The adjective ‘cinematic’ tends to get attached to cyberpunk musical projects a lot, either because the music itself owes a lot to soundtrack composers or is deliberately evocative of film. This is great news for cyberpunk fans and artists as it means that there’s a incredibly rich and highly visual culture to draw upon.
Even so, it’s also equally exciting when artists take cyberpunk tropes as a starting point and expand them into areas that feel completely fresh and entirely their own. Archo-Logic are such an artist. While Archo-Logic’s music is clearly and recognizably cyberpunk inspired with it’s shimmering synths, skittering beats and burst of distortion, there are hints of a fractured Utopian ideal or acknowledgement of beauty inherent in the aesthetic as well.
Archo-Logic’s members, Karl and Mica, were kind enough to take the time out to discuss their work and passion for cyberpunk with Neon Dystopia.
Neon Dystopia: What are the musical backgrounds of the members of Archo-Logic?
Karl: As a kid I was heavily influenced by my grandfather playing music for family and friends. He started playing jazz music at 9 years old in 1933 with his brothers to raise money. It makes sense that music was always around the house by the time I was a kid in the 80’s. I remember new wave and post punk playing on the radio all the time and that had a big impact on me. Later my Mom saved for a year to buy me a guitar when I was in the 6th grade and I started playing then.
I joined band in Jr. High School, which I was kicked out of for improvising! Imagine getting kicked out of band for riffing the bass line on ‘St.James Infirmary!’ It’s a jazz song! I couldn’t do parades with a 6 foot tall upright bass anyway. Around that time I got into the punk and rocksteady scene. When I was 16 I lived in Indonesia for a year and went to a lot of full moon parties where I was always asking the DJ’s at our hidden midnight beach parties about their mini-dat recorders and other gear. I also learned from some amazing musicians out there about various percussion instruments and just the influence of having lived in Asia for a time. At community college I studied Philosophy and Sound Engineering and the rest is what it is.
Mica: When I was a teenager I was really into extreme metal. I sang in a death metal band but wanted to be a keyboardist doing black metal. Actually, I wanted to be the only member of the band! That got me into making electronic goregrind. Not having a keyboard and not wanting to learn guitar was what got me using software. At first it was with Fruityloops. I made blast beats and epic sounding ambiance for a black metal band my friend Adam and I started. It was pretty badass, then Adam died and Kerethial was no more.
Around that time I ran into IDM, noise, ambient, breakcore, jungle, trip hop, industrial, and some other obscure electronic styles. The music of Boards of Canada and Autechre blew my mind! Skinny Puppy’s album VIvisectVI is still one of my favorite albums of all time. Sounds like that were a huge influence.
In my early twenties I met some people with a start-up business setting up stages, storing peoples gear and attempting to record bands. With those guys I wound up with something like a job because none of them knew anything about live sound and for the most part, neither did I! It was fun. I made nothing, but we had a huge building and some business setting up stages at venues where I ran the soundboard. We also provided bands with jam space. I’ve played some breakcore shows and have heard some of my music played around.
My Dad listened to groups like Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Genesis, Don Henley and a lot of other awesome 80’s & 90’s [music] so that went into it as well.
Neon Dystopia: You mentioned Back to the Future, Blade Runner and Tomorrow Land when we first made contact but what other pop-culture influence had fed into Archo-Logic?
Karl: A big influence on me was the threat of nuclear annihilation and the promise of space travel. If you grew up in the 80’s in America it was impossible to not be inspired by the space program. I still remember being really sad about the Challenger disaster as a kid.
[pullquote type=”left”]I guess life brought me to it. Not just pop culture.[/pullquote]As far as pop culture, Terminator and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome were big influences. The last scene where a few lights are on in the ruins of old Sydney, that still haunts me. Of course there’s Transmetropolitan and [William Gibson’s] Sprawl Trilogy. Full Throttle by LucasArts was a big one too. Later I got into playing the Shadowrun pen and paper RPG, around the time Bowie’s Outside came out. That album is still in the top 3 best albums of all time for me. From then I was hooked. Fast forward a few years to my travels and I gotta say, there’s no city like Hong Kong from the air at night. I guess life brought me to it. Not just pop culture.
Mica: My family was into Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the other Star Trek shows of the time when I was growing up. The Alien movies , Terminator 1&2, 12 Monkeys, Dark City, Enemy Mine, They Live and Dune were some of my favorites when I was a kid and still are today. When I was really little, Robot Jox and Westworld were two of my favorite movies. In elementary school my buddies and I played the Battle Tech and Aerotech pen & paper RPGs. I was more into the mechs, spacecraft and game book art than actually playing the game. I hate rolling dice! Imagining those huge fucking drop ships unloading massive bipedal machines with their particle projection cannons destroying everything in sight had me totally distracted from the real world! But as awesome as mechanized warfare sounds, I never want it to happen.
Exosquad toys were awesome too. Anything with robots! I’m sure all of that feeds into much of what I do musically, and especially in Archo-Logic.
Neon Dystopia: One thing that really strikes me about your music is a vein of optimism and wonder that is often seems forgotten about in cyberpunk projects. Is that a fair analysis, do you think? If so, could you tell us what inspires this.
[pullquote type=”left”]I think my optimism lies in my belief that if we don’t annihilate ourselves, we’ll see that cyberpunk future.[/pullquote]Karl: I’m glad you picked up on that. For me the wonder is just… well, I still have it. I really do sit there listening to the last two minutes of Don Henley’s ‘Sunset Grill’, on iPhone turntables so I can pitch it down and listen to it in slo-mo and imagine mile high archologies in the distance, the lights. I hope I live long enough to see them. I think my optimism lies in my belief that if we don’t annihilate ourselves, we’ll see that cyberpunk future. I’m super inspired by architecture. It’s informed my art and music. So I guess my optimism is tempered with the fear of what that future means for humanity. It’s beautifully devastating to imagine. It’s fear and wonder.
Mica: That’s a totally fair analysis! Karl and I have talked for years [about] what we envision the future will look like and we usually share a sense of awe and draw inspiration by imagining possibilities. Sure there’s danger. We’re all about that aspect of cyberpunk too. There’s the idea of people getting by with whatever’s available, which can be optimistic. In the story that surrounds what music we’re making now, there are individuals with objectives, moving towards meeting those objectives. Even put as simply as that, there is plenty of room for optimism. We both might have a tendency towards an optimistic sound when making music for Archo-Logic, but we’re also huge fans of dark, doomy music. We’ve talked about drawing upon darker influences, and maybe Archo-Logic will put out something with a more ‘doom & gloom’ sound at some point, but for now it doesn’t fit our sound. ‘Hideo’ and ‘Enlil’ are probably the darker sounding songs of our current track list but I like the idea of light at the end of the tunnel.
Neon Dystopia: Could you tell us some more about your process? How does the song writing and recording process work for you?
Karl: We’re still working that out actually. Half of our conversations revolve around actually writing in the same space. We haven’t physically seen each other in over five years so [we use] Dropbox. It sucks but it does the job. I get inspired and stay up till Mica gets up for work at like 5 am, I call him all fucking delirious and say “check the box!”. We take turns tearing it apart, picking out the best parts and then we rinse and repeat till we’re happy. It’s give and take plus a lot of texting, phone calls, A/B comparisons and inspiring each other. Not to mention the fact that Mica is a fucking wizard!
Mica: Also, Karl will start writing these awesome storyboard scenes for songs as we finish them, which is a huge part of the inspirational process.
Neon Dystopia: Your music strikes me as very cinematic insofar as it’s very easy to imagine cyberpunk narratives unfolding as you listen to it? Is there an overarching theme to your music, or is each track a separate piece?
Karl: There is an overarching theme. Our idea from the start was that the entire project would be a story. So we’d write a song, then I’d sit there and do just that, imagine narratives to what I was hearing, then I’d geek out and write up a whole story about the song. Eventually they all fit into place with the overarching storyline. So what you are hearing is music inspired by story and vice-versa. I’ve played our music for folks without saying anything, and they usually end up saying something like, “this reminds me of my childhood, Blade Runner or, I don’t know, cyberpunk.” Which for us is a huge compliment, obviously “that” sound is the goal. It’s just really great to hear it from folks without any input from us.