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Interviews

Demoscene: Interview with Romeo Knight!

It was difficult to know how to introduce this particular Q&A so I hope you will stay with me as I cast my mind back to 1989/1990ish…

Picture the scene – I was a proud owner of a Spectrum 48k which was beginning to show its age and the home computing market was accelerating at an incredible pace.  It was the dawn of the 16bit computer,  a brave new world where the disk drive replaced the tape deck, loading times were measured in seconds instead of minutes and the arcade conversation did represent a reasonable effort.  It was at this point I found myself at a crossroads, the choice I would make would dictate my computing path forever.

At the time in the UK the two 16bit choices were the Atari 520ST and Amiga 500.

But what to choose? compared to the Spectrum, both looked like Skynet or Hal and whilst the Amiga was superior in specs, the Atari ST was the more popular of the two at the time.  There was no internet (as we know it today), computer magazines sided with the system they wrote about and shop advice differed greatly depending on what the store manager wanted sold.

In these days though, the independent computer retailer on the high street was not as rare a thing as it is today, stores were pretty creative in displaying their wares.  It was in one of those independent shops that I made my mind up.  Which machine? the Amiga of course.

Why Amiga?

So what convinced me to choose Commodore’s product over Atari?  Was it the sales pitch?  No. Was it the PR sheets from the respective companies? No. –  I was sold on the basis of one display Amiga running a demo called the RSI Megademo, a 2 disk visual and audio feast that was not only a testament to the power of the Amiga, but the talent of a Demoscene group that would go on to be one of the biggest names on the platform.  The group?  Red Sector Incorporated.  I was not alone, certainly around Hertfordshire and Bedforshire people raved about the demo and I remember most of my classmates at the time making exactly the same purchasing choices on the basis of Red Sector’s work.

The Q&A

For many people, Romeo Knight was the defacto musician on the scene.  Now, approximately 20 years after I was introduced to the Amiga computer and subsequently Linux, I find myself conducting a Q&A with a person who influenced my computing decisions so many years ago.

So could you give an introduction about yourself?

My name is Eike aka Romeo Knight, born 1971, living in Germany. I’m known as a demoscene composer basically since the late 80’s, I produced music for some early well-known Amiga demos, a few games and after a long break I started doing this on PC again just a few years ago.

What are you currently working on or for?

Apart from my daytime job (which is producing audio for commercials predominantly), I’m working on music for some iPhone games that should be released in the next months (mode6-studios.com), I’m part of an ambitious independent game project as a composer (www.conquestofheroes.com), now and then I do a C64 music remix if I got the time (www.remix64.com) or a demoscene track for my group Brainstorm (brainstorm.untergrund.net). Right now I finished some guitar tracks fora collaboration track for a demo that will have been released at the recent Assembly 2010 demo party by the time you read this. On top of that I just had a live performance with the C64cover band “6581” for the “X” in October (www.scs-trc.net/x2010/news.html) which needed preparation for several weeks.

Here in the UK the RSI Megademo (and in particular your “Rise up” Track)was used to sell many Amiga’s in local stores and acted as a showcase of what the Amiga was capable of, how does it make you feel to think that a generation of computer users were influenced by your music?

Weird. In fact, I was never really conscious about my music having so much impact on other users, maybe because I had my own heroes in that time and was just aiming to do the best music I could. Back in the days without internet I hardly got any direct feedback on my music, I was satisfied enough with having it placed in actual demo releases. Though, when we won the official World of CommodoreDemo Competition with the “Wicked Sensation” demo of TRSi in 1992, I was kinda proud as far as I remember (I mean – a bunch of Amiga developers themselves commented publicly on how much they liked the music, and afterall we won a brown Seat Ibiza :-)) The price giving was even shown on German national TV! Oh yes – those were the days….sigh…:-)

What is your favorite track out of all your work?

Hard to say. Lots of those old school tunes appear quite awkward to me nowadays, with few exceptions like “Cream of the Earth” and the Boesend or ferpiano track, however these are the most popular ones until today, too.But this is history, generally I like my recent works better, they’re more sophisticated from a musical point of view. Most of the old-school stuff only works in this certain demoscenish context whereas the music I did the last few years disconnects from that technical “how it’s done” issue and works on its ownmerits.In terms of supporting the visuals of a demo ‘Fairytale’ (the track itself was named ’Turtle’) does a quite good job in my opinion, but of course that is also due to Preacher, who programmed that demo. (http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=30271)

Who would you cite as your influences?

There have been a lot of different influences over the years. In the early days the biggest influences were the computer music heroes of C64 and Amiga like Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Tim Follin, Chris Huelsbeck or other scene composers like 4-Mat, Bit Arts, Walkman, Jesper Kyd, as well as other popular electronic music artists like Depeche Mode in first place, Erasure, Jean-Michel Jarre and such. Later on, when I turned from computer to guitar music heavy bands like Pantera,Suicidal Tendencies, Megadeth and alike have been a big influence to my own playing style (and are til date).Today, my musical influences are much more multifaceted. Since I compose music for ads and videos games again, I need to be able to relate to almost any given style and genre and so diverse is the music I’m listening to, including film scores and orchestral stuff (I’m a cineast, I love good film soundtracks) as well aspop, jazz or music with ethnic elements.

Being involved with Red Sector Inc must have been very rewarding since they were regarded as one of the best Demoscene groups on the Amiga, have you any funny stories to tell from your time with them?

I was never much involved in demoscene activities, parties and alike back in the days, socializing with scene people was not a big issue for me back then,very much unlike today. But I’ve been to one of the early legendary Radwarparties at least, the ones Mr. Gravenreuth used to attend. Lots of alcohol was involved, at least _that_ didn’t change. :-) But most of the stuff has been more than 20 years ago, memories are fading away, I feel like an old man right now. :-) Well then, let me think about it…there’s of course the story of Irata, who once massively crashed his chair in front of me when I played new modules to him at his place. (Dirk, if you’re reading this, please don’t mind :-))

During the days of the Amiga Demoscene, was there friendly rivalry between groups? or was it more competitive/hostile?

As far as I remember it, the latter. I mean, most active guys in the demoscene were aged under 20 back then, we were young, it was all about competition,about being cool (as far as this is possible for geeks at all), being better than the other groups.Today’s spirit is much friendlier, people exchange knowledge and a lot of co-op productions and demos come to life because people simply like to work with each other and appreciate their skills one another. Being part of a specific group is fun but it’s not that important anymore because there’s no actual need to separate from others anymore. It’s more like that in the meantime the scene found out that they’re a quite small elitist (regarding computer use at least) community and they got to stick together somehow to prevent the scene vanishing from this planet in the nearer future.

Out of the musicians today (on the Demoscene) who stands out the most to you?

I have a very selective view on demoscene music because I do not tend to listen to a lot of demoscene music in my free time. I usually only get to know the soundtracks of the top demos I take the time for watching at home, or the tracks that my fellow Brainstorm musicians post to our mailing list regularly.There is a lot of great music and I’m constantly impressed by how much talent is involved in the scene, a lot of stuff produced on a very professional technical level, too, but still I have to admit that there are very little moments that give me that astonishing “Hell Yeah” feeling I once had when listening to my heroes and favorites back in the oldschool days of the ‘80s and ‘90s. There are names though I’d like to mention: Xerxes (Klaus Lunde) of Brainstorm for example, who played a major role in bringing me back into the demoscene by letting me play live to his smooth chillout electronica tracks. :-) I adore Virt (Jake Kaufman),he’s a very gifted musician, listening to his “Lorem Ipsum” track every once in a while puts a big smile on my face everytime. Reyn Ouwehand is fantastic,he’s not a demoscene musician in the narrower sense, but once you saw him live playing his C64 game music covers as a one-man-band, you know what I mean. So please forgive me, I’m pretty sure I missed out basically all relevant demoscene musicians of recent times but I know you’re out there !

Whats your opinions on todays Demoscene and do you think that the limitations of hardware in the past offered the opportunity to impress with complex routines rather than today when advanced GFX are more common?

It’s exactly like you say. The main focus has shifted the last decade.Back in the days the deal was to impress people by breaking the boundaries of your hardware limitations. Nowadays, clever programming is of course still relevant, but everybody knows with that extreme 3D graphics power of modern hardware, every imaginable visual effect can be achieved somehow. So instead you need to impress with design and beauty, with the demo’s atmosphere, the sync of audio and visuals, maybe a story, I don’t know; the whole demo just needs to be coherent in any way to still get people amazed in front of the screen.Personally, I like that demoscene evolution because demos have evolved from pure programming technology demonstrations for geeks to an actual digital art form. And as such, I think, it’s the only way the scene can live on, at least in longer terms. On top of it there are demo categories like 4k, 64k or Wild which still allow to show your programming skills within very limited technical boundaries. So there’s something suited for everyone.

In the past the Demoscene and “warez” were often linked. Do you think the Demoscene is now an entity/medium on its own?

It is, or better, it should be. It’s a certain art form that exists for its own sake, but it’s hardly regarded as that. People create demos simply because they like to. Nevertheless the demoscene is quite unknown to the public – although it offers more audiovisual delight and impact than any other contemporary art form in my opinion. A good demo is simply spectacular to watch, for anyone. Demos are somehow related to video games what should make them easier to consume for younger generations one might think. Still, people who are into the demoscene,actively or passively, are almost always middle-aged, it’s the generation that grew up with their first 8-Bit computers in their bedrooms, the generation that swapped floppy disks with cracked games on the schoolyard. It looks likeyou’d need this kind of background to share the fascination for the artistic and technological effort put into demos and to understand the background (realtime rendering, anyone?) generally.

What do you think (if anything) is lacking from todays Demoscene that prevents it from having the mainstream popularity of the days of the Amiga?

As indicated above, I believe it’s simply a matter of generation, of being raised with old-school computer platforms at home. The average John Doe simply doesn’t care if the computer animation he’s watching is pre-rendered orcalculated in realtime. He might not even understand the difference. He also might not get what enormous amounts of work and intellectual genius went into most of the recent top demo productions. Apart from that I don’t think the demoscene is lacking anything specific except for some serious marketing strategies to make it more popular for the mainstream.On the other hand, who wants that? :-)I’d even say it has more to offer than other regular art forms because it provides a whole developing scene culture instead of only some vague accumulation of artistic devices that define it. Every few weeks there’s at least one well-organized demoscene gathering somewhere in Europe, I don’t think that artists who paint on canvas have something like that. But then, that’s exactly what it separates from being part of the generally accepted art culture. We’re a small but global community and need to maintain our values by ourselves (man, that reads weighty :-))

Whats your platform of choice Windows, Linux, Mac or other and why?

I use Windows, just because for me it’s what I’m used to. When we had Macs at work (like until 2000), it was logical for me to have a Mac at home, too. But nowadays there’s simply no good point anymore to use a Mac for audio production instead of a Windows PC. _If_ you know how to handle it, it’s easier to administrate, to alter hardware and software to your own needs, just to use it the way _you_ like to.  For example I usually build my audio PCs from selected parts by myself. The price tag makes a huge difference, too, if you need like 20 computers for a whole studio facility. Linux is not a choice at all since very little pro audio production software exists for it.

I mention “Rise Up” again because it was one of my personal favorites,how long did it take you to write and where do the samples come from?

First question: I don’t remember, it’s more than 20 years ago!

Second question: Funnily enough that’s easy to answer (although 20 years ago):The main sources where ripped samples from Chris Huelsbeck’s R-Type track,drum and speech samples from several tracks of the album ‘Romeo Knight’ (yes,that’s where my handle originates from!) of the not-so-well-known Hip-Hop band Boogie Boys (except the ‘Red Sector’-sample, that’s my own voice) and I can get even more specific: The “dommm” sample was taken from Art of Noise’s “Closeto the Edge” and the wobbly bass came from Erasure’s “Say What” (on the album “Wonderland” from 1985). Satisfied? :-)

Thanks and goodbye, watch out for future demo and game music releases on http://www.romeoknight.net

For those interested in the track (which for me) started my love of the Amiga and the demo scene:

If you want a brief introduction to what the Demoscene is, click here.

And one of the best places to view Demoscene creations (both new and old) click here.

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

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About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Demoscene: Interview with Romeo Knight!

  1. i use windows now
    nice info
    thanks

    Posted by Fedra Mulriza | October 18, 2010, 3:22 am
  2. I Will To Follow Your Blog But I could not find the facebook widget

    Posted by Robert | October 19, 2010, 5:43 pm

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about.me

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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