Feature Q&A: Mr. Spastic on Granta Digital

Eric on 2014-08-17
The latest album release by Cambridge-based electronic music artist Mr. Spastic (Nathan McCoy) is Granta Digital. In this Q&A, the chip musician discusses past and future stage performances, from Blip Festival in New York, to touring in California.

What were some of your earliest experiences publishing chip music compositions online?

Nathan McCoy:
The first album I did was with a label called Betamod. There was some rapping on it, using pitch-shifted vocals. 8bitpeoples later asked me to play at Blip Festival. But at that time I no longer had all of that equipment, so I just started writing.

Do you see this time in 2008 when your album "Claps and Leads" emerged as having been a turning point for your creative process?

Ninety percent of people who listen to my music mention that release to me. There I forced myself to use just two pieces of hardware, the NES and MIDIbox SID, and I think I pushed myself a lot more, trying things I hadn't done before.

Meeting all the interesting people at the festival, that turned out to be even more fun for me than experiencing the music. I had never done anything like that before and it was so energetic.

Reggae is a genre you have explored in your music. Is this a style that you find yourself returning to when you write chip music?

I actually played bass in a reggae band when I was younger, from just about the age of 15 to maybe about 22. I’ve always liked Jamaican music, and started a project more recently that is bass and drum heavy. It just kind of started bleeding in to this project, [Grant Digital].

I moved to England more than a year ago, and didn't have all of my equipment, so I started making "fakebit" music by using FL studio, using only the 3xOSC, a simple 3 oscillator synthesizer built into the program, as a way to give myself direction and limitations. The drums, the snare, the hi-hat, the bass, leads and everything are all generated from this simple synthesizer.

When it came time to name the album, my wife suggested "Granta," the historical name of The River Cam. I then thought I should add "Digital," as I only used computer generated-music and no hardware, whereas usually i use an NES, Gameboy and Commodore 64.

You performed during Nullsleep's Collapsed Desires Tour on the West Coast. Something I recall about those live shows was that there were very different acts each night. There were the apocalyptic Collapsed Desires pieces, next to fun and lighthearted tracks by George Michael Brower, and yet there was not a feeling of conflict in hearing them back to back.

I think that people who like chip music are not really into huge mainstream kinds of pop media, so they’re probably a little more intent on just giving a certain aesthetic a chance. The thing I remember about that tour was that it was mainly done in art galleries.

Do you find the variety of musical styles at chiptune events is something encourages you to be involved?

I like the fact that although people are using the same equipment, I can hear all different genres of music at the same event.

Like somebody might do a lot of dance and someone else is doing something really funky, and then you hear something really fast and crazy, or really dark. What's nice is that you’re not stuck hearing the same kind of thing.

It's a less judgmental scene in your estimation?

And also, it’s a bit nerdy right? It’s a solitary kind of nerdy practice, using old equipment to produce modern music. Why would you do that? So having a pretentious attitude toward that goes away very quickly. We're all part of this thing that’s really not all that popular, so who are we to judge?

Granta Digital is available through the Mr. Spastic Bandcamp page.