MIDI Party: As Games, Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin and Tigercity's Joel Ford grab their synths and dig into the past.
Sitting in a cozy living room in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and eating a bag of Haribo Build-A-Burger Gummi Candy, it's clear that 28-year-olds Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford have been hanging out for a long time: way before Lopatin began crafting ambient synth tracks as Oneohtrix Point Never, before Ford joined soft rock band Tigercity, and before they combined forces as Games. The guys are at tremendous ease with each other, divulging how they first met in a sixth-grade science class in Wayland, Massachusetts, a town that Ford claims was "totally suburban bubble-fied."
Spending their teenage days listening to drum & bass pioneer Goldie, college radio from nearby Boston, and Lopatin's father's jazz fusion records, they started a band called Polyphonic when they were both 15. Ford played drum pads on an Ensoniq SQ-2 keyboard and Lopatin manned the same trusty Juno-60 synthesizer he still uses. "We played at the talent show at our high school," Lopatin says. "With rappers! And a DJ scratching," Ford adds, chuckling.
"That's really the true origin of Games," Lopatin continues, referring to their current joint endeavor. Moving into a run-down Bushwick apartment together in February 2010 ("We didn't have hot water or heat," Ford describes), they started producing tracks on a bunch of secondhand synths and sequencers. Thus far, they've released a 7" that features tunes "Everything is Working" and "Heartlands," and most recently put out the cheekily titled That We Can Play EP (both on LA-based label Hippos in Tanks).
Taking inspiration from sources as varied as '80s synth pop band The System and DJ Premier mixtapes, the EP is a sample-heavy odyssey that feels like a sunset drive down the Pacific Coast Highway while sipping wine coolers and wearing a diamond-studded leather jacket. They claim it has a conceptual focus in that all of the tracks came to exist via the same process, but, besides that, nothing really ties them together.
"Shadows in Bloom"
"It's almost like we just sit down with gear and are like, 'Whoa, this sounds sweet,' and then we'll make a beat, and be like, 'What if we do this?' and something comes out and we move from there," Ford explains. "Where it gets really complex—and you can't be a slacker—is you have to inventorize all these tiny sounds and constantly be trying to fit all of these moving parts together and see what sticks—and it's a lot of repetitive, careful-listening kind of work," Lopatin further illuminates.
Last summer, while spending a week at Ford's parents' house near Boston, they made "Planet Party," one of the first tracks to end up on the EP. "We were making this smooth-rock, Alan Parsons Project-style shit, and then it completely got sliced and diced, mistakes happened in Pro Tools, and it became something else," Ford confesses. The result is a collection of drum claps, whiny synth melodies, and cut-up samples of '80s-tinged vocal snippets. An attendant music video, made by Josef Kraska, features low-tech imagery of yachts, long-haired babes, jet skiers, and renderings of cassette tapes, compiled in the same cut-and-paste style in which the song was assembled.
"MIDI Drift" gathers emotive synth and keyboard melodies and floats an unintelligible man's voice on top of them, resulting in a glittering ode to early synth-pop that somehow manages to, at the same time, seem quite contemporary. "Shadows in Bloom" begins mischievously before morphing into a dance-y beat; this track features vocals most shamelessly, putting them up front to great effect. Brooklyn duo Gatekeeper provides a spooky remix of "Strawberry Skies" on the EP as well. "There's a boot-up logo sound from PlayStation 1 in it, which is awesome," Lopatin enthuses.
The opening song, "Strawberry Skies," is a slow-starting, echo-heavy tune that features the vocal talents of fellow Brooklynite producer and singer Laurel Halo (see this month's Bubblin' section for more about her). It's the only track that was recorded and mixed in an actual studio. Halo hits on a perfectly melancholic note, crooning "Can't find the meaning/In all this midnight scheming" atop a panoply of vintage flutes and whomping synth melodies. Writing the lyrics together, the guys made up nonsensical phrases in order to plot out the vocal melody. "I made them about Shaq and Kobe and eating steak sandwiches and pies," Ford fondly remembers. "Anything just to get the sounds," Lopatin adds.
"Strawberry Skies (ft. Laurel Halo)"
One of Games' own remixes also appears on the EP—their take on "It Was Never Meant to Be" by Montreal producer CFCF. They capture his slow, sometimes trippy piano melodies and make them downright danceable, adding a hard-hitting 4/4 and, of course, upping the severity of the synthesizers. To craft this and other remixes they've done, they choose one inspiring element to highlight, and heavily doctor the rest. "Preserve minimal amounts of original track; create whole world underneath," Ford asserts.
Listen to Games, and then check out Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never project or Tigercity, Ford's straight-up rock band, and the wide ranges of the guys' personal styles and tastes become apparent. For Lopatin, this connection makes a bit more sense: He's used to creating electronic soundscapes, albeit less dance-inducing, and far less upbeat. "I play differently when I'm playing with Joel," he admits. "So, it's both a comfortable integration of stuff that I do, but also quite different, just because I'm playing off of whatever situation I'm in." Ford doesn't see Games relating to his work with Tigercity on a sonic level, though he notes that it has expanded his knowledge of keyboards, as well as "learning how to write and craft songs, and move ideas around and combine them into something else."
One musical belief they share is that everything is just too damn fast these days. A definite part of the current zeitgeist wherein artists like Salem, oOoOO, and How to Dress Well are taking after Houston innovator DJ Screw to slow things down, the Games boys see benefits in a more patient sort of listening. "Music is a repose, a break from the speed of everything," Lopatin waxes. "The same way people work out in gyms and build up certain areas of their body or focus on their musculature, it's good practice to listen slowly. That's what we're trying to figure out now… how do we build a really epic 10- to 15- to 20-minute track that is engaging and feels hypnotic and feels like pop music without limiting it to this short-form thing."
Another thing they're trying to figure out is what a Games live show should look like. They've performed together a few times so far, but envision a more large-scale, immersive experience, drawing on the spirit of performers like Monolake, Orbital, and The Black Dog to create an ambient techno world. "It's going to surprise people, and it's not necessarily as beat-oriented or as funky as the stuff we've put out," Lopatin explains. "It's kind of like Jackson's Computer Band or Max Tundra, a sampler-heavy approach to ambient music."
"…But, for the purpose of main-stage Glastonbury—20,000 people," Ford adds, before they both break out into laughter.
They are also in the process of starting a label, in an effort to shirk the usual cycle propagated by most labels of cutting records followed by heavy touring ("We came to the conclusion that we're producers, and we want a lot of control," Lopatin affirms). They're also beginning work on the group's first full-length, and feel their longstanding friendship will make this process a hell of a lot simpler. "There's an ease of production in the sense that we speak the same language," says Ford. "Collaboration is basically just us hanging out."
"It feels like our whole high school and college years were just research for this moment," adds Lopatin, "and we can finally actualize all of this research. It's really fun."
[Ed's Note: At press time, the members of Games announced that their name was under legal dispute, and may have to be changed in the future.]
Games' That We Can Play EP is out now on Hippos in Tanks.
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