Mark Knight: Chapter I

You guys were like mythological creatures to early gamers like me who were getting pirated games with your imprint on them. So, long before the internet, I always wondered how you managed to get together for collaborations.

Trevor was in Kent, so once I had a driving license, it was possible to reach him in just couple of hours. I only went over a few times. But with the Scandinavian guys, I think two of them eventually came to the UK for some reason and they stayed at my mum’s house. I didn’t meet everybody until they had a birthday party in 1993, which unfortunately was a huge flop. It wasn’t the best experience, but I met them all and left the demoscene when I came back to the UK.

I remember seeing some incredible VHS footage from a 1991 Christmas party in Denmark, which was a gathering of a large number of the (in)famous crack crews and demo shamans.

I think that the aim of the Melon party was to kind of replicate the same thing, but it didn’t quite work out.

I think the whole demoscene was just one massive piece of one-upmanship

Suddenly seeing all these nerds gathered in one place was both a satisfying and quite amusing experience. To me, they were almost unreal; like wizards hiding behind mysterious handles such as Fairlight, Crystal or Kefrens, who constantly tested the technological limits of the available hardware. After all those years, it was great to see them finally as beings of flesh.

I think that’s what I found appealing. Just watching how they seemed to continuously stretch the boundaries of what the machine could do, to the point it was doing things that were not supposed to be possible. Even now on the Commodore 64, you look at some of the stuff people were doing. It’s like when Mahoney made that real-time effect processor. Chorusing and flanging in real time with a 64K memory, that’s absolutely mental.

When I was researching your early collaborations and stumbled upon Melon Dezign, I immediately recalled a motif from one of my favourite demos made by Kefrens – the one that had fast-paced techno music, vector graphics and pyramids.

Yeah, ‘Desert Dream?’

Yeah, ‘Desert Dream.’ It was on two floppy disks and it had this alien spaceship shooting a melon into the pyramid. I wondered whether this was some kind of metaphor related to or aimed at Melon Dezign itself perhaps signaling some feud?

[laughing] Probably. There’s been a lot done of that. I think the whole demoscene was just one massive piece of one-upmanship; everyone trying to get one over on everybody else. We were teenagers, we were kids – that’s what you did.

Oh, I see.

I remember, in the ProTracker module format, most of us used to rename the instruments to write something – a story or to have a go at somebody. In a lot of the Amiga modules, the instrument names aren’t the instrument names at all; they are just slagging somebody off. That’s the only way that we could do it and express our feelings, putting them inside the module. I wrote a couple of tracks called ‘Christmas Spirits’ or ‘Xmas Spirits 2’ and another called ‘Rustic Theme.’ In all three of them, I was basically taking the piss out of a musician who I thought was shit. I think his name was Rustic Warrior, so I did ‘Rustic Theme’ or something like that [laughing]. Musically, well, there isn’t that much music in it; it’s just a horrible noise [laughing].


In retrospect, how much would you say that your chiptune background influenced your later work?

I’d say quite a bit really. The thing about chiptune is, admittedly, that a lot of the sounds are awful. You’ve got no memory and you’ve got three or four channels. So the only way you can really make something sound good is having a strong melody. I think, over the years, as I was practicing writing the tunes, my melodies got stronger and stronger. Even now, I struggle to write music that doesn’t have a melody because it bores me. If I am writing music that bores me, I am never gonna finish it.

I’d say, certainly, the melodic style of the chiptune changed with the advent of Gameboy and LSDJ and it became a lot more four-to-the-floor dance music. But going back another generation before that, the only thing that kept us going was trying to write something catchy; something that is cute, something that is fun and you can sing when you have a shower or whatever. Certainly, that kind of idea of melodic content being catchy, that is something that’s really stuck with me.

It’s the same like with Jarre’s stuff. I like Jarre’s melodic stuff; I certainly cannot listen to something like ‘Waiting for Cousteau.’ Whilst I like some of the sounds that groups like Tangerine Dream use with analog synths, they didn’t stick as heavily with me as being great music, because there wasn’t anything to latch onto. It wasn’t so memorable that way.

Chiptune has made me appreciate melodic content, I’d say. As you mature as a composer, then you start to investigate weird and wonderful chord sequences. That was always a struggle for me when I was younger; being a violin player when you are told to play single-channel melodies. You are never really told the concept of chords and chord progressions when you are playing something like that, so it took me quite a while to get into chord sequences. But now, I love them, I love weird and wonderful chord changes. I try to introduce them into my music when I can now. There is quite a lot of this going on in my Formula 1 soundtrack. I just like to play around and do something weird and maybe a little bit surprising.

Getting old, I wanted to go back to help myself stay feeling young

Not long ago, in 2012, you released a chiptune album called Reawakening. Was it a work of pure nostalgia or do you think chiptunes are still somewhat relevant, even today?

I didn’t do it for anybody else but me. Previous to Reawakening, I had been married for ten years and I didn’t do a lot of music writing during that time. I was doing sound design at work, so it was back to music composition being my hobby – except the way I was in my marriage, and my wife was in my marriage, didn’t allow much time. So we separated towards the end of 2011 and straight away I had the time to write an album. I can’t tell you why I chose chiptunes, but I think it’s because it’s ingrained in me. It is something I always listened to and enjoyed, and I kind of wanted to go back to it. Since like ‘93 onward, I learned quite a lot about music production, sound design, composition, etcetera, so I wanted to go back and redo some of my favorite tracks using these skills. It actually didn’t take very long to write the album. I just wish I spent a bit more time mixing it, cause I am listening to the mixes now and they are pretty poor. So yes, it was like going back to my childhood roots.

Mark performing at SuperBytes festival in 2013

Then when I got the gig at Superbyte Festival in 2013, I was like, ‘Right, now I am gonna perform chiptunes, how am I gonna do that?.’ And I bought a copy of Ableton Live and an Akai APC40 controller, so I could move knobs and push levers, etcetera. I was just looking at this software and thinking, ‘What am I supposed to be doing with this?.’ Because I am not a DJ and I never will be a DJ and I don’t get any pleasure out of standing on stage and looking at the computer screen. I’ve played the violin since I was six and I have been performing violin at some bloody big festivals since I was about 21 or 22. I suddenly thought, ‘Why the heck am I not using the violin as a part of the TDK act?’ Writing chiptune and then using the violin, it was kind of like going back to the things I was doing when I was six years old onward. Getting old, I wanted to go back to help myself stay feeling young, I suppose [laughing]. It was great, I enjoyed it and I am still enjoying it.

 I listened to the album recently and some of the tunes really managed to stuck with me, catchy as ever.

It’s just the mixes are poor. A couple of years ago, I bought some proper studio monitors – some Neumann three-way monitors – and they basically told me that everything I was doing sounded a little bit shit. Obviously, there is another learning curve there which I’ve been going through with the Formula 1 soundtracks. The first one’s mixing is bad, the other one’s is not that bad, and the last one’s mix is pretty okay. It’s just practice, practice, practice. I’d love to go back and redo Reawakening, but to be honest, it’s really been long enough to release another chiptune album.