Failotron’s music embodies the absurdity of minimalistic electronic music, using various video game hardware, lo-fi instruments and unusual effects. Drawing influences from Talk Talk and Grails, Failotron (aka Áron Birtalan) is an expert in sampling abandoned video games, his daunting sounds having been used in both films and installations. The Hungarian chiptune expert took time out whilst in his current city Hague to answer these questions on what inspires him, his upcoming release, and his performance at Blip Festival in New York.
How long have you been making music?
My earliest work goes back to 2005, and I started playing live in 2007. You live and study in Hague.
Is studying at the legendary Royal Academy of Art an inspiring experience?
I study image and sound design, as well as music composition in Hague , which is great because I get pushed to express myself continuously.
What exactly drew you to chiptune as a genre?
I do live shows, and one of the main instruments I use is a Gameboy. Therefore people automatically call it chiptune. However my music is a merging of many different sounds and effects. I don’t think that the term chiptune fully entails what my music is about. It’s more of a labelling, which I’m not a big fan of. I feel I have grown apart from the specific sounds of chiptunes in the last couple of years, or let’s say more or less from what chiptune represents. I think there is too much emphasis on the fact that I use a Gameboy on stage as an instrument when it is far beyond that.
What kind of music is mostly influential for you?
Mostly the minimalistic sounds from the previous century, plus bands such as Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis or Grails. I am also a big fan of the darker side of shoegaze, post punk or black metal. I have also listened to a lot of emo music in its very early years. Although I don’t really listen to electronic music anymore I found Zola Jesus’ and Baths’ recent albums particularly striking.
When it comes to your live show do you conduct a masterplan or improvise on stage?
Considering the fact that my main musical tool is a Gameboy my live performances are pretty much rehearsed. I don’t really trust electronics. It’s the synth and guitar riffs I try to incorporate into my live shows to make them more exciting. I do a lot of guitar riffs, which I’m still not too good at, and occasionally screw up, so in a way you could say that I do some improvisation within my live set.
How important are the visual effects in your shows?
Pretty important, therefore I’m quite picky when it comes to choosing who I work with. I’ve had both the best and worst experiences picking visual artists to work with on my shows. Now I have a regular team I work with, like Zeck from the Budapest Micro collective, or Rosa Menkman in Holland.
Besides your solo project, you also have a band called The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which is one the most popular Japanese pieces of art. How did you come up with that name?
All of us in the band are big fans of classic art, and that piece we found strongly expressive as well as perfectly matching our music. Plus we like how the name sounds.
What are the main differences between your solo project Failotron and the Great Wave off Kanagawa? Which one do you feel more attached to?
At the beginning the two projects had many similarities in their sounds but in the past year Kanagawa has grown into a proper rock band, while the sound of Failotron is becoming more and more mellow. With Failotron you can appreciate the music more sitting down and taking in the individuality of sounds, whereas with Kanagawa it’s more heavy going. Both fulfill me on certain levels.
Your main source of musicmaking is hardware like a Commodore 64 and a Gameboy. How do you get hold of them?
Almost all of my stuff is from the fleamarkets in the Netherlands and Hungary. Abandoned games which people don’t use anymore. I’ve found them for pennies. Discovering and re-using these games gives me the opportunity to create my own soundscape.
Blip Festival in New York was established in 2006, dedicated to chiptune/8-bit music lovers. It’s the biggest gathering within the genre, and you performed there in 2009.
The most memorable moment of the festival was when my Gameboy decided to give up working in the middle of my live set and I had to finish it through my laptop. I’m kind of proud that I dealt with the situation since during the five years of Blip Festival it’s only happened to me and a guy called Sabrepulse.
Is there anything you’re working on at the moment?
We’ve been working on the first Kanagawa EP for almost a year now. Most of the tracks are ready and done, but I keep re-recording some additional stuff. At the moment I’m really into field recordings. I recorded some audio materials in local churches, spacious hallways….places where I can play around with natural acoustics and sounds. At the moment I’m mainly focused on Kanagawa, not doing much for Failotron recently. As for the summer we’re pretty much going non-stop with festivals in Holland, Hungary and Finland. Once we’re done with all the festivals we’ll focus on the release of the EP.
Published August 26, 2011.