Output 64: an alternative review by Warren Waz Pilkington: an alternative musician!

Warren Pilkington, besides being known for his booklet text on the Back in Time series, Nexus 6581 and Galway Remixed, was until recently the head of HVSC. Living in Manchester, he's very proud of his roots and even prouder of his musical electicism. Who better than to balance Chris Abbott's strait-laced review than someone who understands the music and acts behind it?

After the surprising success of the Input 64 album, which basically had the original SID tunes sampled from Sidplay (and yes, there is proof that this was done), Enduro came up with the idea of asking contemporary and new electronic, experimental and dance artists to see if they could sufficiently remake a track from the original SID source. Bearing in mind of course the original SID tunes were often diverse and covering a wide range of styles and themes, it could be often said as a difficult task to remix them sufficiently enough to please the casual techno/electronica fan as well as the SID music masses.

One thing is definitely apparent from hearing this album: you really need to be aware of modern techno and electronica artists. If you like the likes of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre, Propellerheads, Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers are your cup of tea, then there’s a chance that you will most likely enjoy a fair few of the tracks on this CD. If not, then you might not see things from the same viewpoint or appreciate as much what the artists remixing here are attempting to do.

Also note that there’s more free licence when remixing commercially - those who’ve heard dance mixes of songs by well known artists will appreciate that often it’s a case of restructure from scratch and only have the pure basis from the original to play with. Some do so here, so the SID purist may really dislike them.

Without further ado, on to the tracks:

1 - Arkanoid (Wicked Cool Rock School Mix)

Mixed by Steve Claydon of Add N To (X)

Add N To (X) have been gaining critical acclaim for their recent output on Mute. For this remix, Steve decided to stick with the memorable bass line used in the main portion of the tune, and supplement it with a smidgeon of drums and slight squelches which does work nicely. Later on the arpeggio comes in along with a few little electronic voices, and you also have sections of the lead coming in nicely and sweeping the whole thing along really well. What makes this mix work is that it’s a contemporary enough remake of the original without completely straying apart from it. My only slight wish would have been for a drum solo of sorts at the end (the drums echo nicely throughout incidentally) to remind people of the original somewhat.

2 - Mutants Here I Am
Based on Crazy Comets

Mixed by Plundersonics

This will be for some a love or hate track. Those that hate it will complain it deviates too much from the original. I’m more in the love category, because the original bits of the tune sampled and cut in throughout form the basis for the whole tune, together with the bass line, which emanates throughout. The vocals added to the tune, from Melissa Logan, are professionally spoken enough, even though some of the words you might find a little strange. It would actually work just as well without the vocals as the production values of this track are enough to make it quality. The important thing is that the way the original samples are creatively making everything move with it and there’s a good ebb and flow to the piece. Possibly the best track of the album for me.

3 - My Love’s A Demoversion
Based on Alloyrun

Mixed by Kissogram

As an electronic track, it’s very good. As a remix of Alloyrun, it’s not so great. Part of the reason is that the whole thing seems to try and revolve around the opening two bars that were present in the original and there’s not enough innovation to carry those two bars through the whole thing. The choice of instruments on the whole is good, and it sounds sufficiently lo-fi in places. There’s the odd out of tune note half way through before the vocals kick in, and I don’t know if was intentional or not. The track crescends nicely throughout its seven minute duration, although I do think a couple of minutes shorter would have made the whole thing a little more compact and to the point.

4 - Crazy64
Based on Crazy Comets

Mixed by Gebr. Teichmann

The word here is 4-track lo-fi as to me it seems to have that just recorded in the home bedroom recorded studio. However lo-fi it is, it does not substitute for the fact that after about a minute and a half, you will be bored of the track’s endless drum on top of some SID-fx without much movement. It’s only half way through that the pace picks up and changes sufficiently, and even then it’s not enough - I think the remixer got bored about the three minute mark as eventually the original SID comes in on top of the drum and FX that had been played ad infinitum and it just sounds rushed, almost like an afterthought (especially as bits are out of synch!). Terrible.

5 - Push My Button
Based on Bubble Bobble

Mixed by Ron & His 1541

Now, those of you who know about C64 tunes covered will remember Console’s 14 Zero Zero which after the opening blast of a subtune from Wizball developed into a nice little electronic song with actually some good lyrics and vocoder. Well, take the Console track, remove the lyrics and add some cheesy vocals about gaming, which sound so stereotypical about the gamer, base the whole thing on Bubble Bobble SID with some drums pasted on top, and you pretty much have the track here. You can see what was being attempted here, and the electronic vocals are mixed in well. But it doesn’t work. Listen to Console instead.

6 - Rote Welle/Koelner Ring
Based on Turbo Outrun

Mixed by Big Chief Electric

There’s taking a track and remaking it differently, then there’s taking a track and not even including it in a fair bit of the remix. Which is what this does. There’s a Maniacs of Noise-like lead on top of some big beat drums and some electronic pulsing noise, but really until about two and half minutes you can’t imagine it was based on Turbo Outrun. Then the awful moment, when a really awful programmed instrument comes in and attempts to do the lead. Not only is it out of tune, but sounds like someone with flatulence attempting to sing. The rest of it, frankly, is an electronic mess. It’s like the remixers decided to see what instruments they could add to get as much into the tune - definitely too much attempted to be crammed into the track without it sounding tuneful. The finer electronic music can be minimal but it’s always noteworthy and works. Well this, I’m afraid, doesn’t. At all.

7 - Last Ninja Remix

Based on Last Ninja (Wilderness Ingame)

Mixed by Jeans Team

After three not so good tracks it’s nice to see something pure, simple and electronically sound. While some may feel it doesn’t do enough, the plus side is that the bass line and drum is unobtrusive, and that augments the segments of SID that are used sparingly, very nicely. The simplicity of the whole structure is what is likeable, there’s not a mess of instruments competing for your attention and it’s very listenable. My only minor niggle would be there’s parts of this remix that could just so with a little more SID intervention just to keep the flow going, but what it does do is show you can with a little thought. The way also the tune builds up to the end with several SID parts all intertwined in there deserves mention as it gives some substance to culminate things nicely.

8 - Turbo Dub
Based on Turbo Outrun

Mixed by Computerjockeys

This vies with the Mutants Here I Am for my favourite track on the album. The burst of a turbo and then a rather nice dub mix comes in, with Jeroen’s speech laden in there for good measure. There’s also a generous helping of some SID loops from the original chopped into a nice neat form and almost forming a different tune to boot. It’s very well produced, and the subtle use of instruments throughout mean it holds your attention throughout and makes listening worthwhile. Even the one! Two! Tree! sample makes an appearance and is done very tastefully. This smacks of Renegade Soundwave at their dub finest, and that’s a compliment and a half coming from me.

9 - Mittags Um 2:00
Based on Bubble Bobble

Mixed by Lopazz

Imagine Peter Clarke teaming up with New Order and doing a remake of Bubble Bobble in New Order’s guitar-song based style. Now take away the skill of Peter Hook’s familiar bass lines and replace them with someone less talented, a well placed crunching guitar and a vocalist who’s trying his hardest to sound like Barney Sumner but failing, and you pretty much have the mix. It’s not offensive as such, and a nice idea to have the guitar doing a SID thing, but the vocals do not work, and the guitars just don’t sound right the way they’re being played. If they’d replaced one of the guitarists with, say, Puffy64, or even got someone from New Order to help them out, they may have actually succeeded. A shame, as the tune shows promise and is pretty faithful to the original and you have to admire the bravery to cover Bubble Bobble this way.

10 - The Alloy Run Remix 2
Based on Alloyrun

Mixed by OP:L Bastards

The last word of the remixer was the expletive I was saying after hearing this track. The original bass line is there, and so are some ethnic drums, which attempts to come in with a twist, but then the vocals come in. Imagine someone drunk on the streets selling the Big Issue who’s had about 30 cans of Special Brew attempting to sing and not being able to hold any notes, and you’re close to how the vocalist sounds like. Again like the previous mix of Alloyrun, there isn’t enough to recognise the original tune to hold the attention, not least when a sitar comes in along with the singer’s other vocals that sound just as drunk. Later on the tune does get a little better, with the ethnic drums being augmented by some chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Emerson Lake and Palmer album, but then the vocals come in again and completely ruin it. Possibly the worst C64 remix I have ever heard and one where you’ll press skip on your CD player.

11 - Theme from Arkanoid

Mixed by Mina

Like Lopazz above, the thought of adding a guitar to the tune was a possibility. Only someone unfortunately forgot to tune to the lead guitar beforehand, as it just doesn’t sound right to me. A shame really as the SID comes in nicely about the one minute mark to help augment things, and the bass guitar used throughout at least sounds like a bass should in this instance. Definitely if the lead was improved somewhat this would be a very good remake of Arkanoid. However later on too many guitars also come in and it just sounds as if they were added in as an afterthought. With a little more musical skill on a couple of guitars, this would have been good. As it is, it’s a big disappointment.

12 - Hit The Gas
Based on Turbo Outrun

Mixed by Ovuca

This reminds of me of either Aphex Twin circa his Analogue Bubblebath EP phases, or early Autechre. Certainly there’s a lot of dense electronica going on at the start, which really does sound quite avant-garde. The speech samples from Jeroen’s original are used very very sparingly enough - but there’s not enough to remind you of the original for me - it deviates far too much for my liking. Shame that, as the electronics that are going on in there are at least enough to make it a slightly different piece and have at least been given some thought when the tune was made. But, it simply isn’t a C64 remix for me.

13 - Crazy Congas
Based on Crazy Comets

Mixed by Chazam/Perrey/Arrebatado

The intro comes in with some very Jean Michel-Jarre like electronic noises and seems to give you promise that the track might deliver. The bass line comes in and sounds squelchy and SID like. But the congas don’t seem to go well with the bass (a phat bass drum would have been much better) and the vocal You crazy com-ets just sounds too French and cheesy. Even Daft Punk wouldn’t have gone down that road. It is at least resembling the original throughout, and some of the instruments work, but personally I’d have dropped the congas, ditched the Rolf Harris-esque Stylophone that sometimes comes in, and made it a little bit more electronic. It shows promise, but a bad choice of instruments and vocal spoil what could have been a different idea.

14 - Bublbobl
Based on Bubble Bobble

Mixed by Raumagent Alpha

Now this sounds more like it. A very funky drumbeat comes in along with the bass line from the original Bubble Bobble, supplemented by the occasional synth line to spice things up a bit. Gradually the tune adds a little more each time as it develops onward, although the problem some would have is that the bass and drum hardly changes throughout until some chords come in later and add a bit more. As a dance tune in a club, it works as it’s fairly minimal and doesn’t require too much listener attention. But you can’t help feeling the soul of the original SID has been lost somewhere. It’s still despite its faults not too bad though.

15 - Kings of Metal Rehearsal Tape -
Based on One Man and His Droid

Mixed by Mikron64

This is a very much love or hate remix I reckon. Some will say that the 200 miles an hour electronics and rapid paced drums are terrible and ruin the spirit of the original. Others will say it reminds them of their favourite Industrial Electronic bands being a little off-beat. Imagine the likes of Front Line Assembly’s use of electronics combined with the speed metal drums of say Napalm Death or Obituary doing Rob Hubbard and you have an idea of how the tune sounds like. Musically it features the original tune pretty well and the pace is relentless throughout. If the harsh electronics were toned down just a little and made less and make some of the drums less in your face, and remove the whole speech bit in the middle, and you’re on a winner. As it is, I personally like this track for attempting something different with a quintessentially difficult SID.

Overall Conclusion

On the whole, there are several attempts at trying to remake a SID tune and taking approaches which are different and at least like some dance mixes where only small portions of the original are in fact used. The underlying problem, as is with any compilations, are there are not enough of the good tracks to completely warrant your attention. It’s a shame that some of the good tracks on here are mingled in amongst the attempts, which don’t work, because it means that people might not have the patience to listen to those good tunes.

The underlying problem though for me is that despite the tracks which were licensed for Input64, the remixers often remixed the same tunes for Output 64, resulting in three versions of Crazy Comets, Bubble Bobble and Turbo Outrun, and two versions each of Alloyrun and Arkanoid. This means only seven of the tracks were remixed and even despite the different attempts, could for the C64 fans, result in many people being disappointed at the lack of choice of what was remixed. It would have worked a lot better if there were, say, fifteen different remixes which were of fifteen different original tracks.

Although Output 64 is also on 2 12" singles, an EP rather than a full CD of remixes would have resulted in better quality throughout. Certainly if someone placed the mixes of Steve Claydon, Plundersonics, Jeans Team and Computerjockeys on a 4-track EP that would have been more appreciated by me.

As it is, Output 64 is a lost opportunity and a shame that not enough quality control went into it.

Overall score: 3.5