Mangadrive: an interview with B. Forrest

So how’s the new album, “Purge the Sky”, coming along? I’ve enjoyed the previews that you have posted thus far.

After a rough start, it’s finally nearly in stone. There are a few more tracks to look at under the microscope and I have to get the rest of the collaboration and remix material out to folks, but it’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It accidentally turned into what I thought was going to be a double disc, but later decided to divide the material into two separate things and go from there. So you have the “Purge The Sky” playlist being tweaked right now and almost done, but there is this other playlist lurking in the background where I’ve been doodling with a semi-different style. It was kind of something I came up with to deal with the situation where during post-production you can get easily get yourself burnt on your own tracks if you are not careful. Right when I was about to get to that point with a song I’d just go write something else and make it fun again and often that was a completely different style than what the album was carrying.

The new material seems less synth-driven and more element/fx-heavy aiding to moody breaks. Can we expect more of the classic Mangadrive style or something new?

Mangadrive “Purge The Sky” is most definitely a Mangadrive album. Over the top energy. Very fast and pounding tracks full of hooky synth shots. Lots of ‘oontz’ cannon and chopped up female voices all over the place. There are a few twists that are going to snap your neck because I just hit the brakes and go somewhere else, but that’s what I do. There’s no subtle intro. You are going to hit play and it’s going to start kicking your ass. I really wanted to keep that dark energetic flow as much as possible because that is where the interest seemed to lay with fans and myself in the end. I wanted to have a few interesting lulls and that’s where I got a bit more experimental because it just didn’t work me for when I tried to take those fast “Full On”-type tracks and do something different. It got a bit too weird, and as much as I do like a lot of glitch and IDM-type music, it’s just not what Mangadrive is about. I like cohesive tracks that pound you into oblivion because that’s the energy people just need sometimes. It can’t always be confusing, dark and mysterious because when you are trying to get your game on, dance, bike ride, drive and all this stuff people have told me the music was great for, then it’s just counterproductive when you try to do too much. I’ll let the quirky talented people handle that aspect of music, and I’ll just blow shit up. It’s a tough cross to bear when you make your own electronic music, but I think I’ll manage. So no, it’s not new in terms of music that’s groundbreaking, innovative and will make Stephen Hawking want to do physics when he’s trying to sort out the beat, but I think its different enough from the stuff out there that people are cloning and it contrasts with “These Blades Will Never Rust” enough to be new but not that distant from the same concept. The sound overall is a lot thicker and a lot less 16-bit. Maybe 64-bit Sega Saturn this time. Plug the sub up, you’ll need it.

Things I tried that were new were using the guitar as kind of sampler and weird noise unit. I don’t pick it up and play chords and stuff because honestly it does weird things to my mixes. It takes the analog drums and replaces them with acoustic kits. It takes the 303 and tries to replace it with some kinda ‘realistic’ sounding bass line, and seriously what the fuck is that all about? Then it turns my mic on and forces me to nerd scream about some girl that I used to date ten years ago that I really didn’t give a shit about in the first place. So honestly it’s not a good thing and for all those people that keep asking me why I don’t use it more, there’s your answer. It’s too objective. I did however use it non-traditionally and will definitely bring it in more because it makes great noise. Another thing was the fact that I actually remixed a couple of my own tracks with alternate versions which is something I really didn’t try before, but it was fun. They will end up on the “SP” probably, but in moderation for the sake of at least trying to avoid redundancy.

I know the routine of refining a sound. I tend to remix a song until it sounds as close to what I desire as possible as well. I noticed the Afro Samurai video you did. What spawned this idea of creating a song to match a ten-plus-minute clip?

One of my little dreams outside of making objective albums is to do music for anime and gaming. Both things to me are just places where Techno works well but I’ve not been able to wedge my foot in either of the industries’ doors and I’ve been passed up several times on projects for people that want to play it safe. It’s understandable, but I’m not going to do normal and all these stale ideas that the gaming industry are using these days are just not working for me. This clip though was kind of a way to show I was capable of doing it. It wasn’t just taking “Drowning Pool” and putting it on a PVP clip either, it was an actual thought out small-scale project. I’d love to find people willing to do this kind of thing on a better basis that doesn’t break a hundred copyright laws. Also an anime Mangadrive music video where ninjas are jumping around with blood flying? YES PLEASE! That’s one of my dreams for Mangadrive before it’s all said and done.

Ok, so now for the classic generic question of every interview: what is Mangadrive? How did you come up with the name?

I thought ‘DJKillyourself’ was an incredibly awesome name filled with much win, but I had an advisor type person tell me that it was a bit too strong and objective for all the styles I was doing. After I told them I had to refrain from punching them in the face, I began to think about it and they were absolutely right. DJ GOKillyourself just had so much of a better ring to it. One day though I had a hard drive die and learned the hard way about the pitfalls of not having a reliable backup system. So once I got everything running again, all the music stuff was on a drive called “manga drive” that I labeled for anime movies obviously. For some reason it just stuck and it was like taking a disaster and turning it into music. It just fits the whole project to me and even though people might objectively think ‘anime’ when they see the name it’s totally fair. I later found the band Animassacre and, well, I can honestly and truthfully say I had no knowledge of them and didn’t intentionally try to create something standoffish there because if I were going that route the project would definitely be named Matchbox 22.

I believe your style and execution match perfectly with the namesake and even correspond with the notion of anime. Your style could be described as a mash-up of a whole bunch of different and crazy electronic styles (psytrance, IDM, glitch, techno, etc.). What made you want to work with this style/genre of music?

I went on this huge quest to find the ultimate electronic music band to listen to and found stuff that was very close, but did not just hit the nail on the head for me, so it become one of my projects to figure out how to make it. It had to be dark. It had to be energetic and it had to have a lot of tense moments that kept the energy going. I think when I finally found Psytrance, years too late, it just shoved everything over the edge. It was the last piece of the puzzle I needed and I could finally rub my hands like Dexter in his lab and marvel at the creation of the monstrosity known as Mangadrive. It took me another couple years to finally get the sound where I really wanted and “Purge The Sky” is the closest thing to that so far. It’s still evolving and will probably change even over the next couple years and distant future if it goes that far.

Again, I like the stompy cohesive stuff and all that snobbery that comes with people thinking they are great, because their music is some kind of masterpiece and well above the simpletons that make this god-awful ‘four-on-the-floor’ dance music, can go die. I get a lot of that ‘why don’t you do anything more creative or interesting’ and it’s because I don’t want to. I’m happy with who I am and that person likes music that makes him just want to explode into energy and take the world on. Go play with your chemistry sets. I’ll be over here trying to make the 808 knock a wall out.

I noticed some of your older photos have you playing in a guitar-driven band. How did you get into this kind of stuff?

Mangadrive Music in general is one of those life things. Just something I’ve always been attracted to and I’m just one of those people that was born with that metronome in their brain that doubles as a tape recorder. People tell me they get a song stuck in their head and hate it when they can’t get it out. Well tell me about it because I get a full symphony to a space opera that has a whole cast of bad and good guys with alternate endings and never-before-seen scenes on the special Blu-ray edition. There is no original for me to listen to, either, so I can get it out. I’m not sure if that’s a gift or a curse sometimes to be honest.

As far as the ‘oontz’, every time I heard The Prodigy I just wanted to get up and move. I liked metal because there are a lot of those moments where everything started going up the rollercoaster of sound and it put you ‘up there’, then it drops you down and lets you fall for a while. Then it builds you right back up again. That’s a sensation I really like in music and Techno just thrives on it. I had been in and out of bands with some great people, and a couple are still out there doing their things musically, but I honestly even at the risk of sounding a bit too mystical, I just think mMangadrive was supposed to happen because every time life breaks me down to nothing it’s still there. The whole nature of electronic music in general is just a tight fit with me.

Why did you title your albums “These Blades Will Never Rust” and “Purge the Sky”? Are they a statement of mentality/perspective at the time of creation or…?

Mangadrive “These Blades Will Never Rust” was a point where I had reached severe writer’s block then eventually the dam just finally burst and I was so relieved. I was in the yard doing the whole thing where you kick the can around thinking ‘it’s over, I can’t write anymore, emo emo blah blah’ and that’s exactly where anyone doing music needs to be. I came back in the house and wrote “Tacchi” from almost start to finish and the rest of the album just fell into place. The title kind of reflected the fact that I hadn’t lost my edge like I thought I had. All that Trance and lighter fluffy stuff I wanted to move on from was haunting me and I finally got rid of it. Once Amanda Everham finished the cover it just ended up perfect all around for me and was a great fresh new way to show people what my project will be focused on in the future.

“Purge The Sky” came from the movie “The Chronicles of Riddick”. I went into this movie thinking ‘this has to suck’, but by the end I was just ‘Wow!”. The half-man half-ghost guys that rode around in space ships and just filled the entire skies with these giant spaceships that purged entire planets were probably the coolest thing I had seen in a movie in a while. Seriously, why do the bad guys always have the coolest vehicles? For the most part, though, despite some lame one-liners and bad acting that every good sci-fi movie just has to have, the whole experience just reminded me that you can kind of go into a situation thinking the worst but often you get surprised. Also the title and all the song names, interior influence and so forth, also have a light religious reference and almost all of them can be traced back to a point where you have a seemingly insignificant being or beings that are empowered or overpowered by this one central force. It’s open for thought on that one.

I was in the same mentality when I went to see “Riddick” as well, and was just as surprised. On “These Blades Will Never Rust”, you’ve got a bunch of collaborative tracks on the previous albums including your “SP” singles. Why do you choose to do collaborations, and is this going to be something that you continue on to future releases?

I like collaborations because they allows me to bring people into my world who have similar styles but different angles. Like the opening track of “These Blades Will Never Rust”, Iammynewt dropped some skills into a darker mix and it helped contrast with the rest of the album. It’s a way to make the releases unique without going too far away from the central core of it all and the results are completely unique. Remixing just needs to be kept in moderation period. And it’s not a bad thing overall, just again why do three remixes when you can do three collaborations? Remixes are better for time’s sake when it comes to really busy, active artists so it’s just understandable why they are used so much.

I definitely intend to do it on future releases. I have a couple of folks lined up for “Purge The Sky” that I don’t want to mention directly just so it doesn’t add pressure to their schedules. I’ve recently just had to tell people no to collaborations, projects or whatever because I’m tapped. Unless it’s going for something towards a major release right now, my plate is full with stuff I told people I would do back at the beginning of this year already. I just understand what it’s like to be busy, get busy or have life creep up so I try to stay around that company and make sure all the projects or mixes I work on actually go to use or some benefit.

If we are talking a theoretical situation where I could pick people to collaborate with I’d have say that honestly I could see stuff actually working with Modulate, Alter Der Ruine again, and Memmaker, but two of those acts don’t know what Mangadrive is probably and Alter Der Ruine I know are pretty busy. If we were talking pipe dream, probably wouldn’t happen but would be awesome, then definitely Astral Projection, Daniel Myer, and a bit more recently Nachtmahr. Those artists are a responsible for a lot of the thinking man’s game when it comes to making tracks in recent times.

Also I have noticed recently that you have been getting your name out there via remix competitions including Torrent Vaccine and Alter Der Ruine. What do you think of the realm of remixing?

I stopped doing contests where there is some kind of exploitable voting system and it turned into a situation where spamming social networking with ‘VOTE PLZ’ was the sole factor in placing. Pro tip: When you win these events it honestly gives you no gratification of musical talent and pretty much just proves you have the most friends willing to click “10”. Honestly some of the tactics some of these contests have used where you download the kit and end up with software demos and more and more advertisements are just tacky. That’s borderline spyware tactics when you trick me into downloading some crap I didn’t want in the first place. This is the realm of remixing I was stuck in for a couple years and I gave it up to try a new approach and low and behold marvelous things started happening.

Now you have the situation I poured a lot of my time in 2009 into where the artist puts a kit out and says they will pick a few tracks and make a free EP. I’m down for that because that situation is 95% usually an honest community attempt. Zoog from Angelspit e-mailed me and actually talked about why they liked the remix, thanked me and then even replied to the e-mail I sent back, and as busy as those guys stay that just made me think a lot more of a band I already liked. Mike from Alter Der Ruine popped up in my e-mail box one day willing to chat from the get go, which again is like someone sticking a hand out to shake. You grab it and you shake it. Don’t be a dick about it. Those guys just have such an insanely good style and I’d work with them again in a heartbeat because we are definitely on the same page in spirit. I got stupid lost in Brad’s (Torrent Vaccine) kits and again we had a few conversations about things. We decided somewhere down the road to keep in touch and collaborate on different things.

So the moral of the story here is that when you turn it into a contest you really don’t get a fair judgment on your music. You could’ve got beat out by a proxy vote system for all you know and you just wasted time and probably beat yourself up over nothing. You also got played by commercialism, like it or not. When the artist comes back and says ‘I loved the bass line’ or ‘it’s a great track and I want it on the EP’ that’s a million times better than a prize I’m probably going to stick on a shelf and never use anyway unless it’s an album or something. Remixing is about being a social thing where you connect the dots. It’s not really about putting fifteen versions of the same track on a disc for fifteen more bucks, which just gets annoying to fans. I’d much rather see a lot more collaboration between artists instead of rehashing.

MangadriveI have to admit I admire the quality of sound you produce in your mixes, raw or otherwise. Tell me about the Mangadrive studio setup. What are you working with hardware/software-wise and what preference do you have to either?

303’s and 808’s. I like the old-school approach and I honestly have nothing new and fancy other than the Korg R3 I picked up last year, which ends up making analog drums more than it actually plays notes. Most of the sound revolves around software which I like a lot. The whole computer music aspect was something that has excited me from the start, even back when I first figured what a WAV editor actually did. I actually remember a point in time where people said computers would never be able to do what hardware could do, and it was believable actually. The 8’s and 9’s of the DAW world were actually on 1’s and 2’s, and they were just horrible to work with in comparison to something now. The VSTi-type stuff just had not matured and the CPUS couldn’t handle very much at all. I’m really glad to have been around to see it because I actually appreciate my equipment today and have a better understanding of it from not having these magic catch-all devices that make great noise out of the box.

At this point in the game I have my devices lined up and for Mangadrive it’s pretty focused on only three commercial VSTi’s and a small amount of rack plugins.

It’s just techno, so honestly the less you involve, the better it actually sounds in the end. I really don’t even have any intentions of bringing anything new into the process. There just haven’t been any amazing products that have come out over the past couple years that were worth switching to, and keeping what I have updated has worked.

The only thing I really wish I had around was a TI Snow. The design of it just makes me want to touch it in bad places and the fact that it’s VTSi friendly makes me swoon. I love the TI sound, but I’m scared it might make stuff sound too different in the bad way because it would bring it more in line with most of the techno-oriented music out there today because, face it, everyone and their mama is using it. I’ve worked hard to build something unique and I don’t want everything to automatically just sound like Infected Mushroom all of a sudden. I actually like the ‘lo-fi meets hi-fi’ approach and it’s challenging. It’s also a pretty expensive device for my budget, but one can dream.

What’s a good bit of studio advice for all the aspiring musicians out there?

I don’t think my skills have reached a level where I’m qualified to give that much advice with most studio aspects, but most of the studio techniques cannot fix things that lackluster musicianship creates. As far as Techno, most of the average stuff I hear can obviously be fixed with better use of compression and things that you really can’t expect younger people to have adapted to yet, but it’s the crucial difference in a beat sounding like a boom-tick-boom-tick marching beat or something that’s really pumping and hot that oozes with ‘oontz’. If you have Techno with no ‘oontz’, you have basically what amounts to nothing but a boring mess of fail. Maybe one day I will be qualified to be an official Oontzninja that can show young Technolites the true path, but I’m afraid my training has just not reached that level.

So you’ve got another couple projects including Haxx Frequency, Shogunize, and EmocatgirlvampireDJs. What can we expect from these projects? What kind of styles do they encompass, what’s different, and when are future releases planned?

EmocatgirlvampireDJs is meant as a pure twisted joke, but I love cheesy dance beats sometimes and love NES music even more. This is where most of the stuff I make that’s really too happy ends up going and it’s all stuff you might hear on a NES game or at a happy hardcore rave. It’s a lot of that music that people just hate on principle which I think is pretty short-sighted. It’s all about pure fun and letting go of the more dark energy that feeds into mMangadrive. This is kind of the Yin to the Yang, if you will, and I have nothing but fun with it. Once the release is actually finished it’s not going to matter if every track is a cohesive album. It’s not going to matter if every track isn’t super polished. They will probably be annoyingly repetitive on purpose and it’s going to be free. I think there is a certain group of people out there that will strangely… oddly… enjoy this stuff for what it is, but super serious e-musicians need not apply to this one.

Haxx.freq satisfies the craving I rarely get to make something thought provoking that’s not four-on-the-floor and straightforward. I know people are under the impression I have an attitude towards this type of music and it’s only against the musician that makes this type of music and think they are doing something better than everyone else and hate on Techno, so I have to hate back. The difference is I can actually do both and enjoy each, it’s just not really my forte and I’ve not invested near enough time into it to get to where I’d feel like a release would be viable, much less interesting to listen to. Eventually, though, I will try to get some of this stuff lined up and out in a free EP or something but it’s never going to be something that puts mMangadrive on the shelf.

Shogunize was kind of an ill-fated thing. It was meant to be this noise-static thing and it never really went anywhere, but I got a few techniques out of it that were actually applied pretty heavily to the “Purge The Sky” album, so it served its purpose. That project is pretty dead in the water. If anything you will see EmocatgirlvampireDJs doing a release before any of this just because it’s the most fun of all of this extra stuff and that’s what it’s all about.

Mangadrive

Relevant links

Mangadrive
Mangadrive @ MySpace

— interview by James Church (November 2009)