Hailing from New Zealand is Gamer, the band that uses synths and pixel art as the vanguard of their performance. With the aim of distorting senses through the use of synths and intricate pixel art VJ animation, the band, headed by Phil Shaw and James Rowsell, focus on creating synthwave tunes enviable of their gated reverbs and sonic soundscapes.
2015 marks the beginning of new heights for Gamer’s performance both musically and sonically. Having welcomed the addition of two new members, the band has focused on incorporating live projections, as well as new analogue and digital synthesizers – which adds a new dimension to their performances. Following the release of their self-titled EP in 2013, Gamer received accolades from music publications in New Zealand, to blogs as far as Russia and Japan.
Gamer have recently performed at New Zealand’s inaugural Square Wave Festival, and now set their sights to their debut performance for Melbourne Music Week. Phil Shaw gives us an insight to their craft and their preparations for Melbourne Music Week.
Where did the idea come from to combine music and visual art?
Around about the same time as I began to make the music, Jimmy was experimenting with pixel art, so I asked him to make a music video for a track.
The initial idea was to do a number of videos and present them on old cathode ray TVs as an art installation. That’s why the ‘Shaping Staff’ video isn’t made in a widescreen format.
For gamer, what is connection between your music and the animations?
The connection at first was a conscious pairing of music and image that combined 80s and 90s video games with 80s sounding synth music.
The themes are reflective of what we grew up with in the 80s and early 90s – films that depicted dystopian futures (which were always strangely sleazy), video games, car chases and synth music (a lot of it soundtrack stuff like Harold Faltermeyer and Vangelis or from Reagan era action films).
Being involved in live performance, do you think that visuals (like stage setup and lighting) play a big part in how people experience events today?
That’s a good question – yes it does seem to now. Some artists do it incredibly well like Radiohead for example. I think their light show really added to the overall experience. I also saw Metronomy last year and they had great lights and stage setup, so yes I think it can play a decent part in shows now if its done well.
Do you think it could potentially detract from each art form or is it always a positive?
I have only found it be a positive in our project, but I have seen some pretty abysmal VJ projections that were really distracting and unnecessary. I think if they are going to be there, they should have a point or at least be visually complimentary to the music.
James Rowsell is responsible for your animations, but ultimately, is the process a collective effort?
Jimmy does all the Art, but I have some input with some ideas, for example album art and the shaping staff video concept we thought up together. Other times I haven’t seen the final result until its put up on youtube haha.
Do most of Gamer’s artistic visions go through to the final product?
Most of the time, but there have been a few aborted songs and at least one video I know of that didn’t come to fruition. Its worse for Jimmy though as it takes months to make the art.
Can you tell me about Gamer’s performance at Melbourne Music Week?
We will be playing a one off show at the Croft Institute on Friday the 20th November. We will be setting the projection program to 3D and supplying the audience with old school cardboard red/cyan glasses. I believe it will require playing the show non stop due to the settings, but the other Jimmy (Synth/VJ operator) will still be able to manipulate the images in real time.
Have you done anything special to prepare for Melbourne Music Week? Have you created new projections?
We will be slotting in a few new animations and loops as well as a couple of new tunes. Although we will be using existing footage, the projections are always manipulated in real time so no two shows will be the same! And with setting the projector to 3D and supplying glasses it will be a whole new experience.
Have you done any 3D installations like this before? What is the most outrageous thing you’ve done with the animations in your performances?
Haha no, the most outrageous thing has been using two projectors at once and that’s not very outrageous haha.
What is the next step for Gamer and animation?
We will do more live shows and add more live instruments. We will continue to add pixel art as Jimmy makes it. Ideally another music video would be made – but due to Jimmy living and working in Europe it is difficult for him to find the time, so probably wont be happening for a while.
Your bio describes Gamer as synth pop + pixel art, would I be right in saying your sound is honing in on Nintendocore?
Oh man I hadn’t even heard of that until just now haha. I just had a listen and it sounds cool, but I haven’t learnt how to make chip tunes and actually keep real guitars and drums out of the Gamer music in order to make myself write differently. I am a guitar player so I think that would really make me write stuff in a more guitar oriented way if I used one. But I did just get a Casio DG20 synth guitar for live stuff, but that doesn’t feel or sound anything like a real guitar that’s for sure haha.
Are there any specific video games that influenced Gamer to form?
No, the only console I have is a Nintendo 64 and that art is quite different. But we did like the pixel art from street fighter, altered beast and arcade games of that era. I think Jimmy was influenced by the art in a game called Leisure Suit Larry.
What other influences were formative to Gamer’s sound?
I was quite into Jean Michel Jarre, an old Moog master named Mort Garson and Kavinsky when I started so that influenced me. But musically the biggest thing for me is a cool sound, when I got my Juno 106 synth the sounds I got out of that really inspired me and still do.