Blast from the past

My friend Rob has dug up some old cassettes, yes, tapes, from the mid-1990s when we all made electronic music using a variety of now arcane-seeming tools. My weapon of choice was “FastTracker II”, a software sequencer used primarily by amateur techno and hardcore producers at the time. It only required a PC running MS-DOS and a reasonable sound card. They were quite simple to use, but required some manual tricks and hacks to push their boundaries and sound effects. It seemed like an eternity before digital audio workstations became available to everyone. (Here is a great summary of the technology and the now-distant culture surrounding it.)

Basically, those were the pre-internet days, so we (our “crew”, did we have a name?) distributed our prolific output via bulletin board systems (BBS) that you dialed into directly with your 56k modem, or faster ISDN lines if you were lucky. I remember my parents losing it over inflated phone bills; or nighttime calls to far-flung BBSs so as to avoid daytime charges…

Listening to this tape now, more than 25 years later, instantly connects me to long nights spent under headphones, and an amazing subculture whose members also met up physically from time to time (these people here were our idols).

Of the lot that Rob shared with me, the untitled track below has probably aged the best. I like the harmonies, build-up and the raw quality of the samples I used. It has a distinct 90s ambient sound to it. The fact that the MP3 comes via an old MC makes it sound nicely warm.

I wish I could make music like this today.

There is a window in one’s life when creativity and outlay coincide in some cosmic ways. While later playing the drums in bands and continuing to make electronic music with Cubase and Logic, there is a certain rawness to the early Tracker music that seems to me now almost more authentic and deeper.

Perhaps because this type of software was in a way so limited but also limitless. (And perhaps because I was a teenager!)

Thanks for stumbling over the tape, Rob, that’s the best present I have received in a long time.

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