Victor Love is a cyberpunk musician who is best known for his work with the band Dope Stars Inc. In recent years, Love has been working on solo projects like Hacking the Wave and his self-titled project Victor Love. We last spoke with Love following the release of his EP, The Network. You can read that interview here. Valenberg is an excellent pixel artist that has vaulted onto the cyberpunk scene, working with the likes of Perturbator and Victor Love to bring out visions of our cyberpunk future.
Victor, where did the idea for your new album, Technomancy, come from?
Victor: It’s hard to say because the concept evolved and had been growing over time. First of all, I wanted the music style and sound to be as close as possible to the cyberpunk atmospheres and soul. Then I wrote the lyrics which are all about analyzing society in a hyperconnected world. After that I put everything in a context and setting while writing the concept story. This was happening at the same time that I was also discussing the cover art with Valenberg. We started with the concept art for the song Bitchcraft, which eventually inspired the album title and the whole Technomancy concept and visuals.
Valenberg, I understand that you worked together to flesh and conceptualize Technomancy, what did this process look like?
Valenberg: Hundreds of emails. Haha. Victor told me about the story he had in mind, showed me the lyrics, and I listened to the songs. Based on that I did some tests and scribbles, we talked about it, and so it evolved.
Victor: Yeah exactly what Valenberg said. If I go through my email now it’s almost embarrassing to see how many emails we exchanged. It’s more than hundreds, maybe thousands as well as a lot of direct chats. It was an exciting process where we both had a lot of fun as well, being as the themes were what we are influenced by and passionate about. On top of this let me say that Valenberg is very fast at what he does. Sometimes I was surprised to see how quickly he could turn visions into art.
Victor, how did you discover Valenberg and decide to work with him?
Victor: It’s been a long time I have been following the art of Valenberg especially on Tumblr and DeviantArt, and I was fascinated by the worlds and visions in his art. I can say that he was inspiring me while writing the songs of Technomancy even though we weren’t in touch yet. In the beginning, I was planning to work with a concept designer and work through a similar process to creating video games. A piece of concept art would be transposed into animated pixel art by Valenberg and then associated with the web release of songs (Youtube, Bandcamp, etc.). I discussed with Valenberg doing the album artwork as pixel art from the start and thought it would have been something really special. This lead us to try the animated version of the cover art which was something I never tried before and received an enormous positive feedback so far.
Valenberg, your pixel art is incredible and has a depth of detail most pixel art lacks. What got you into the art form?
Valenberg: I love the simplicity of Pixel Art. It leaves room for imagination. Also, I grew up with Games in this style, so there’s also a nostalgia factor. It’s nice to see the art style still has it’s place today, and it’s not limited to games.
Valenberg, looking over your site I noticed a ton of cyberpunk influences in your work. Robocop, VR headsets, John Carpenter references, and science fiction noir settings for example. What cyberpunk media has most inspired your work?
Valenberg: I get inspired by a lot of stuff. I’ve been a big Blade Runner fan since my early youth. I was blown away when I first saw the movie and played the point & click adventure game. I also like the Films of Gaspar Noé, David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Stanley Kubrick, and Japanese Cinema. Haruki Murakami (author) influenced me a lot, the worlds of Moebius (the comic artist), Akira, Robocop, etc. I’m interested in dystopian/post-apocalyptic stuff in general, and I love the mood of big cities like Tokyo.
Valenberg, we are also familiar with Perturbator and saw your excellent animated video, Sentient. Was bringing your pixel art to the video format a challenge?
Valenberg: It was challenging because it was my first music video. As I’m a big movie fan, I always wanted to do a music video. It was a great fit. I’ve liked his music a lot since I listened to the Hotline Miami Soundtrack.
Valenberg, how did you get involved with the Uncanny Valley project for Perturbator?
Valenberg: Blood Music contacted me because they liked my stuff and asked me if I’m interested in doing a music video for Perturbator. We talked about the basic ideas behind the song and the album in general. I made a storyboard and some test animations, and they liked it. We built the story together.
Victor: I must say it was a surprise for me to find out that Valenberg was working with Perturbator in the same time frame we were working on Technomancy. Until the release of the video, I had no clue he was into it. Fun fact is I was trying to collaborate with Perturbator too at times because I love what he is doing, but then it didn’t work out in the end. It’s interesting to see how small the world is sometimes, and coincidences happen even though we are coming from two very different music scenes. Something similar happened when I collaborated with Dynatron for the song on the VirtuaVerse game and then found out he signed for Blood Music. Must have been destiny 😉
Victor, last time we talked you mentioned experimenting with different kinds of audience engagement to see what works outside of the mainstream channels. Any new insights?
Victor: Whenever I start a new project I always try to look at my past experiences trying to understand how I can improve myself and especially the way I communicate and interact with my fanbase. In 2013, when I started the project Hacking The Wave, I had been experimenting with something similar but in that case, the concept and system were apparently too complicated (time banking, centralized content in one website & replication of content delegated to the fans, etc.). In that case, the project’s first stages were almost secret, though. With my solo project instead I took that experience and tried to improve it to evaluate the appeal and interest in the further evolution of my solo project. While with Hacking the Wave, I was staying off every other network, this time, I have been using all of them again but with the objective to redirect everyone to sign up to my newsletter where I am communicating directly with who are interested. In the first stages, I was writing music and sending regular updates to the newsletter, and it was because of the good feedback I received that I decided to proceed on working on a full-length album. However, my final conclusion is that both ways are necessary because the problem is not that everyone is willing to accept only one form of communication and the internet population is spread across too many different networks. So in the end, when announcing the full-length album, I started to use all systems and methods again. However, that first early stage was really important because it created a solid starting point to make the project grow later on.
Victor, the mainstream music industry has begun to embrace free streaming and music downloads, but you started doing this as early as 2011 (and were blacklisted for doing so). Freedom of information, which is at the core of this issue, is a major focus of the hacker ethic and cyberpunk soul. How do you feel about this climate today?
Victor: This is always a very controversial topic. Let me say first that I hate the fact I always have look like a prick when talking about this but eventually, this is probably the only way to get the message to reach those who won’t listen. I find it amusing, even if refreshing, to see all this free attitude right now by those who were considering it heresy just a few years ago. The same people that have been backstabbing, backtalking and also in some cases isolating me because of my ideas (& concrete actions) on the topic. I also find it hilarious to see so many people in the Cyberpunk community that are still on the other side. It makes me think that they probably just jumped on the cyberpunk train out of a Powerbook without a clue about what cyberpunk or the hacker ethic is about. Many in fact are into it mostly for the video game related world rather than the culture. That being said, I definitely believe streaming services and other platforms like Spotify should pay more royalties not only to musicians but also pitch something to torrent sites. iTunes should do the same thing with Napster. At the end of the day, those platforms have been “stealing” their ideas and capitalizing on it, which is very ironic.
Let’s analyze details. One can say that Spotify pays artists but the reality is what they pay is so ridiculously low that it is much less than the exposure & profit you would get by trending on a torrent website. Spotify and The Pirate Bay base their revenue on ads (Spotify also has a monthly fee). While Spotify is pretending to give proper payment to artists, the real ones that benefit are the big record labels and big pop bands which are being paid by the millions of indie bands that get the dimes (insert rip-off here). The Spotify system, charts, and vision is totally on the mainstream side. What’s being promoted is not the merit or quality but instead who pays more for advertisement (crappy music). On the other side the torrent system is completely based on quality and there is no filter, sponsored boost, or whatever else. Hence the best content tops the charts. Now let’s analyze the public. Spotify’s audience is the average user with no tech skills which is also the one that will just enjoy the new system and will never eventually look for another system. The Pirate Bay’s audience instead is mostly people with some basic or even high-end tech skills. Most geeks, which are also the main audience for mediums like vinyls and cassettes, are more active in promoting. They support underground music more often and guess what? They also buy music when they get hooked for real. Now that you have a practical picture of what I am talking about; I can tell you that to get the same income from Spotify if 100 fans stream your music that you get if just one of those fans buys one CD. Spotify promotes a vision (also in the advertisements) where you can listen to music for free forever and ever and you should NEVER pay. The Pirate Bay promotes a vision instead where you should try before you BUY. This is a slogan that has been going on even before torrents. To be honest, I prefer a system that rewards merit with quality users that promote quality music and eventually sells one CD for each 100 or 500 users that torrent my music to a system that rips offs bands, promotes crappy music, and is pretending to be the solution for the future of musicians. Of course, if you are a label with hundreds of bands that can be a good honeypot for you but always remember that whatever works for you while damaging others will not last forever. You may enjoy some quick cash but if you have a long term vision as a label manager then you are just doing it wrong.
That being said, I definitely believe streaming services and other platforms like Spotify should pay more royalties not only to musicians but also pitch something to torrent sites. iTunes should do the same thing with Napster. At the end of the day, those platforms have been “stealing” their ideas and capitalizing on it, which is very ironic. Let’s analyze details. One can say that Spotify pays artists but the reality is what they pay is so ridiculously low that it is much less than the exposure & profit you would get by trending on a torrent website. Spotify and The Pirate Bay base their revenue on ads (Spotify also has a monthly fee). While Spotify is pretending to give proper payment to artists, the real ones that benefit are the big record labels and big pop bands which are being paid by the millions of indie bands that get the dimes (insert rip-off here). The Spotify system, charts, and vision is totally on the mainstream side. What’s being promoted is not the merit or quality but instead who pays more for advertisement (crappy music).
Victor, Bitchcraft is the first track on Technomancy and has also been released as a single. I found this song very interesting since it appears to have many layers. In the universe of Technomancy, we know that hackers are using something akin to magic to fight the establishment, thus the use of witchcraft in the song. It is obvious that richcraft refers to the establishment and its powerbrokers. Besides the rhyme what does bitchcraft represent to you in this song?
Victor: Bitchcraft is a song that includes multiple meanings but clearly it’s an anti-establishment song. We live in a world where almost everyone is ready to sell out to achieve success and profit. Even the most underground artists have been sucked into this spiral. Even those who were writing songs about rebellion are now sided with who they were “conceptually” fighting before. This is nothing weird because we have seen this happening all the time in the past. Once rebellion becomes a product it can be sold as a pack of cigarettes.
Problem is there are no new movements in arts that are trying to replace those fallen idols. I always thought music and art was a way to send a message but what music has become these days has nothing to share with it in most cases. Artists just jump on the next hype-wagon, write lyrics and release songs on the spot of tragic events just for clickbait and have no clue, even using the death of celebs and making tributes in order to fish some more likes off social networks. Rockstars from the past are exhumed and thrown on stages even on holographics for the sake of quick cash. There is an immense number of people that think the only reason you should do music is to make a pile of money. Problem is the system is feeding this illusion and model. A system that gives you fake promises and feeds the illusion you will succeed because you are in someway destined for that. Add to this the fact that we are facing an increasing state of unemployment and you know why there’s so many musicians, photographers, models, painters, designers, web designers and the like around. Problem is sometimes not only about talent but also about attitude. If you do something just for the sake of quick cash and not because you are inspired and are not pushed by a true artistic intent, people will notice this and you will fail. On the other side, we are facing another issue that has been created by giving the individual the opportunity to promote themselves independently on the internet.
This situation created a world where those who have more money to invest in advertisement are going to win the whole pot. You can have as much talent as you want but if the spoiled rich kid next to you drops 100K on Facebook ads you can be sure that he’s gonna shadow anyone else around in any field of art. This is also the reason why we can’t have the cool things anymore. There are too many people with enormous budgets that are willing to pay even if they lose money in the long run. They are basically buying fame, and the problem is they are also forced to keep on buying it if their art is very bad. Even if they are mediocre, they will eventually break even or make some profit. But while all this happens, all the other artists with talent and no money to spend will be lost in the stream of sponsored ads. I believe this is a very bad thing for music, and the arts, and I hope that once people finally realize this, they will stop supporting whoever is doing this because at the end of the day it just hurts the quality of our life and our opportunity to connect with good content.
Victor, I noticed that you defined your new album as Neo Cyberpunk. How do you imagine this genre is different from previous iterations of cyberpunk?
Victor: The reason for Neo Cyberpunk is quite simple. Cyberpunk is Now, not 80’s pop anymore. Hence calling a project born in 2016 Cyberpunk is a bit anachronistic. We used to say in the 80’s and 90’s that Cyberpunk is 20 minutes in the future. Well, those 20 minutes passed by hours ago. We entered into the post-cyberpunk era which is close to its end considering how absorbed we are by technology.
That is also why the concept of Technomancy explores visions that are a bit farther in the future (but not too far from now) and describe a world where advanced technology has become indistinguishable from magic. A world where everything is already connected, not only through hardware and software but also through our senses, emotions, and brainwaves. Just imagine that in the future our thoughts will be connected to a global network that will interact with big data and artificial intelligence. This may sound like science fiction, but if you follow the latest news in technology, this is going to be totally possible. The implications of this will have, as always, positive and negative effects that will completely change our lifestyle and society at large. Also in the future, we will be able to forecast possibilities because of automation, robotics, 3D printing. Because of the consequent unemployment, we will live in a world where virtual reality will be more real than reality itself. Hardware will become so cheap it will be provided for free and given to everyone as a service in exchange for “something” back (as it happened with the internet or software for example). This will be enhanced by emotional metadata and ideas will be patented. Just imagine that when thoughts can be connected to a network, any idea can be transmitted, stolen, or sold on the spot.
We will see emerging companies that will provide people with free augmentations and jobs will be all mind-based and in VR instead of being anything physical. Be it entertainment, or science, or art, or whatever form of “virtual good” that can provide advancement or pleasure to society will eventually be the only thing that makes sense to “produce” in a system where everything physical is produced by machines and by machines that build other machines. This is given the case that AI will not eventually get to the point of achieving a kind self-consciousness that is not only about being self-aware but also about intuition and genius. That would be an interesting turning point to see. As long as AI are very functional will AI be able to create art, music or to generate new ideas? Will AI be just a big source of knowledge and logic or will it be able to research science and use intuition to discover new things? Or will it be just another tool for human kind that will help with logic but will never be able to comprehend emotions, hence have its own creativity? This is one of the big questions that has been explored in cyberpunk novels, even though mostly it’s focused on exploring the possibility of love or hate as emotions. But art is basically made of the same matter as emotions.
We are living in exciting times. Times we can’t call cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk anymore, but we can rather instead call neo cyberpunk in my opinion. Anyway, this is just yet another tag or label that human kind will use to classify something new but in reality, we are in a continuous evolution every day. An evolution that is made of millions of shades and sub-cultures emerging and dying every second.
Victor, the world of Technomancy seems to be a commentary on the direction of internet surveillance and control structures. What do you see as the major problems facing us today in this regard?
Victor: The main issue these days is that people don’t understand how complex and dangerous the world we live in is. I can see that simply by looking at the reactions of my friends on social networks. Whenever I start posting or talking about those topics there is absolutely no reaction or interest. Most of the people either don’t have the knowledge to understand or the interest to understand. Instead, they may even feel pissed off, or think it’s just conspiracy theories or bullshit from the internet. The big problem is the irresponsibility of the big developers that use the excuse of marketing and ads to produce applications and websites that, while claiming to be protecting your privacy, are doing the total opposite.
If you go check, for example, just how much data Google is storing about each of us, everyday it’s almost ridiculous. Every day there is some new options they activate without your consent. If you make a new account you must spend hours in order to disable all the built-in spyware. Even if you do, every separate app they create has independent options that you can only disable if you are really tech savvy. A lot of those menus are very deceptive and anyone with a little bit of knowledge or logic can see that it’s totally done on purpose to make it hard for average people to disable all those options.
The problem isn’t about the government spying on you or whatever conspiracy, but rather the fact that your data is exposed to the Internet where there are criminals ready to use it to harm you in diverse ways. We should never forget that the main reason for crime is personal issues between private citizens. Consider, that these days there are increasing amounts of tools available that allow even those who are not tech savvy to access to your phone or computer and do all sort of things. The more apps you have, the more sites you are registered on, the more your system is not updated, the more you are exposed to this. Another big issue is that the hard work you do to protect yourself is nullified by people around you totally not giving a shit about all this and exposing your privacy, as well as their own. If you want a matter to stay private, you better keep it for yourself because in the moment you tell it to anyone, it will most probably end up on some private chat on Facebook and exposed to the whole interent because a random friend told his/her partner through Whatsapp or Facebook. There are thousands of different algorithms, tagging systems and face recognition software around that it’s now useless to try getting out of this system.
We should accept that privacy is not accepted as a human right anymore. We should fight seriously to have it back or at least try to limit the damage. Surveillance is not a problem because you have something to hide from the government. Surveillance is a problem because it exposes everyone’s personal lives to everyone else. Every single bit of data that goes through the internet nowadays is stored. Every message, every photo or video stream, every video call or phone call. Once created, an artificial intelligence will have access to all of this data. I don’t think society is ready for this and will eventually face strong consequences and subsequently, cause turmoil. People should really stop to think, this isn’t some nutcase scenario or something out of sci-fi movie. The Internet is no arcade; it is no coin op. Some people think that we can put our personal lives on the same level as a videogame. Life isn’t a game at all and only when people start to get seriously in trouble will they finally understand it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a mass exodus from the regular internet toward more private separate networks in the future.
Victor, this is your second solo album. What have the challenges been working on this album? Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge in the process?
Victor: Well actually, this is my first full-length album, although I made one EP this summer which kickstarted the project. Before that, I had another “solo” side-project called Hacking The Wave. However, once I finished the album around September, I thought it would be cool to involve external artists to add some contamination, and this is why in the end I decided to find a feat for each song.
Victor, you have collaborated with a ton of artists on this album. What inspired you to work with this large array of excellent artists?
It was complex but also an interesting process that brought a special feel to the sound. It connects very well with the hip-hop attitude of the album itself and shows that collaborating in music is much better than competing with each other. I see a lot of competition between bands these days, which is normal in a situation where musicians strive to make a living out of it. But that’s exactly what the system wants to make it harder: divide artists and make them compete to make things worse. I believe instead, that collaboration and making networks is a better way to get our art out there. If you take my album as an example, you can see that having different artists in the album helped me to spread the word about it.
I also invested a lot of energy along with my record label to promote it. Hence, this provided traffic and exposure back to all the bands involved. This is similar to when you do remixes and get remixes back, but a feat has some extra artistic meaning I think. Remixing is like producing the same song in your style, doing a feath is instead like contaminating a song written by somebody else with your style. I think it’s a very interesting thing, and I loved doing it for my album. I’m not sure if the next album is going to be the same because it takes a lot of extra energy and time.
Victor, the final track of Technomancy, Black Dreams, is instrumental. It is an excellent track, but it standouts for its instrumentality which is rare in your body of work. What inspired the track?
Victor: That track has a special meaning to me because in a way it was the track that inspired the whole sound design concept. The synth I used in that track is an early version of what became the lead synth for the whole album. I wrote that track on my birthday on September 11th, 2013 and released a sample for free on Soundcloud and Facebook. That was the first time I ever released something directly under my name. It was all the positive feedback that inspired me to do more solo work. However when I released it in 2013, it was unfinished and was just half of what it is now. Once I finished the arrangement I sent it to ORAX, and he added more synths, sounds, some guitars, and more effects. He did great work on that one, and I think it’s a perfect way to finish the album.
Victor, I understand that you are working on Electronic Saviors, which is a collaboration of industrial artists to support cancer research. Tell us about that?
Victor: Electronic Saviours is a project run by Jim Semonik, who is also the owner of Distortion Production through which we released our latest Dope Stars Inc. album in North America. Jim is doing an awesome job with this project to support cancer research, and I was really happy to give him a track for the next release. He’s now working on a remixed soundtrack from the original Transformers movie that is also sponsored by Electronic Saviours. It is also a really exciting release because I had the chance to remix a legend of synth music, Vince Di Cola, and remixed the Autobot-Decepticon battle theme. It sounds like a rearranged cover, and I had a lot of fun with it. Can’t wait to have it released.
Victor and Valenberg, what projects do you have planned for the future?
Victor: Our next project we are working together on is VirtuaVerse, a point and click adventure game we are developing during our free time. While working on Technomancy, we were also talking a lot about our interests and found ourselves sharing a lot of things in common. We are almost the same age, so we have been into a lot of the same things that influenced us during the 80’s but especially the early 90’s. One of those was the passion for point and click adventure games, especially the ones produced by Lucas Arts, Revolution Software, Delphine Software and Westwood Studios. So at a certain point, we thought it would be great to give it a try and make a free point and click game but with a new approach to pixel art in 1920×1080 resolution while still keeping that retro feel of early 90’s point and click adventures. The game will be released in episodes, and each episode will be inspired by the world created by other artists. The first episode’s story is inspired by the world of Technomancy and so are the characters present in it. In the next episodes, we plan to incorporate more characters, in a way similar to what DC Comics or Marvel do, and have new characters that are inspired by stories of other musicians. At this stage, we can’t reveal more details, but we are sure you going to love it.