Nexus 6581, 20 Years On – A Look Back and Review by Warren Pilkington, December 2020.
If you wanted to define a remix CD that at its time in 2000 set the standard, it would have to be Reyn Ouwehand’s Nexus 6581 CD. It broke ground in many ways: in that it was one of the first CDs (if not the first) to acknowledge tunes from the demo scene and remix them, and also featured some lesser known, but not necessarily lesser talented, SID composers. Of course, having the privilege and honour to write the sleeve notes for this CD for Reyn was really a pleasure to do, and wanted to capture the atmosphere of the games and demo tunes as well as the overall feel of the CD itself. The review on Remix 64 from then was certainly favourable and shows that it was a CD to be purchased and enjoyed.
So, twenty years on, how does this CD stack up? Does it still measure admirably against today’s remixes, whether they be free or commercial? And more importantly perhaps, should it still be bestowed the classic status that many fans granted it on first review? Well, in the interests of it being twenty years on, I wanted to go back, have a good listen, and find out for myself as I review it here. It’s worth noting by the way that when I did write the sleeve notes for the CD, I only had rough previews to work with, not the final product, so was actually a nice surprise for me as well as everyone else when it was released. So here goes:
1 – Last Ninja 3 Intro (Reyn Ouwehand)
Even though the game itself was my least favourite of the LN series, Reyn’s music on the C64 certainly had made the introductory sequence cinematic. The CD version here develops on that with the right amount of power and atmosphere, bringing in some drums and percussion as well as the background choir that makes you feel like you should be in some fantasy epic series, never mind the world of the Last Ninja. There’s even the similar instrumental break with a lead guitar accompanying the C64’s lead in the part three minutes in to give it extra atmosphere – and a sensible use of the SID instrument without relying on SID and drums (remixers, take note) – and definitely a very good way to start the CD.
2 – Shape (Johannes Bjerregaard)
Reyn had freely admitted to me he was quite a fan of Johannes’ music, hence three of the tracks on the CD being compositions by him. Shape here takes the popular demo tune into a delightful pop and jazz combo, complete with gorgeous saxophone lead and a funky bass and drum that gives it a lush brightness throughout. In fact, that sax is the key instrument here as it really does allow the tune to bounce along nicely, even with later parts almost having the style of a 1970s era police show series sort of feel on top, complete with a real sense of uptown funkiness too. It was so good first time around, and more so now, if anything, it has improved with age.
3 – DMC IV Part II (Johannes Bjerregaard)
Another excellent original JB tune here gets a very good treatment with saxophone right out of the Frank Zappa Hot Rats era style (see Son of Mr Green Genes for example) – and a sense of the Eastern as well with some of the leads sounding somewhat mystical. Again, the saxophone is key here. The only complaint I’d pretty much have now is that some of the main guitar backing and drums just stick out a little too much in the mix, but you’ve got all the best parts and emotion of the original SID tune and just developing on it nicely, especially the middle part with the breaks and the saxophone once again taking centre stage. And of course, kudos for taking another demo tune on.
4 – Enlightenment: Druid II (David M Hanlon)
I always thought that as simple and atmospheric as the original SID tune was, you could only do so much with it in terms of length. Today, I’d probably say Reyn’s version was about a minute or so too long, but it certainly does convey the atmosphere wonderfully well with the guitar being a sensible backing instrument, and a gentle lead that sets the tone well, along with some lovely synth hooks. Unfortunately, although it develops more instrumentally, it still falls short because it’s too long even with the drum breaks that come in later. Nothing wrong with the instruments or feel for me, just needs curtailment.
5 – Flimbo’s Quest – Reyn Ouwehand
If you were ever imagining a Commodore 64 tune made perfect for a country hoedown with plenty of banjo throughout, then this is the remix for you. Certainly, for me, it retains all the jolly feel of the original, with the banjo being accompanied by a neat organ lead and a piano straight from a Wild West saloon as well. It just has something utterly joyous about it which really comes across well to the listener and builds well as the track develops, with the ending having a suitable bit of piano saloon bar just like say if The Milky Bar Kid had saved the day and insisted those chocolate bars were on him. Still utterly enjoyable fun.
6 – Dutch Breeze (Flip the Flop) – Reyn Ouwehand
Dutch Breeze was, and still is, a legendary Commodore 64 demo which featured this amongst other tunes by Reyn. As such, he’s taken it to a nice level with suitable breakbeats defining the driving groove throughout, and a gentle use of the SID lead with echo where needed, to give it a bit more drive along with the bass. There’s also some neat phasing with some of the breakbeats in the sections between leads and verses, which may not be to everyone’s taste. The only thing I really miss on this, which I’d love to see put back, is the rather strong lead instrument which really did define things on the original, and that as a synth would have made it sound a little less repetitive than it may do so now.
7 – Deflektor – Ben Daglish
The iconic use of the cowbell as an opening and then backing instrument, and a perfect sounding drum groove along with the electric bass really underpins it, and then of course there’s the use of the sublime
dayo dayo part which would forever define this as the de facto standard for remixing this classic tune. Add to that of course, some beautiful instrumental middle parts with some very well played guitar and a nicely worked rocking beat throughout. Also, there is a gorgeous nice wah-wah guitar for the parts that need it, and some more dayo dayo thrown in before giving way to the final cowbell, and you pretty much have, what is to this day, still one of my all time favourite C64 remixes. It’s hard to explain why, but when you listen to the sum of all of its parts and the effortless ease in which it was put together, you’ll know why.
8 – Special Agent – Johannes Bjerregaard
Quite liked this Firebird cheapie on the C64, and the original JB tune was good, but Reyn’s taken this and developed it into what could have easily been a theme tune for any crime or detective series on the television in the 80s, with the guitar and sax opening leading to the middle breaks for the synth to give it that space to flow. I really like the slap bass in the background, very Level 42 sounding, which really is perfect for the atmosphere which is conveyed along the way. There’s also a very subtle use of the SID arpeggio in the middle instrumental part before the groove kicks back in which is just right, not too much but adds to the realism. Thoroughly enjoyable especially the heavier beats at the end too.
9 – Blue Meanies – Steve Barrett
Another demo tune here, and as the original wasn’t so long, neither is this remix. At the time when I listened to it back in 2000, for me it was the weakest track on the CD. It still holds true now, even though the piano and the guitar parts together are nice and does at least have the feel of the original SID tune intact. I really like the fact that it mellows out more with just an atmospheric backing and the guitar gradually fading out over the time as it all ends peacefully. However, this is the calm before the next track.
10 – Asian Legends (Various, Arranged by Reyn Ouwehand)
Too often, remixers tried to do multiple C64 covers in one tune and fail, badly, because there was no connecting theme. This is where Reyn’s Asian Legends absolutely shines, and then some. Take the opening part from Fist II: The Legend Continues with suitable Oriental instruments, and break into the ongoing groove from International Karate+ with the bass and drum underpinning all the parts from thereon, including nods to The Last Ninja (Wilderness level), Firecracker by Martin Denny (as covered in Yie Ar Kung Fu II), Legend of Kage, Yie Ar Kung Fu, a break from the groove for Way of the Exploding Fist with suitable atmosphere and lush bass, and back into that gorgeous groove via parts of International Karate, Last Ninja 3 (Water level) and ending with a rocking out to Last Ninja 2 (Central Park in-game.)
What really shines here is the excellent use of Oriental instruments and the fact that the main groove is the key to it all, making the whole tune flow beautifully as one lengthy but superbly atmospheric piece that is a perfect blend of Western and Eastern influences as the guitar and bass kick in at just the right time without sounding overbearing. This is still potentially my favourite multiple tunes in one remix, primarily due to the care and love bestowed on it but also the way that it works and flows ever so well without feeling the need to jump around between the different tracks that it covers. An absolute masterwork, and as the original Remix64 review said then, I’d have definitely had this as the closing track on the CD.
11 – Aztec Challenge (Paul Norman)
Having those iconic sounds from the original at the start along with the Aztec instruments do bring forward a sense of mystery, and then – blam! In comes the guitar, and you know from then on, it’s going to be a heavy rock piece. Indeed, the fact Press Play on Tape still play it this way says a lot about Reyn’s version. I know some really won’t like the way it builds into a powerful heavy metal crescendo getting louder and more distorted, but for me this added a sense of urgency and desperation as you tried to escape – each very much to their own. More of an Industrial music feel, but I’d possibly have just ended it with a drum or cymbal crash rather than go back to a little of the original SID at the end. Very much a love or loathe track, this one.
It should be noted that even twenty years on, the production values that Reyn brought to this CD are still very much present – it sounds as well produced now as it does then, with instruments given the space where necessary to breathe and flow, with indeed the use of proper instruments really adding an authentic feel to the arrangements and having the saxophones of Tom Beek where needed really does give it a depth that was lacking in other remix albums of the time. It’s also testament to Reyn’s arranging talent that even twenty years after the CD was released, there’s still plenty of feeling to be had from the album as a whole, and some which to this day are still wonderful pieces in their own right.
For me, it’s still one of my favourite remix albums, if not my favourite, primarily because he had the bravery to take on the tunes of other SID composers such as Steve Barrett and Johannes Bjerregaard, and indeed do versions of demo themes as well as game themes. That alone gives it a sense of uniqueness because it was ground breaking in what it was doing. You also have the fact that there’s the de facto standard version of Deflektor in there, along with the beautiful arrangement and groove throughout Asian Legends – the CD would be worth buying for those two alone. And yes, it’s not perfect, one or two tracks now could do with shortening a little and having Asian Legends to be the final track would be sensible, but it has stood the test of time remarkably well, and so much better than a lot of the efforts before or since.
If you do own this CD, definitely give it another spin and understand why you fell so much in love with it in the first place. You will be glad you did.
Other 20 year specials: