Interview with Flex of Artline Designs
Published in Vandalism News #67
Performed by Magic of Nah-Kolor
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 introduce yourself to our readers. Also, How did you became Interested in the C64 and started to make music on it?
Hi! My name is Antti Hannula aka Flex / Artline Designs. Born 1974 in Helsinki and after a period in northern Finland (Oulunsalo 1975-1998) my life has settled in Tampere region, now living in Ylojarvi with my wife and 3 daughters (7, 5 and 3 years of age in 2017).
I think my story of getting interested in C64 is the usual, starting with games. First I thought that VIC-20 that my neighbour had was a cool thing but soon after seeing C64 and games like Motor Mania, Blue Max & Summer Games at another neighbour I knew that C64 is the real deal. Of course immediate begging for an own machine started and finally my parents couldn't "resist" anymore and C64 arrived. :-)
At first I didn't pay that much attention to the music but along all the games I had copied there was a file called "Carnage Visors" that had 6 tunes by Rob Hubbard. In the end, instead of playing games, I found myself more often listening to these Hubbard tunes and even recording them on tape. Now that I see it, it's pretty obvious it was kind of "love at first sight".
At the time in 1985/1986 it was total utopia how to make this kind of music. Have to tell you I was talented, I played piano chords and melodies by ear already at the age of 4 but music in general felt not that interesting and I was much more into sports than this kind of "artistic" hobbies. But later, the combination of computers and music was probably what was needed to fire up the deeper musical interest.
I remember I had some music editors with that note-sheet outfit but I never learnt how to use them properly. Then it happened, Future Composer was released and it changed the game. I started to get out my own SID-music and that felt good. Of course the quality was poor in the beginning and I just wondered how on earth guys like Rock/FIG were able to do such magical stuff with it but of course it was all about skills. Well, my skills developed and meanwhile Scorpion had programmed his first Artline music routine in assembler. That's when it really started; we were living times around 1989/1990.
Where does your nick Flex come from? What does it mean?
Actually I don't remember if there is a story behind choosing "Flex" as my handle. One thing is for sure that it needed to have "X" in it which was very fashionable back then. I've carried the "Flex"-name since 1988. Maybe I saw the muscle-magazine FLEX in some shop and stole the name there? :-)
What does music mean to you?
The meaning has changed during the years. From 1994 to 2004 I made my living as a DJ and during those years music had no any deeper meaning, like really listening to it on my spare time. I just bought lots of vinyl and cd records and used music as my tool trying to earn money.
Earlier in the childhood and teenage years music was more exciting as I see it now. Cassettes, first LP's, Walkman, tape-recordings etc. Listening to my sister's disco-cassettes - finding out about those great italo-disco melodies. Listening to them now gives me great memories and takes me back to some crystal clear moments in the youth. Maybe one of the most important things in music is that it helps you remember things from past like scents do. Great moments in your life tied together with music makes it more alive and memorable.
Nowadays in my hectic life I really enjoy listening to music, if I have the time. I just love melodic music no matter whatever the style is. It might be SID, ballads, opera, metal, instrumental - you name it. I also have to confess that I love great low heavy guitar riffs.
Making SID music now is my escape from reality and a way of being creative in artistic way. It's my most precious "own" time when I'm making music.
Please tell our readers how a day in the life of Flex looks like
My day usually starts at 7:00 waking up. Wife goes to work at 7:30 and I have to make sure the oldest girl goes to school and the two youngest ones I drive to day care. Then depending on what's on schedule I launch my computer and check the mail etc. and do the necessary. Maybe make a few phone calls, go to an appointment or what's really needed. If I'm going to a shift later in the evening, I might take a little nap.
I'm working as a CEO of a restaurant company and making some appearances as well behind the taps. It's the world of beer that I'm deep in... My work is kind of a work that I'm 24hours available making sure everything works. Usually I take that nap and go to work around 12:00 or something and get back home later in the evening before the kids go to sleep. If I've been working the night, I get to sleep just some couple of hours and then I really need that nap. :-) Anyway I have the best job in the world right now as I can plan my own schedules and I really like the beer scene - and beer of course. When the house gets silent and my wife has been "noticed", I usually sit down and do some internet surfing, maybe launch Goattracker and try a new tune or just watch TV. Too often I find myself sitting on the computer still at 4 AM and pay the price few hours later... Good life it is. :-)
How would you classify your own music? What styles are they in?
Now that you asked it, I started thinking in what category I should put my music and came up with a term "modern oldskool". I'm a sucker for pretty cheesy melodies and harmonies and that's my usual approach in making music as well. My music leans towards 90's eurodance, 80's italodisco and Finnish melancholy. I think SID bends really well in this direction. Of course I see that I should be more versatile and challenge myself into other directions more often.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration to compose sid music?
I don't listen to music that much anymore but many times I get ideas when listening to radio in my car and then some tune gives me an idea that I have to test on Goattracker when I come home. Usually it carries only for one pattern just to get me convinced that it wasn't a good idea... :-) but sometimes I get a decent beginning for a tune that carries all the way.
Then it's of course the SID music itself that gives me inspiration and ideas. I listen to HVSC most often when I'm working on my laptop. When I'm in the mood for making music, I usually just sit down on my Yamaha keyboard and start playing around... That's how I find interesting chord-bass combinations or chordlines with melodies.
How do you look back on the recent Zoo 2017 party?
It was bigger and bolder. Compared to 2013 and 2015 this was the most professionally organised of them all. I was part of the organising team myself with my small share and it was nice to see how it all was carefully planned and executed. As a party we tried to attract not only just sceners but Finnish C64 hobbyists too - in order to maybe get some more people to join our beloved scene and do scene-stuff in the future. This has been one of the Zoo goals and I was really happy to see some entries in compos from this potential.
Apart from this all it was of course fun and lots of great people - the usual party fun. Also, I was glad that we (me and Jangler) got the chance to present our Sidtronic project on Friday night. Artline was there with all members and that was of course heart-warming to see the whole bunch again - not to mention all the 4 first places in music compo. :-D Zoo has taken its place as one of the biggest -just C64- parties and it'll be held again in 2019. I strongly recommend you to come next time.
Can you tell our readers a bit about the music you did for the demos Neon and We Are Diskmag?
Well here comes more than just a bit... Abaddon asked me if I was interested in doing the music for Neon. Later at Zoo2017 he told me that he had been strugglin' with it for too long and there was no kind of progression he had been hoping for. I was interested as I had (secretly) been hoping for such a job. I think getting the best out of yourself, you have to challenge yourself from time to time and this came to a good spot in my life so I was ready to begin.
I joined the Triad slack for discussion and got to see a preview of the demo which immediately convinced me that this is going to be hot. Of course it gave me some more pressure to deliver gold which I bravely promised. :-)
My instant thought was that of course this needs synthwave style of music and believe me, I listened a lot of tunes from YouTube and tried to come up with ideas. I started and tried many ways to find proper feeling to it but in the end I had to give up the synthwave as I came to a conclusion that SID (in my hands) didn't bend well enough for that style. Then I just let it burn and trusted that my general style of doing music was "enough oldskool" to somehow associate with that Neon style, putting synthwave into background.
The main tune started to build and sound pretty awesome and I guess then we couldn't let it slip out of our hands anymore and it was accepted even though the originally wanted style was left behind. Then there was many small things I had to adjust in the tune like optimizing the memory and cutting patterns here and there to fit better in the overall demo flow. Thanks to Icon for flexibility. :-) The whole process of making a demo was very interesting and I got very convinced about those Triad guys. Especially Icon's and Ilesj's efforts felt enormous.
At first it seemed like there was no more blocks left for another tune but somehow they arranged it and we could put that end title tune in. I had it already finished before I started with the main tune and secretly hoped that it could be released somewhere... and what could have been a better place?
Now we're of course talking about my version of Drax's "Tristesse" which has been one of my absolute favourites during the years. I just wanted to give it my gentle touch and I was most happy when even the master Drax himself liked it and showed green light and thumbs up.
Now that some time has passed, I'm very grateful that I had a chance to participate. Like we all know, there are great musicians in Triad that could have delivered as well. Thanks guys!
"We are Diskmag" is another story. I knew I had a great demo tune in my hands and X2016 was getting close. I just tried my luck with CSDb oneliner if someone needed a decent demo tune and got replied by Magic/Nah-Kolor that they're making a demo for X and that they could be interested. I named my tune as "Hypnopompa" (thanks to Omnipollo brewery) and sent him the tune. It was received with positive feedback and ended up in "We Are Diskmag" demo. If it wouldn't have ended up in that demo I'd most likely put that into the music compo instead. Nice coop with Nah-Kolor, I think here we can talk about win-win situation.
Earlier, I had tested the potential of Hypnopompa at Byterapers 30th Anniversary Party as an mp3 and when I saw people shaking their heads and stomping feet I knew that it worked. During the demo compo at X I got a cheerful FB-message from Bepp about the tune. Thanks again, what a nice gesture it was. Maybe that opened my path to Neon later on, dunno.. :-D
How do you, from a personal view, look back on the scenish year 2017 and what do you expect for 2018 ?
On my half, I think I haven't been that active as maybe in 2016 but overall I think it's once again been a great year with some astonishing releases. Probably unfair to mention any because I forget too many for sure but those Datastorm killer-demos from Triad and Shape, Zoo2017, Singular's Quad Core, constant flow of great SID music, surprises like JonEgg, X-Ample's return, Mermaid's stuff and Stinsen's cheesy melodies come to mind now - not to forget the Crack Intro Music compo (thanks Jammer & Didi) and the ever continuing brotherhood of Offence, Fairlight & Prosonix which I really admire, you're there for the right reasons guys!
I think the further coming X2018 comes to define the year once again. Though, I hope to see lots of quality releases during the year and that not everyone save their load for X. :-D Expecting to see couple of more mind-blowing routines and finally meet guys like Hein, Laxity & Drax in Someren. :-)
What can you say to the readers of Vandalism News #67 as a nice ending for this interview ?
If you made it this far, thank you for reading because I feel I could have done it much shorter.. :-) ...and what a wonderful mag we have here! See you at X!