Interview with Flex
Published in Recollection #3
Performed by Jazzcat
We travel to Finland to meet the founder of the legendary Contex, he is a musician that has been in the scene since the mid-eighties and was a member of groups like Byterapers and Artline Designs. Please welcome Flex...
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and welcome to the Recollection magazine, please introduce yourself to the audience.
Well, thanks for the interest. My name is Antti Hannula and in the C64-scene I am known as Flex. I was born 1974 in Helsinki, Finland but spent my scene-days in Oulunsalo, which is located geographically in the middle of Finland. Firstly, I recognised my abilities in doing graphics (mainly logos & fonts) but later on music was my main interest in the whole business. Not to forget the heavy swapping days and even cracking at some level.
When did you first get a C=64 and how did you get from just a regular guy with a computer anyone could buy to a guy in the underground scene doing magic stuff behind the blue screen?
My dad brought the first C64 with tape recorder home back in 1984/1985. Of course it all started with playing games and copying with local friends. At one point I started to pay attention to those interesting intros and especially the music. After that the C64 was no longer only about games.
After begging for a long time I finally got not only the 1541 disk drive but a brand new 128D. This was around 1986/1987 and I remember telling this to Tero Ronnqvist (later known as Apollyon) at a local sport field. He was very much interested in same things as I and that way we got together swapping and making things with C64.
This was still a long way from my handle Flex. More in the next question...
You've been involved with groups like Contex and Byterapers. Can you give us some details on your scene history... how did you enter the groups you've been in, what were your tasks for them, why did you leave one group to join another... relive your scene history - from the beginning up to now...
Late 1986 Tero (Apollyon) was already starting sort of a scene-business with his friend Vesa Valimaa (CrusheJ) and had a "half-serious" group called Lasagne Cracking Service (LCS). I got involved and the Service was changed into more fashionable Crew. So LCC was born and we picked up English first names as handles, mine was Andy.
Some early "demos" were made in basic and translated into machine code with a translator. These were just some music selectors etc. Everything was just so new and everything C64 related stuff was carefully studied, mainly from paper magazines such as Mikrobitti. We also got our first contacts from Finland thanks to Mikrobitti and its sale/buy/change-section.
Proper machine code was studied all the time and as everything developed it was time for a new group. The Action Force was born around autumn 1987. New handles were invented and I was "reborn" as Devil and Tero was The Unknown Warrior. We were still a group of local youngsters from Oulunsalo as Freddy (Amiga) joined we became a group of four. Crusher worked on both the C64 & Amiga.
The organising was my case from the beginning as the others were more talented in coding. Somehow my address had spread over the borders of Finland and to my big surprise I got a sending from Denmark from Mr.Smart/Moonsoft. The stuff was great and I put it forward to all addresses I had collected so far. This started my real swapping late 1987. The amount of contacts was increasing and after I and the others got Action Replay cartridges, everything started to feel much easier.
Many demos were released in early 1988 and after our demo "Ecombe" in May 1988 Grendel from Byterapers asked if we wanted to join. We decided to join but as a subgroup which was not unusual at the time. This gave us more fame as Byterapers was #1 group in Finland then. We were really young, I was just 14 and the others just 15. The first copy party in autumn 1988 at Iisalmi, Finland was quite an adventure for young guys...
Action Force was the most active part in (B) and seemed like everyone else got lazy so we decided to stop in (B) and go on our own as a new group. Contex (CTX) was born in November 1988.
The story behind the name: Apollyon and I both took a dictionary and wrote down words. Both had spelled "context" in their papers. With a little thinking the name was obvious... :-)
We lived in the time when the letter x was very popular so I came up with a new handle - Flex. I was already quite famous with my logos and fonts but making music was my main interest. It took some time after I was satisfied with my tunes and wanted to release them. This happened in the final Contex demo "Handjob Lotion" in May 1990.
Contex got famous thanks to talented members. Organising a successful group at that young age (14-16 years) and at that really competitive era was educating. Looking back now it was ruthless sometimes kicking a member out just for being not active enough, or just that his latest work was not satisfying.. But I remember back then you really had to take care of your image. Everything would be different now for sure.
During the time that Contex existed we started Artline Designs (ALD) which was just for music and graphics. In ALD we used our real names, which was the issue back then. After Contex was dead and buried we concentrated on ALD, though computers were not that interesting anymore. Girls, alcohol and partying came along. In 1990 I released much music, following in 1992 with another collection. Back then in 1992 I was totally unsure on what was happening in the scene. Making music was fun, that's all.
I still have a C64 but it was not being used. I released couple of tunes in 1999 and 2001 but I haven't seriously used the machine since.
Who did you look up to? Did anyone in the scene motivate you and why?
Mostly musicians. Later on I didn't look up to anyone much. I was so proud of our own thing that admiring others didn't fit in the picture. But as I've grown up, now I could give much credit for everyone for different reasons...
Of course the early crackers with their intros left a mark on me: Dynamic Duo, 1001 Crew, Hotline, The Bam, Yeti, Papillons, Dominators. I just wished that someday people to watch our intros and read the scrollers like I did.
Musicians: Hubbard hit by a storm, like Galway and Maniacs of Noise. 20CC, Drax, Soedesoft, Bjerregaard, Laxity and of course Rock/Finnish Gold. There are too many to mention... Those names at least give me some vibes.
Demos: Brainbug by Triangle was impressive with all the colourful border-stuff & Hubbard music. When I saw Dutch Breeze/Black Mail, it hit hard - flawless. Upfront, Bones, Crest, The Judges, Horizon, Origo...
The crack-scene: Rockstar/CTX, Tri-Dos/Ikari, Goblin/GP, Snacky/GP, Mr. Z, Weetibix/SCG, Mitch/ESI...
Graphics: Hein, Orc, Sarge, Bizzmo, Gotcha, Bob Stevenson - those were the big names in my time...
What was the scene all about in your opinion?
It was a huge and serious playground for young dudes who were interested in computers. A good hobby that you could take to the next level if you had the potential.
As no limits were set, it seemed like everything was possible and getting credit for doing something great was a big boost to improve all the time.
Thanks to the scene for my above average English-skills.
You mentioned you did some cracking on some level back in the day and of course Juho (RockstaJ) automatically comes to mind (being a member of both Byterapers and Contex, can you give us some more details on that?
I first met Rockstar at Byterapers' copy party in August 1988. We immediately seemed to get along well even though I was few years younger than him (me 14, Rockstar 17). We kept in touch after that and in 1989 he got access to the hottest originals and was the first to bring Byterapers into the cracking charts of the world. His skills were astonishing and together with talents such as Snacky/GP I'd say he brought cracking to the next level and a new era. I still can't believe all those packing & linking-routines etc...
I think Juho would like to thank Servant for all the originals he supplied him while working at the local game importer. At best Rockstar sent me new cracks around 4 days of the week. Cracking itself was serious business to get yourself high in the rankings at the time.
Speaking of Rockstar, can you tell us the booze-crazy-party that took place at Rockstar's parents' summer cottage in August 1989?
This party was held somewhere around Tampere, Finland (my current hometown). As a 15 year old youngster I arrived from Oulunsalo (500km north) with my Amiga-friend Crusher (ex-Action Force). We got instructions how to get to the party-place but still we managed to get ourselves on the wrong bus at the centre of Tampere... :-) By showing the map, some people guided us on the right track. To our surprise there was someone else in the wrong bus going to Rockstar's party also. I still wonder who he was as later on even Rockstar did not recognise him. This mystery may never be solved. He had the invitation though... We arrived late and finally Rockstar came to pick us from the bus stop by 'car'. Need I say more than he had already started partying... Well the trip to the boat was not too long and finally we got to the small island where the cottage was. It was dark already and everyone was tipsy, so we had to put on a spurt. The result was me puking in the kitchen later on... Next day I had the worst hangover ever. I still remember myself lying outside gasping fresh air.. :-)
As the hangover passed, for me the party started again. There were couple of 64's and Amiga's and of course some computing was done as well. Later on that evening Rockstar told me he was bored being the only active Byteraper. We had had conversations before about cooperation between Contex and Byterapers. This nearly came true but as we were only after Rockstar, we didn’t let it happen. Our Danes also disliked the idea. Finally Rockstar told me that he wanted to join Contex. His brother Python and original-supplier Servant joined as well. Now the cracking section of Contex got truly powerful and the rest is history.
More about the party you can read from Byterapers' web-site... Broken flagpole and fear of death...
When Contex died the group split into two. Artline Designs for legal productions and Extasy as the cracking group. What were the reasons for Contex dying, a difference of opinion between members? Time for something new?
I think the main reason for splitting was that Apollyon's and my interest for the whole business reduced to almost zero as Rockstar and Servant were seduced to FairLight at the Horizon's copy party (Easter 1990). Losing such important members gave us some kind of an excuse to stop ourselves... We had been pushing hard for years, to the post office and back almost daily. Then there were the girls, alcohol, music etc. You know the score.
Looking back now I think it was not fair for the rest of the group that we quit Contex. I don't remember if I ever asked if someone would take over the group leadership. But everything was so absolute and so serious back then. What we start - we end.
The boys didn't stay in FLT for long and they formed Extasy, consisting of many old Contex members. Artline Designs was already formed earlier as a label that no-one expected anything from but was delighted to see something released. That's the way it is even today.
Later on I was told that it was only Servant who wanted to join FairLight. Rockstar followed his original supplier. Somewhere it is written that Contex was absorbed into Genesis Project. This is not true.
Having a look at some of the skills you possessed in the scene. Your graphics, how would you describe your own style and who influenced you or inspired you back then?
I'd like to see that I pretty much had my own style from which many took influences. But sure I had my own sources of inspiration. Like mentioned earlier, I especially liked the style of Hein Holt (HPH) and ORC. Bob Stevenson and Bizzmo come to mind when talking about screen pictures.
My own style was not very artistic. I can't draw that good in real life, except for graffiti which I was into for many years. Mainly fonts and logos was my thing, actually nothing else. Still I have to mention that I used program called Paint Magic for nearly all my graphics. Excellent program, big thanks go to the makers!!
From what you write and looking at your comeback releases in 1999 and 2001, music on C64 has left a lasting impression on you. How would you describe the SID chip, the music and the general feeling of composing on C64 to an outsider?
The SID chip must be one of the greatest inventions in computer-history. People making music on C64 even today tells you something. The first time I heard Rob Hubbard, I was blown away. I also remember listening to Galway's Ocean Loader theme a lot. The games were not that important when you just heard the music!
To me there are so much childhood / teenage memories in the whole C64 sound that it's hard to tell an outsider what it's all about. Making it is at least not as easy as on PC these days.
Despite the Future Composer tracks, I've done all my tunes into straight assembler-code. It would be easy to enhance our routine if I just remembered how to squeeze SID chip in machine code. Now I just know how to make tunes with it.. :-) Have to ask Scorpion (the father of the routine) if he'd update the player from 1991 to 2009... :-D
You were trading with guys like Gotcha/Crazy, Stone/Abnormal, JB/Sphinx, Cruiser/Knickers and more. Do you still maintain contact with anyone?
Oh yeah I traded with a lot of guys and those mentioned above were close friends of mine. I even remember a 43 pages long hand-written letter to Stone. These days I don't keep in touch with anyone, except being a Facebook-friend with some of my ex-contacts.
Recently Byterapers released a new demo on C64 called "Unsigned". Their first demo in more than 10 years. Why do you think people keep coming back to this machine? I wonder if some of the former Contex guys will ever be back. (imagine if Apollyon, Cycleburner, Judge and others made it back!)
F) Well, Byterapers never dies... But I think my generation has come to that phase of life that a comeback is possible. You know we've finished our studies and many have graduated and got a permanent job. At least those, who have no children and more spare time, now finds the time for nostalgia and fires up C64s once again. At least I would pay a lot just to be 16 again... So are we just trying to be teenagers again? I don't know, but for sure the machine gives lots of great childhood memories and for example many our demo-scroll texts are like a diary for me. So why not creating something new as well...
I'm not optimistic about other Contex guys ever coming back, but hopefully I'm wrong. Would be special to see for example a new sid-tune by Scorpion (Antti Kangas)...
Can you tell us about the Finnish scene a bit, back in the day, who was ruling, who was the first guys doing things, who was who?
This is how I saw it... Years 1986-1990.
First there were many guys doing it individually, swapping games etc.. The scene was far from whole, not many groups existed. The first heavy-weighter around 1986/1987 was a talented cracker; Conan who later formed The Stack. Pure-Byte was another well-known group who had started around 1985. Those 2 groups first come to mind when talking about the very early Finnish scene. After this in 1987 Byterapers started to gain fame as did FCS and his Finnish Gold. Z-Circle had potential and later became a great demo group. I think around 1988 it all exploded and groups like Beyond Force, HTG, Axion, Zeus Duo (later Knickers), Albion (later Origo), Antiriad, DDG, MJM-S (later Browbeat), Bloodsuckers and Contex started to get fame. On the other side there were lots of groups 'not-worth-to-mention'. The most talented members of those were soon “headhunted” and joined into more famous groups.
Even it the early years of Finnish scene, Grendel of Byterapers Inc. was a big author and if you wanted to become somebody, you had to know him. After Conan moved to Amiga, I'd say Grendel became the godfather of the Finnish scene.
Probably the greatest of all-time is Rockstar. He brought (B) into cracker-charts which was huge thing back in early 1989 when the cracking-scene was really tough. Soon after he joined us in Contex and kept up the awesome work as you all know. 1989 was very much our -the-year as we topped nearly all demo-charts and were many times in top 5 in cracker-charts as well.
In the music business, YIP of Pure-Byte started it. Rock of FIG followed and exceeded. Those 2 were the icons for me and later coming super-talents Zardax and Mixer/Origo.
The best coders were guys like FCS, Solomon, Kasper, TMS, Scorpion, CLF, TNT... Finnish coders were always good but when it came to design and graphics; without too much boasting, I claim we in Contex were a little step ahead of our Finnish colleagues - until Origo released their magnificent Eldorado and we quit the scene... :-)
...and these days, on C64, you're in Skalaria together with my friend Agemixer... what are your future plans?
I joined Scallop (later Skalaria) in 1999 when I made my first approach to the scene since 1992. Back then it felt cosy to do a comeback in an active group, but as I'm not that active myself, why should I keep up.. My dear Artline Designs exists and like a phoenix bird I rise again under ALD label whenever there is something to release.
ALD is my past, present and future.
What were the best years in the scene for the breadbox in your opinion and why?
Must be 1988-1989. Lots of demos, groups, games, cracks, attitude, competition, phone-conferences, calling cards, inventions, routines, parcels, wars, federations against... You name it, lots of everything. Simply because I was most active that time and the whole scene was so damn alive. Someone invented a new routine and we were blown away time after time...
Being around for so long I'm sure you have some greetings and salutations you would like to send to some people... here's your chance...
Thanks for the chance. This list would be very long, so I only greet the very closest friends I had back in the C64 scene-days; no messages – just names mentioned...
GoTcha/Crazy, Stone/Abnormal, Raistlin/GP, Apollyon, Rockstar, Scorpion, Cycleburner, Drake, Scrap, Mr.Smart and the rest/Contex, Johnny Boy/Sphinx, Storm/Nuclear, Grayhawk/FairLight, Bod/Talent, Goblin/Light, Goblin/GP, Antichrist/GP, Shark/INC, Buccaneer/Warriors of Time, Cruiser/Knickers, Grendel/Byterapers, Zardax/Origo, Deek/Vibrants, Spitfire/Action, Mik/DCS, Jumpie/F4CG, Orc/Black Mail, Arrogance/Success...
Thanks for your time Antti, any final words to leave an impression on the scene?
Thanks for the interest!! L8R.
+++ no carrier