Queries: Dj Cutman (Episode 1)

Welcome to Queries! My name is Daniel Lamplugh, and in this series, I will be posting monthly interviews with people from Internet Culture, generally related to gaming. This could range from game devs to chiptune musicians, or whoever else is willing to come on the show. I can’t promise Cliffy B, Minoru Arakawa, or Adam Sessler will be on here, but I will try to find interesting and noteworthy guests.

Daniel Lamplugh: And on that note, today I am here with musician, remixer, and record label manager, Dj CUTMAN.

Dj Cutman: Oh, hello! I remix and DJ video game music and chiptunes :D

DL: You are a renowned DJ who tours pretty extensively to cons all over the western hemisphere, you have put out a rather impressive collection of music inspired by video games, you have been known to master albums for other video game inspire musicians, you founded a record label, GameChops, for people who produce EDM remixes of game music, and in your spare time you can somehow just be the nicest dude to everyone you meet (or so was my experience). How do you keep up? What keeps Cutman going?

DC: I love what I do! I love talking and working with other artists and musicians, I love helping my follow DJs and remixers turn their passions into a career. I quit my dayjob about one year ago in a terrifying move to try to do music full-time. I’ve since “made it” (meaning I never missed a rent check ;) and it’s awesome. I work harder than ever, but I love what I do. A steady influx of coffee, great music and positivity keep me going!

DL: When I first heard about you, it was after you had done a set at MagFest a few years back. ScrewAttack mentioned you on their podcast, SideScrollers. I think you had longer hair then. What has changed for you in the last few years?

DC: I got a haircut! haha, but seriously, quite a lot! I moved from upstate new york to Philadelphia to be closer to my girlfriend and the convention scene, I also registered my label GameChops as an LLC, which was an exciting move to keep my dream of being a full time creative person alive, as well as supporting the artists I work with and support my country by properly paying my taxes!

DL: Where did you get your start in the game remix scene? What was the environment that fostered you to grow into the Cutman we know today?

DC: MAGfest was my first convention I ever attended. Before then, I didn’t realize that so many people had shared a common interest in video game music as me. I was overwhelmed with excitement, I knew I had to be involved in this scene. It was also at MAGfest that I first had the opportunity to shadow (aka stand behind) a DJ. I saw the technique of DJing wasn’t such a terrifying and impossible thing. The DJ who so kindly let me watch him perform went by DJ Question, he explained the duty of the DJ was to keep the party going by continuously playing music that the audience could dance to. It’s not complicated, but it requires a keen ear and attention to your audience.

DL: You started GameChops in 2012, if I remember correctly. Before GameChops, there were some experiments with internet Game Music labels, but those were mostly loose collectives of musicians with a basic website and download page. Musicians could submit to OverClocked Remix (who only posts one song at a time), post themselves to sites like YouTube or Newgrounds, but GameChops was the first real label for game music remixers, as far as I know. Is it weird to think that you have helped kind of legitimize game remixing?

DC: It’s not weird to me! Both GameChops and Dj CUTMAN came out of a want for those very things. In 2010, after attending that MAGfest, I really wanted to go out and see Video Game Music and Chiptunes performed… but there was no one doing that anywhere near me. So I took the skills I picked up working a recording studio, donned a red helmet and began performing on the street and in small venues as Dj CUTMAN. In 2012, after Dj CUTMAN had began to grow and I was making steady convention appearances, I wanted to help out the greater video game music scene. I didn’t want to compete with OCRemix, which had been a huge source of inspiration for me, so instead I thought about what I could do to add value to the scene. I decided a close-knit team of video game remixers who focused on production quality could add something different. That summer we released The Triforce of Bass, a four person Zelda remix album, that got a ton of press and hit #1 on Bandcamp. That was the real wake-up call to me; people wanted this kind of music. I got in touch with the people who now run Loudr.fm and asked them about licensing the GameChops albums. Turns out they were big game fans themselves and were looking to do exactly that! Now the GameChops remix albums are available fully licensed through Loudr. It’s super exciting! For the video game scene, this means when you download a GameChops song off Loudr or iTunes, you can use it worry-free in your Podcast, YouTube Video, or other creative content.

DL: You’ve done your fair share of work in the chiptune scene, working with chiptunes yourself, mastering albums for Chiptunes = Win and μCollective, and hosting a weekly live mix of chiptune music. What draws you to chiptune? Is it just nostalgia, or something more?

DC: There’s something very special about chiptune, especially in this world where nearly all music is produced with computers. Chiptune is usually made with the limitations of a specific sound chip or tracker, and as a result chiptune programmers need to be creative about how they make their music. By working within the limitations of the hardware or software, many chiptunes sound super unique. I’ve also found that Chiptunes don’t age like other forms of electronic music. Listen to a chiptune from 20 years ago, it still can sound amazing. Listen to a dubstep song from 2 years ago… well, you get the idea ;)

DL: In your opinion, who are some chiptune artists people should watch for?

DC: Some of my personal favorites are Trey Frey, IAYD, Radlib, and Kubbi… but there are so many more out there! Check out my blog VideoGameDJ.com and the roster of Chiptunes = WIN for more.

DL: If you make video game remixes, you’ve probably played some video games. What are some of your favorite games? Or some games that have inspired your music?

DC: I love the Mega Man series, the early Zelda games (I never had an N64), and the Kirby games.

DL: First, let me say, I’ve been to your live sets twice (the last two SGC’s), and they are absolutely brilliant. If I ever get on the board for a convention, I am making it my mission to get you as a guest, because there is absolutely no way to be bored when you play a room. With that in mind, when you are preparing your set for a live show, is it a different mindset than when you are preparing an album? Or do you tend to view one as just an extension of the other?

DC: Preparing for a live show is so different than preparing for an album. Lately, I’ve been improvising a lot of my live shows (nearly all the episodes of This Week in Chiptune are improvised too), but albums need to be carefully and meticulously arranged. There are lots of things you can do in a room full of people that simply do no make sense in a pair of headphones. Sometimes, a moment of silence in a live show can build excitement, but that same moment in an album or mixtape can be disruptive. I often test out mixes and songs in a live show, and use my observations of the crowd to polish the production.

DL: What gets you into the mindset to make music? Does your inspiration come more from the game side, or the music side? Or a fusion of the two?

DC: This is a tough one. Most of my work these days is production, meaning mixing, mastering and giving feedback to my label artists. I don’t have the time to create my own music like I used to, and that’s sad sometimes. When I do have time to create a new remix or original song, it is usually in a flurry of excitement and impulse, I try to get down as much of the track as fast as I can, then I spent hours to weeks fine tuning it.

DL: You currently reside in Philadelphia (coincidentally my favorite big city). What is the game music/chip scene like there? Are there places in the city for people like you to play, or hear others? Or is it kind of solitary?

DC: Philly is awesome, there is a huge Chiptune scene here, probably one of the liveliest in the world right now. The monthly Chiptune event I volunteer for is called 8static, it’s been going on for almost five years. There’s a big festival coming in October, I’m super excited for it! 

DL: Best cheesesteak in Philly? (Suburbs as far down as Marcus Hook and as far up as Levittown are acceptable.)

DC: Honestly, I prefer the tacos from Honest Tom’s – http://www.honesttomstacoshop.com/

DL: How did you become DJ Cutman full time? Is it something where you said “I’m not gonna be a 9-5 chump, I want to mix game music”? Or was it something you kind of fell into accidentally?

DC: It was a combination of a lot of factors. Between the Dj CUTMAN bandcamp and the GameChops label, I had a little bit of money coming in every month… not enough to pay the rent, but enough to help. I was doing work with an big corporation, it was dry work but I was happy to have it. Last September the company went through some pretty serious re-structuring, and I found my hours cut significantly. I thought that I could try to find another job, or I could take this as a sign and try doing music full time. I made my rent from gigs and selling music online that month, then I did it again the next month, and I’ve found a way to keep it going since then. It was scary, don’t get me wrong, I was in a state of panic for almost that full first year, but I found that by devoting 8 hours a day to producing music, promoting my albums, and working on finding DJ gigs, I was able to make it work.

DL: Being a video game remix musician isn’t really the kind of career that people can look up helpful tips on how to enter the field. Unlike a regular 9-5, or even more common art and music based careers, there is no road map for the kid who wants to grow up and be the new Cutman, Grimecraft, or Benjamin Briggs. So, to the cliche last question, what is your advice to the kids who want to grow up to be video game DJ’s themselves? Any tips on how to make that dream real?

DC: Do what you love, keep an open mind, and find ways to add value to your scene and those around you.

Well thank you very much, Dj Cutman. Until next time, I am Daniel Lamplugh, and I will be seeing you guys next month for another installment in Queries.