I had been meaning to interview Tyler, aka b l u e s c r e e n for a few months.
Tyler co-runs Sunset Grid with ΔCID.rar, runs GumShoe and also puts out Death Mix, a continuing series of mixes.
Recently under the b l u e s c r e e n moniker Tyler released Zero and so I asked him about the album, as well as Sunset Grid, GumShoe and Death Mix.
Feature image provided by Tyler.
Ez: Today I’m interviewing a friend of mine, so full disclaimer: This is someone I’ve known for quite a while. Sometimes we speak sporadically; sometimes we speak frequently, but we’ve been friends for a long time.
Do you want me to refer to you by your name?
Tyler: Yeah, I don’t mind. Whatever you’re comfortable with.
Ez: So I’m speaking with Tyler Ellis. Tyler is behind b l u e s c r e e n. He’s also behind Death Mix.
Wait; is the label b l u e s c r e e n? No…
Tyler: b l u e s c r e e n is my pseudonym; my alias, artist name, whatever you want to call it. The label is – I think that you’re referring to – is Sunset Grid.
Ez: Yes. I could not remember because I noticed when you promote stuff there are so many names flying about.
Tyler: Yeah and you’d be forgiven for not knowing them all ’cause there’s a lot out there, so yeah. We’ll just keep it at those two for the immediate.
Ez: So Tyler, you’ve been making music for a really long time.
From having known you for as long as I have, I know that it started with analogue gear and eventually you’ve moved into more electronic stuff as your music has become more beat-based.
How did you go from drumming to hip-hop to vaporwave?
Tyler: I think it just came as a natural progression in terms of my curiosity. You start off listening to one kind of genre of music or style and then you sort of gravitate to other things. I mean, power to musicians and producers that stick with one sound and make that their entire identity for as long as they are creating, but I think for me, I’m more of like a information sponge so I’ve got to absorb that genre or that sound and then once I’ve tried to experiment and gotten as much as I can out of it I then move onto the next one; not in any sort of disposable “Oh, there’s nothing more that they can teach me”, but just naturally wanting to encompass more music I guess.
Drumming came naturally ’cause I taught myself in high school. I was in a band and I liked punk and metal and then started getting into rapping with a friend of mine which was quite a therapeutic, sort of cathartic thing for me. Then, yeah; electronic music I think was just the natural stepping stone from that point onwards.
You’ve got amazing, vast… there’s like genres being made up every single day. From going out dancing to trance or happy hardcore, or whatever it was that I was interested in the time, and then I had a bit of a break I think. It sorted slotted in at the same time as when I moved to Queensland. I had noticed a couple of things online pertaining to the genre [vaporwave]. I didn’t really understand it. So obviously [I did] a bit of digging and next thing I know I’m talking about it with ΔCID.rar. I’m like “we should make a label and we should have just vaporave stuff”.
I’m still discovering artists all the time so it’s an ongoing experience for me, but yeah. I think in a roundabout way that’s kind of the progression I suppose.
I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll be interested in in the next five years, if I’ll still be doing vaporwave or if I’ll do something completely different.
Ez: What is it that you find appealing about vaporwave?
If I were to hazard a guess, it would have a lot to do with its strange subversiveness in how it recontextualises sound and music.
The commonly-held view of vaporwave is that it’s songs made wobbly, and maybe there’s a hint of truth in that but there’s a lot more going on.
Tyler: I can probably think of two points off the top of my head and the first is that it’s incredible the strength that it finds in leaning on nostalgia and whether that’s actual nostalgia a la myself being a child of the eighties and being able to remember the eighties and can remember the eighties, or at least the tail end of it, but most certainly the nineties as well so it’s sort of tapping into those very vague but…
It’s not so much what you remember but the feeling that you had when you remembered it or when you experienced it, so I think nostalgia is a big factor when it comes to vaporwave.
The other would be [that] it’s sort of very anarchistic in that it rejects the convention of music. The sampleism is what I’m trying to say; taking a sound and whether it’s just generically slowing it down, adding effects or whatever as an entry point ’cause that’s essentially what I was doing when I got into it, or whether it’s something a bit more obscure, so it’s not so much just slowing something down; it’s really just taking that sound and cutting it up and messing with it in ways that you wouldn’t normally think to do with a song.
And yeah; rejecting the convention of “it’s gotta be segmented into verses or choruses”. It’s very experimental and I think it’s open ended and it’s a rejection, I think, of copyright, the fast food nature of popular music and what it means to own a sample and how far can you take a sound and mess around with it and not feel like you’re stealing but rather recontextualising it. You’re sort of appropriating it in a respectful manner.
Ez: It’s interesting that you touched on that nostalgia bit because a lot of the sound can be seen as evoking memory in a way, especially with that wooziness, because your memory does change and fade over time, even if it is distinct.
I guess in a way vaporwave does capture that in its sense of wooziness, or kind of sounds that a clear yet muted.
Tyler: I know what you mean. If I can elaborate on what you’re saying, that sound, that wooziness – at least the way I’m interpreting that – is when you look at certain sounds, if it’s being played through an old tape player and the motor’s a little bit rickety so you get that sort of warbly, pitch-bending sound and people trying to re-emulate that digitally; I think that’s half of the fun with making vaporwave is making it sound like it’s old and making it sound like it could very well have come from some obscure tape in the middle of a bargain bin at a market store or something.
Ez: Let’s talk about b l u e s c r e e n.
I know you’ve been doing b l u e s c r e e n for a few years at the very least. Was it always under b l u e s c r e e n, or did you have different names before you settled on that, and what is it about the name that let you stick with that?
Tyler: I think it’s just a nice computer term which everybody knows, and being a depressive, the blue – more of a meaning for myself rather than for people to pick up on was also the blue as in sad as in depression, so it’s kind of… it works well, making music that is slower and somewhat more sombre, and if you’re evoking a sense of nostalgia, especially if it comes down to a memory that you may not have ever had, or a feeling of loneliness in a shopping centre where it’s closing down and only ten percent of the stores are still open and all you can hear is the echo of just your footsteps; overall it’s just that sort of feeling of isolation and loneliness and sadness which is a natural thing to experience.
Answering your question though, the name pretty much came from the start. I don’t think I changed anything about it. The kitsune mask came later. When things got a bit more traction I wanted to add to that alias by doing something like that. Just ’cause I really like… not that I’m hiding my identity, but I think when you’re playing or representing a sound – I hate to use the brand – but as far as branding is concerned, if people see a kitsune mask, or a blue screen of death for example, you want them to associate that with your brand and I think that so far it has worked pretty well, which I like, so… yeah.
Ez: You very recently put out a new album under the b l u e s c r e e n moniker, and I cannot remember the name of it, I’m sorry to say.
Tyler: Zero, I think.
Ez: Zero. Okay. So had it been a few years since your previous one?
Tyler: Yeah. Probably, it would’ve been three years by the end of this year I think.
Ez: What was the process leading up to the making of Zero and then the process going into making it?
Tyler: I think the process was two things.
One is that I realised that it’d been so long since I made anything, or made an album – I should correct myself – because I have been making tracks for compilation albums on Sunset Grid or also other labels that have been hosting open [submissions for compilations] so I’m still sort of active and doing the Death Mixes every couple of weeks.
I never really left the scene, but as far as making an album, it had been some time and firstly it was something that I needed to do to reset that counter to zero so that’s why I called it Zero so I could go “Okay, now it’s been zero days since the album came out”.
Going into it, I think I’d just kind of gotten sick of the samples that were being used. I’d heard so many different interpretations and different usages of the same assortment of samples. A lot of Japanese funk, a lot of commercial eighties synth stuff; definitely nineties R’n’B as well and I’d just started to notice a bit of a pattern where everyone’s kind of doing the same dive; they’re all going to the same sources, which is fine ’cause I think it’s great if you can find a sample that hasn’t been used, but if it has been used it’s like, can you find a way to flip it in a way that’s unique and new and challenging to make it stand out as opposed to “Oh, it’s just another slowed down version of this song”?
I’d come across a really nice little goldmine of stuff that – as far as I can tell so far – hasn’t really been touched on so that kind of served as the motivator to get the album going again and hopefully come in with stuff that sounded a little new as opposed to just the same old things.
I have a very particular sound and it might end up sounding exactly the same as all the other albums I do but for me I can tell that it sounds slightly different and that’s enough for me to want to keep moving forward and hopefully making more albums in the near future rather than another almost three years.
Ez: When it came to piecing the album together, was it a quick process, or did you have to spend a lot of time thinking about it?
Tyler: I think after I’d gone through about half an hours’ worth of… basically I’d find something I like and I’d mess around with it for a little while and put that in a folder. I did that until I got around half an hour’s worth of tracks. Then go over it again, chop it up more, add whatever it is that I’d needed to, whether it’s like a soundbite, or just a little bit of an extra layer of attention.
Ez: So it was not necessarily a fast or slow process. It was just a process that happened.
Tyler: Yeah. There are some albums that take me a really long time to do because my head’s not in it and I don’t want to force it because I can hear that it’s forced. Maybe nobody else can, but for me I have to have a standard that if it’s not passionate, then I don’t want to make it. I don’t want to be a part of it.
This one I think probably took around the usual time. Maybe a little slower because it had been a while and I wanted to get back into that groove. If I had to quantify it I’d say it usually takes around a week or so of just gathering samples, arranging them, messing with them and then curating it into a playlist that seems concise and has a sort of organic flow about it. Re-listening to it and making sure it’s all nice and… not really mastered ’cause I don’t really master my stuff and I think that’s another thing about vaporwave; it doesn’t have to be this crisp, pristine sound. It can be really muddy and you can get rid of the highs and you can make it really sort of like a mid-fi sound rather than super high end ultra produced stuff, because for me that’s not what vaporwave is in the conventional, classic sense.
Ez: You said something about how it sounds like your past stuff. I’m guessing then in the way you phrased it, you haven’t gone back to listen to your past stuff to see if there’s any comparison. You’ve just gone into this and worked in the way you know how to work.
Tyler: Yeah. I didn’t listen to any of my old stuff to give me a jump point or remind me of what I made going in. I just started going in from scratch. I don’t mind listening to my old stuff and I feel that I’ve fallen victim to the thing that I’m talking about which is using the same samples, but not so much in the sample itself but in the way that I manipulate it, so I’m trying to remind myself to be more ballsy and try and shake things up a bit because it is very easy to fall into a formula if it works. If you fail to develop as an artist, then, you don’t grow. You just keep manufacturing.
Ez: So let’s touch a bit on Sunset Grid.
There’s probably both a lot and not much to say about Sunset Grid. I know that at least for a while you had a very frequent release rate. For you, how does that tie into methodology surrounding vaporwave?
Tyler: I think it actually fits in pretty well. There’s a lot of labels that do well and truly more than one release a week which is what Sunset Grid does at the moment. We’ve been doing [that] for a while now. Initially we were releasing things as they were submitted so there was no schedule. Then we got this big flood of submissions so then we were like “we’ll do three releases a week”. But then it felt like it wasn’t giving enough time for each album to be absorbed, and also that’s just us. That’s not even talking about all the other labels that have their own release schedule – if any – and the frequency of their releases is their own.
In terms of comparing it to vaporwave, I think vaporwave is very disposable in that nature, [in that there] is something nice to be said about a song you might hear randomly if you’ve got something on shuffle, or if you’re listening to Nightwave Plaza which is this online radio station, and then, hearing a song you like it and you might never hear it again, but if you’re compelled enough that you wanna suss it out, then you can expand your catalogue and check out that artist further, but I think that having a week release in comparison to all the other labels out there, is pretty on point with the natural pace of people creating and making music. Anything shorter I think is not enough time and anything less would probably be okay, but I think one a week is pretty good for people spending a little bit more time on their computers, especially over the last couple of years.
Ez: Does that fit into a sense of vaporwave as a commentary on consumerism?
Tyler: Absolutely. Yeah yeah. Big time.
I think if you’re not poking fun at consumerism and capitalism as well, that isn’t to say that it isn’t not vaporwave if you’re not making fun of those things, but I think it’s naturally just part of that greater puzzle, whether you’re sampling old commercials or radio broadcasts and such, or old movies, or whatever, but yeah. Definitely.
I’ve always seen it as a pretty obvious statement of consumerism as a whole, because yeah. Music is being made faster than we’re having a chance to listen to it all, so we’re constantly being given this feed and I use that word specifically as all we are [doing] is ingesting it and I don’t even know if we have enough time to process it. Hopefully we do.
But yeah; it’s pretty wild considering how many talented musicians are out there making music and hopefully their music is being heard and registered and appreciated ’cause it’s easy to get lost in the sea of sound.
Ez: There’s always just so much out there and it can sometimes feel like a complete, overwhelming monolithic thing.
Tyler: It can be daunting. [I’ve had to] kind of remind myself that I’ll probably never get to listen to all the music I want to before I die so I try and dedicate as much time as I can without going crazy to listening to that music. That’s one of the reasons why I do Death Mixes; so it gives me a chance to not only discover music and forward my own interests and expand my repertoire of artists that I know, but also playing it for people that otherwise might not be able to hear it or wouldn’t get the opportunity in their own volition.
Ez: So why Death Mix?
Tyler: I think Death Mix is just…
I was on Twitter and I said I was going to put this weekly mix together. What should I call it? And someone suggested calling it Death Mix. I think the reason why they suggested that name is because not long prior I’d bought a packet of spicy snacks. It’s called Death Mix and it’s from Japan and it’s got an assortment of peanuts and rice crackers in it, but it’s really really hot and I was like “what a great name for a snack” and then obviously when I asked what I should call it and they said Death Mix I was like “Huh, there you go. Why not?”
Death doesn’t have to mean death in the literal sense, but death and decay is one of things things… it’s coming for us, it’s happening all around us…
If I called it vaporwave mix or b l u e s c r e e n mix, I just don’t feel like that’s… it’s not edgy enough man. You gotta HAVE THE DEATH IN IT.
But yeah. It was named after the snack. That’s the ancient and mysterious tale of how I came up with the name.
Ez: Could you view Deathmix as b l u e s c r e e n in progress?
Tyler: Yeah. For sure. I can agree with that statement for sure.
If I’m playing something, I’m playing it because I like it and I want that to be shared, and if I like it then that’s gotta say something in regards to the music I would play if I was given the opportunity to DJ live, or more to the point, it might represent a sound I’m striving to achieve in my own way, or something that I would hope to make in the future.
I might throw in one b l u e s c r e e n song in the whole two hours, because I want to give myself a nice little humble plug, but all of the music I hear is definitely… it’s basically saying “I like this”, but yeah. It sort of is a progress of what I’m interested in. If you listen to the earlier ones, there was a lot more slushy stuff back then and now I’m sort of trying to give a bit more time and love to future funk and that will obviously change eventually.
And my previous love for hip-hop so I put a lot of lo-fi and beat-based stuff in as well.
Ez: We’ll touch on just a few more things somewhat-quickly.
GumShoe. What is GumShoe?
Tyler: Well, gumshoe is actually the name of what you’d call a private detective, and in terms of the label…
It’s a pretty silly name when you think about it. You’re like “Oh shit, here comes a gumshoe, don’t answer questions ’cause he’s… got a myste- why is he black and white? Everyone else is in colour; why is this mysterious dude in a trench coat black and white? Why is he smoking? You’re not allowed to smoke in here.
Have you seen this person?!
Ez: You gave a completely correct answer to the question I asked and I reaslised as you were answering “Yeah, I knew I should’ve expected this answer from Tyler”.
Tyler: I mean, I can answer it in the way that you want which is it’s a sub-label of Sunset Grid focusing more on lo-fi stuff, but I thought if I had said that first off the bat you’d have been like “But why the name” so I had to tell you why the name anyway, so whether we do one or the other, either way they’re both gonna be explained.
Ez: Seeing as I didn’t ask that for Sunset Grid, why the name Sunset Grid?
Tyler: I don’t know. (laughter) um…
I was thinking of something that just seemed really generically fitting to the eighties and the vaporwave community. It’s not the most original name. Full disclosure: I’m aware of that.
When I think of the… you know…
In Tron, you’ve got the game grid and the light-cycles are moving along… Initially the sunset bit came out and then I thought about Tron and then I remembered the game grid and then I thought “we’ll just call it Sunset Grid”.
I was very briefly in a DJ duo called the grid and so I think that probably played a minuscule role in solidifying the last part of that name, so that’s pretty much it.
Ez: I’m guessing GumShoe is similar.
Tyler: It is similar, but I didn’t know what gumshoe was. I was looking for inspiration and I was going through a wiki of Nintendo Entertainment System games and I was trying to find something that wasn’t as well-known as the other games and I came across Gumshoe and I just thought “Oh yeah, that’s a cool name”. Then [seached] gumshoe and discovered that [it’s] what they used to call a private detective, so… yeah. That’s the story.
Ez: And you said it’s a sublabel focusing on…
Tyler: More beat-based stuff, so instrumental, downtempo, trip-hop, lo-fi, more percussive stuff, less on the vaporwave.
I found that we were getting submissions that were just a bit too lo-fi for Sunset, so I thought we’ll have a sub-lable that can host that and give it a bit more honed in, specific platform rather than just throwing it in with the vaporwave mix and have it get lost.
Ez: Let’s touch on something not quite music-related:
You’ve been drawing for a while, and you’re still working in visual arts. [From someone] who’s not as familiar with vaporwave as you are, some of your visual art co-opts colour and imagery association to vaporwave. Was that a conscious decision?
Tyler: I think it was. Obviously I do a lot of video editing using old found footage and obscure stuff… maybe not so obscure stuff considering everyone’s doing the exact same thing, but also with still images for the merchandise I’ve done. It’s just basic .PNG, laying stuff over and running it through some sort of distorted filter and messing around with it.
I would like to rebrand and take a lot of those designs off and start again. I haven’t drawn anything by hand for quite some time and I would like to get back into it and incorporate the things that I’ve learned and discovered through vaporwave and just music and design in general moving forward.
I’m not 100% happy with it at the moment, but I thought at the time it felt…
You’ve got to have merch, you’ve got to have stickers. You’ve got to have things that people like to hold onto in the physical aspect. It makes sense and it’s cool when people post up a picture of them with a Sunset Grid T-shirt and show me because the designs can’t be that bad as people are literally willing to buy a shirt and represent that design and that brand, so that’s always nice to see.
Ez: But you also do art for yourself.
Tyler: Yeah. I haven’t done it in a long time because I’ve been so engrossed with vaporwave and the music side of things, but I’d like to get back into painting and I want to get a tablet and be more active in illustrating and doing it for my personal sake, but yeah. I just haven’t quite found my spot yet, but we’ll see.
Ez: Alrighty. Well, let’s call it a wrap there. Tyler, thank you for your time as always.
Tyler: Pleasure. Cheers mate.