hard to fathom out why they’d stay away when surely it was a big part of their lives. Your thoughts?


Peter Clarke is an example of a Former C64 musician who has embraced the remix  scene.

Peter Clarke is an example of a Former C64 musician who has embraced the remix scene.

I think it’s safe to say that both you and I are still passionate about a platform and its music that is almost 40 years old now. In other words, we like to delve into our C64/SID nostalgia and keep at it. Other people, though, just look at it as something that was in their past, it was neat, but they moved on. Or maybe something happened in their lives and they can’t dedicate time to it any more. Or they lost their passion for it. We have to understand that and respect it. I’ve also seen sceners who were gone for years or even decades, only to come back and surprise us all with new productions. We can’t – and shouldn’t – force people to stay just for our own entertainment. We need to embrace the dynamic nature of this community, not suppress it, because that will just alienate people even more.

 

Which is more of a reason to cherish and treasure the ones who do stay, or those who make only occasional remixes. And especially the ones who are just now discovering the world of SID music and SID remixes.



15) Do you think that the original composers on the C64 quite understand the high regard they have from the fans?


THC Flatline getting the rare chance to meet Martin Galway at BITLIVE 2001

THC Flatline getting the rare chance to meet Martin Galway at BITLIVE 2001

You’re better off asking them this question. 😊

 

At the very first Back In Time Live event in 2001 it was fascinating to see the reactions of C64 composers, because many of them seemed to have no idea whatsoever about the impact their music had on so many young minds! They were mobbed by fans, and this surprised quite a few of them. That in turn surprised me, because I thought that they must’ve received fan mail before, their music was obviously praised in Western magazines when the games came out, they also knew about HVSC by then, so it was no secret that their music was adored by a sizable group of people.

 

I’m sure that by now they are all very much aware that they have quite the following. We have countless remix albums, live events, crowdfunded projects, YouTube videos, multiple websites and Internet radio stations to prove that, so if they don’t know by now, they must be living under quite a big rock!



LaLa has been around the scene since before the big bang and his valued contribution to the scene over the decades has been inspiring. A very diligent and thought provoking interview. But i can't leave this Interview just like that. LaLa has produced some very creditable remxies himself so I'll leave you with this haunting rendition of Gyroscope.

 

/Neil Carr (Tas)



Comments

Chordian
10/06/2020 12:28
Interesting you also had a dad that gave you a C64 instead because he saw more potential in it. Exactly what happened to me too.

Dan
10/06/2020 14:02
This was a good read and well thought out questions. Always nice to hear from someone who does so much in the background but is hardly well known, thanks for sharing LaLa and Tas

Waz
10/06/2020 18:38
Always a fascinating interview with LaLa - and some of those memories, particularly during the HVSC period, resonate with me massively as you can imagine. And yes, I'm still waiting for him to finish The Power of Perl - it was the pet name I think he and I gave to it because of his use of that to make things easier. The fact I still use SIDEdit today when contributing the odd rip pack now and then should show how much of a lasting legacy it was.

Reviewes are always subjective, which he touched on. But there always has to something that stirs the emotions enough to make any review feel a positive one, where it hits you in the right place.

Fascinating too of course to see the history behind the appreciation of not just the SID but how the parents influence you to some degree.

LMan
11/06/2020 12:08
Another very interesting interview! Well done, Lala and Tas! Thanks for sharing your stories!

monty
11/06/2020 13:11
Thanks Tas & LaLa, great interview and very thoughtful answers. I really like the analogy between SID composers being forced to get the max out of a limited chip and LaLa being forced to get the max out of the limited system he was living in (behind the iron curtain). Both actually achieved great results in the end! :)

And it's funny that it was not so long ago that while reading some shouts/reviews I was thinking to myself that LaLa was not so harsh anymore like he used to be. I remember that in the beginning it was REALLY an achievement to get more than a yellow smiley out of him. But he always explained his vote comprehensibly. Great to read how he reflected on the "evolution" of his votings and the reasons behind it which are again very comprehensible.

Marcel Donné
14/06/2020 10:32
That was an amazingly interesting read! Thanks so much guys :-)

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