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Tales of style

What you're about to read, if you dare, are the preface and the first chapter of "tales of style", describing the rise, fall and rebirth of Focus, as told by its founder (and the only member to have been in the group since it started): The Dark Judge (that's me, you twat!). Hopefully it will give you a sense of how some demogroups worked in the late 80's/early 90's. If you like it, tell me, maybe it will help me get my act together and publish the whole damn story on our yet-to-be-created website.

For me the emergence of the c64 scene came just in time: at 16 I was, like most teenagers, desperately looking for a place to fit in. Growing up in Renswoude, a small Dutch town, in a rural area with lots of farms and not enough friends, I already spend a great deal of time behind the computer my parents had bought for me & my brother in September 1984. But I grew bored of playing games and wanted something else, something different. And as soon as I saw my first demo I knew that I had found what I was looking for. It wasn't just about the productions though: I was fascinated by the whole subculture behind it with all those strangely named groups, consisting of strangely named people, greeting & slagging each other in scrolls. I decided I wanted to be part of it, and that I did: after fooling around for a year or so I became an active member of the demoscene in the summer of 1987. Since then I've been in only about half a dozen c64 groups. This is the story of one of them, and the pivotal role it played in my life.

{Chapter 1: death of the phoenix}
In February 1990 I had been a member of WWE (World Wide Expressive) for 2 years exactly, and had been acting as their so-called 'leader' ever since early autumn of the previous year. During those last 6 months I had managed to rebuild it from 7 members (4 of which were swappers) into a big team with people from Holland, Germany & Scandinavia. We released several demos per month and were also quite active on the cracking front, even appearing in the charts of well respected diskmags. I had every reason to be pleased with myself, having managed to stop the group from a certain death. But something was amiss: were once WWE was formed by a close knitted group of people, most of them friends in real life as well, now it was more a collection of several smaller crews with no real connection to the others. And with the members spread all over Europe and no way of staying in touch apart from snail-mail and the occasional telephone call (this was before Internet) it was hard to keep track of who was doing what, or even who was in the team. WWE had become some kind of uncontrollable multi-headed beast, and I had gotten tired of riding it.

The founding members of WWE were all local boys, living in Veenendaal, and the first new guys that joined up were already familiar faces. I myself for example had known them ever since the group was formed, I even was there when it happened, and there had been some healthy competition between WWE and my own group, RSF. When RSF fell apart, all I had to do was tell WWE star-coder Wizzy (who was at my school) and right away he asked me in, as I knew he would. I was the 8th person to join WWE but did so just in time: right after it happened the group really started making a name for itself, lead by the ruthless Map, and fueled by the competition between our coders. Every evening we met at Wizzy's place and tried to shock each other with something that we cooked up the night before. It was the best time I've ever had and only stopped being less fun when the group became too big in the summer of '89. Soon afterwards all of the original members left, and when most of the others did so too it was up to me to start over.

By then the scene had changed a lot: there was no pool of local talent to fish from, at least not where I lived. So I used a different approach: I started 'hunting' for smaller groups consisting of guys who lived close to each other, making good use of the fact that WWE was still quite famous and respected. In the next months there were 3 groups with mainly Dutch members I 'assimilated'. The first one was actually a duo called 'Oase', and concentrated on cracking mostly, although they also did a small demo for WWE called 'Critical'. The coding was done by MCD with graphics by CBA, who later became one of the key members of TRC.

The second group, 'Rhythm', consisted of 5 guys all living in Zoetermeer, and was more involved in the demoscene. They had grabbed my attention with a four-parter called 'Highway', coded by Keysystem with graphics by Vulcan & Atomrock. I contacted them through one of their swappers (either Lunatic or Generic) and made them an offer. The next day I was called back by Vulcan who, on behalf of the group, accepted my offer and also made clear to me who the 'point man' in that group was.

The third group had 5 members as well, but only 3 of them joined WWE. I first spotted Strezz Designs in the demo-charts of the WOT magazine 'Buccaneering'. Also Compyx, their main coder and graphician, showed up in several charts. But it was Mirage, who was then in either Drive or Culture, who told me I should give these guys a call. This I did, and Compyx, Genius (both living in Zutphen, Holland) and Jedi (who lived in Norway) joined.

If it would have just been these 10 guys things might have worked out, but I had made the mistake of asking too many nobodies in as well, resulting in a lot of members without any real skills at all, and even though we were quite active, our products were mediocre at best. I got some offers from other groups myself, such as Contex, Megastyle & Genesis Project, and considering leaving. There was a lot of pressure coming from my team-members to stay though, or as our main Swedish coder TWS wrote in a letter to me: "without TDJ there is no WWE". Part of me was also afraid of the reverse: "without WWE there is no TDJ". After all, I was not the best coder in the world, and in that sense I belonged in WWE: an average coder leading an average group.

So again I chose to continue, and started organizing our biggest production yet: a mega-demo with contributions from most of our members. It was going to be called "Global Power" and was to be released at the Horizon party in Sweden in April. I myself had several parts planned, as did Compyx, Keysystem, TWS and others. I had been friends with Bagder of Horizon since the summer of '88 and had decided to visit the party myself, together with 3 other Dutch guys: ex WWE member Sonix (who was in Cosmos at the time), and Buff & Barfly of the Powers of Pain. In those days there were no special bus trips to big computer-parties, so we booked everything ourselves, taking a boat trip from Amsterdam to Gothenburg, and then a 4 hour train trip to Stockholm. Activity picked up in the months prior to the party, with lots of coding from my side. To me the future of the group was depending on the success of Global Power: if we could really pull it off, as a team, then maybe there was hope yet and I would get that 'expressive' feeling back that I had been missing since the summer of '89 .. But I was also a realist, and made sure I had some back-up plans.

My first option, in case things didn't work out, was to skim the fat, and to kick all those I felt were inadequate from the group. I had the power to do that; however it would mean having to deal with a lot of bruised egos, as well as keeping the reputation we already had, which was not good enough for me. The other idea was forming a new group, with no reputation at all, which also could be a bad thing in a scene flooded with new groups trying to make a name for themselves. Both options meant I had to pick the guys I wanted to continue with. It was clear to me that the crackers had to go: I wanted to concentrate on demos. The second decision was a bit harder: I had to let go of the foreign guys. With some of them I got along real well, like Zoolook from Finland, Zoid from Norway and of course TWS. But there had been too many communication problems and I wanted to get rid of those, wanted to be in control again.

So I made my move and asked no more than 5 guys in secret if they were interested in joining me on whatever path I was going to take: Keysystem, Vulcan, Atomrock, Genius and 'my ace in the hole', Compyx. What I wanted from them was pretty heavy, because it meant that they had to leave some of their team-members behind, guys that were with them when they joined WWE. Still all of them had the same answer: they would do what I asked them to do. This made me feel better but there was some bad news too: several of the promised parts weren't finished in time, and so I was the only Dutch member with something for the demo.

The trip to Sweden did not exactly go well: I got seasick, spending most of the 24 hours on the boat in pain, and on land I left my bag in the cab driving us to the train station, losing most of my money in the process. The party itself was fortunately better: finally I got the chance to meet guys I had swapped with for over 2 years, such as Bagder, Cycleburner/Contex, Price/Megastyle, Destino/Origo & many others. I also met TWS and although he was a real nice guy, I was kind of disappointed by his parts for Global Power. He was not a bad coder but not a great one either, and our stuff thrown together would make for a rather mediocre demo, once again. Not what I wanted, for sure. Also something else happened: the other 3 guys I traveled with seemed to be pissed at me for losing my money resulting in them having to pay for me. Or maybe I was just feeling guilty, but the fact was that I felt alone, very alone, and not like the leader of a big c64 group at all. So I quit, there and then. I told TWS about my decision, and since I had the power, told him that not only did I quit, but WWE was dead as well from that moment on. I don't think he took it too well: he didn't talk to me at the party after that and ignored me when I met him in the train on the way home. He came by though, and we resumed our contact a few months later. I can't say I blame him being angry, as he was just as active as I was, maybe even more so, but I knew in my heart that this was the only option. After all, even he himself had said it: "without TDJ, there is no WWE". I was the last of the original gang, and I refused to let the group go on without me. It was my right, and I acted on it.

So, after being in WWE for over 2 years I was without a group, which made me feel even more alone. And even though I had my plan B to fall back on, I went out looking for a crew to join, thinking how easy it would be to do that. After all, this was a huge party with most of the well-known c64 demo groups present, and I was quite known myself, so how hard could it be? The problem was that I was too proud: I wanted to be asked. I spread the word that I was groupless and started waiting for offers. Buff & Barfly asked me to join Powers of Pain, but I wanted to be in a more famous group. A new German group, Padua, asked me to join them, but although I got along with their organizer Anonym fine, they too were not famous enough for me. Plus I didn't like their name, which was a very stupid reason but still, a reason. No, I was waiting for something bigger: maybe Contex or Megastyle would extend their previous offer, and somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping for Horizon themselves to ask me. After all, like I said, I had gotten along with Bagder really well for quite some time now, and had even done a coopdemo with him. Of course I knew that my coding skills were insufficient but hell, I could be their mascot if they wanted me to!

None of these groups asked me though, and I felt like a guy who had been in a steady relationship for a long time, and had flirted with a lot of pretty girls but now that he was available again, none of them were interested. And I started getting desperate. So when Odin of Science 451 asked me to join his group, I said yes. Now don't get me wrong: it's not like I really panicked or something, I had respected S451 for a long time, they always had a certain mystique about them, which is one of the main reasons that I joined. But like dating that strange mysterious girl just because she asks you out might not always be the best option, neither was this, probably. I should have waited until better-suited offers came along, or until I returned home from my trip, so I could start up the new group I already had in mind. Not all was bad though: The S451 guys proved to be really nice and when I told them I wanted to bring in some more ex WWE members they were fine with it.

Those last days of the party I finally felt like a real team-member again, instead of just a lonely soul with the same group name behind my handle as other lonely souls. I even managed to finish a small demo, Midnight Oil, the name referring to staying up all night, something I had been doing a lot working on the now cancelled Global Power. It consisted of a small but stylish intro, and a part with a full-screen scroller that could be steered left & right using a joystick, which basically meant it was a new world record. Unfortunately the compo organizers failed to show the full possibilities of the scroller and the demo ended up at the bottom of the result list. More important than that though was the fact that during the competition there had been a big round of applause when the name 'Science 451' appeared on the screen, making me glow with pride. It was obvious I was part of a respected group now, instead of a mediocre one, and I couldn't wait to get the other 5 guys in as well.

The party ended on the 16th of April, and in the next few days I contemplated my options once again. Part of me was sorry that I had joined another group so soon, instead of just starting a new one as I had planned. Also, having the other 5 join as 'normal' members meant we would be in the same situation as before: loosely connected members of an international group, with the only difference that the HQ was based in Sweden instead of Holland this time. So I came up with yet another plan: to form a subgroup consisting of the guys I wanted to start over with. This would allow us to work closely together while still being able to use the name and reputation of S451. It would also allow me to keep up the role of leader, or rather: organizer. The other 5 all agreed and I send a letter to Sweden informing them of our decision. And so, on the 21st of April, 1990, rising from the ashes of World Wide Expressive, Focus was born.

The Dark Judge/Focus.