The Greatest Bits is a DJ and chiptune producer from the Netherlands. His debut release, Mega Man 2, features covers of one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all-time. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with him to discuss the album, his love of video games and his future plans. You can listen to samples of his Mega Man 2 album here while you read the interview below!
Let’s start by talking about you as a gamer. How did you get into video games? What were some of your favourite games growing up?
TGB: I first got into video games as a kid back in the late 80s. My best friend had a Nintendo 8-bit console with Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt and a Star Wars game. Since then my brothers and I saved all our pocket money and – with a little help from Santa Claus – we eventually got our first Nintendo console and lived happily ever after 🙂
My favourite retro games include Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros 3 and Donkey Kong Country. Street Fighter 2 holds a special place in my heart ever since I spent a summer holiday in Italy fighting Ryu, Chun-Li and Dhalsim behind an arcade machine (and ignoring the sunny beach outside the game hall). The Super Mario Kart series is probably my all time favourite because of all the great evenings I spent with my brothers and friends playing this game.
TGB: I’ve been playing drums in a few local bands since the mid 90s. The Red Hot Chili Peppers was our main influence back then and you can still wake me up at night for drumming along with the Blood Sugar Sex Magik album. I also play guitar and keyboards and a couple of more exotic instruments, like a “charango” from Bolivia.
My first encounters with electronic (dance) music were with Daft Punk, Orbital, Underworld, The Prodigy, Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers. These acts opened up a whole new world for me! I’ve had a short career as a radio DJ in The Netherlands, produced albums for a few Dutch local bands and started DJ-ing at dance venues a couple of years ago.
TGB: About two years ago, it suddenly hit me with a bang! I had just bought a Nintendo Wii and I was looking around the old 8-bit and 16-bit games that were available through the Virtual Console channel. When I was browsing through this paradise of video game nostalgia, suddenly all these melodies popped back up in my head again. It was like they had been locked up somewhere in a corner of my mind for 15 years or so, and suddenly they were unleashed again! After listening to the original music loops my mission found me: creating full songs of these loops and musically warp them into the 21st century.
TGB: By listening to chiptune game music from the 80’s and 90’s I realized that one can produce really fantastic music with very primitive methods. I see it as my job to create a new musical environment for these chiptunes. Combined with “real” instruments, the heart and soul of the 8-bit sounds can shine brighter than ever.
TGB: Well, the basic thing is: I LOVE IT! It’s composed by the Japanese artists Ogeretsu Kun, Manami Ietel and Yuukichan’s Papa . Japanese music composers usually have a different approach to (game) music compositions from Western composers. While Western composers are often primarily focused on creating moving harmony progressions (i.e. great orchestral game pieces and cinema music), Japanese composers are primarily focused on a beautiful and strong melody. This is what makes their game music so memorable. The Mega Man 2 soundtrack is a brilliant example of this melodic strength.
TGB: When I’m producing I am constantly aware of this balance. My only basic rule is that it’s about the song and not about me. So I could go for a raving drum solo or totally freak out on special effects, but then I would praise myself instead of the video game songs.
I try to preserve the 8-bit feel of the songs but at the same time I want to fix it shortcomings. One of the things that lack on 8-bit sound chips is real bass tones. If you turn up your bass EQ on an original 8-bit track nothing will happen! So I added some real bass tones and combined them with the chipsound bass lines to create a crossover style. The same goes with the drums; an 8-bit drumbeat has a cool sound but it doesn’t really “pound” on your stereo set. So I replace them with real beats or combine the real snare drum sounds with and 8-bit snare drum sound to combine the best of both worlds.
TGB: I think it’s the fact that I achieved to create the sound that I had in mind: a chiptune sound that hopefully will be able to survive in the 3rd millennium. I tend to call it “chiptune crossover”.
TGB: As a music fanatic I think it’s brilliant that music from anywhere in the world is available at a click of a mouse. Plus the great fact that you can listen to music samples before you decide to buy anything.
As an artist I’m extremely happy with organizations like CD Baby, who have helped to turn the music industry into a worldwide democracy. Any artist can sell their music online now, without depending on major record companies who tend to neglect niche musical styles.
Digital distribution means to me that I don’t have to stuff my bedroom full with tons of CDs, desperately hoping to sell anything. Plus I can have real interaction with fans worldwide now. It’s still crazy stuff when you think too much about it.
TGB: At the moment I’m creating an album with remixes of the Donkey Kong Country tracks. There will be a lot of songs on there that are also featured in the recent DKC Returns game for the Wii, but also a couple of SNES classics like the Ice Cave Chant that haven’t been reissued. I also have some sketches ready on Tetris tunes, Street Fighter music and even Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker from the SEGA Genesis. So there’s much more on the way!
TGB: For myself I hope to build up a large catalogue full of remakes of fantastic video game music and I hope to be able to offer them to VG music enthusiasts worldwide. Another dream for me is that I hope to bring a series of video game music dance parties to life. That would be amazing! And one day I hope to bring down the wall between video game music and popular radio music. If Daft Punk can climb the charts, chiptune music can do it too. Don’t you think so…?
Thanks to The Greatest Bits for the interview! You can sample his album here, check out his website at www.thegreatestbits.com, or buy his album from the following online retailers: