Low-Gain Interview, Part 3: The Dark Side of the Chipmusic Scene

Be sure to read the previous segment of the Low-Gain interview, which you can find here.

8-bit Collective (8bc.org) was hugely influential in connecting the chipmusic scene in way that would otherwise have been very difficult due to how scattered its audience was. Under Logan Erickson’s guidance, the site continued to thrive and grow, but it wasn’t without its controversy. The larger any community grows, the more work is involved in keeping it organized. 8-bit Collective’s community had become pretty massive by this point, and it was becoming harder and harder to manage.

This was only exacerbated by the noncommittal attitude of site owner Jose Torres, who had also started to dabble in some things that a lot of people in the community weren’t exactly comfortable with.

Around this time Jose had started developing this BleepBloop [USB Game Boy cartridge], and I was already doing a lot of my electronics projects and stuff that I was offering for sale. And I started up my company [in] 2007 [or] 2006.

I was the first and only official distributer of Little Sound DJ [LSDJ for short, perhaps the most widely used chiptune software for Game Boy] as hardware carts. I was the only person selling them in the United States. You couldn’t find it [anywhere else]. LSDJ carts, if you were to find them on eBay, were selling for like $300. Not even kidding. [Those were] outrageous prices.

I was like, ‘This is ridiculous. Why would anybody pay that much for this? It’s just a little cart.’

So I sourced the carts, I found where people were getting them. I contacted Johan [Kotlinski, creator of LSDJ] and I was like, ‘Is this cool? As long as people purchase the license from you and provide me with their code that [is] basically like a proof of purchase, I will sell them a cart with it pre-programmed on it.’

Kotlinski agreed to allow Logan to distribute his software, and Logan began selling the cartridges in the United States. With LSDJ finally available at a reasonable price, the growth of the scene began to accelerate. Of course, with sellable merchandise tied to this scene, people began to realize the moneymaking potential of it, and it quickly became a business for some of them.

The scene was growing because you could finally get these carts. Basically, you’ve got somebody supplying carts, and we have an online community that’s like, ‘You need to join this. If you’re into this, you should join this website, start making music, start uploading your stuff, talk to other people, find out who else is out there.’ And it was like, everything’s good. Everything’s growing. Everything’s super positive. It just kept growing and growing.

I made a good amount of money doing it. I was pushing [LSDJ cartridges] because I wanted to make more money, but at the same time I wanted more people to be able to get this easier. And they weren’t being charged an outrageous amount of money. I mean, if you look at what some software costs these days.

That was pretty much my job, and more people started figuring that out. I actually was selling to people who were reselling what I was selling to them. And then, of course, they turned around and found out the source, and that was when Kitsch-Bent and Nonfinite started selling carts and stuff.

Low-Gain AKA Logan Erickson

Even though there were some new faces in the scene making money off of Logan’s idea, he didn’t view these people as competitors. In fact, Kitsch-Bent’s Matthew Edwards and Logan remain on good terms to this day. Even in our conversation, Logan told me:

Matthew. He’s an awesome guy. Really awesome guy.

But that’s not to say everyone involved was willing to play nice. 8bc’s own Jose Torres got wrapped up in some underhanded dealings.

A couple years go by, and Jose started doing these carts similar to the ones that I was selling, but it was his own version. He was really trying to push the USB concept.

The “USB concept” that Logan refers to is Game Boy cartridges that are custom-made with USB ports on them, streamlining the data transfer process and giving Game Boy musicians an easy method of backing up their music and transferring it between different cartridges. The only problem with this was that it wasn’t Jose’s idea.

I don’t remember their names, but it was a couple guys in like Germany or Belgium [that came up with the USB concept].

It turns out, in fact, that these two men were actually Polish, according to several sources, including the chip scene blog ChipFlip. In fact, ChipFlip has a post titled “The 8bc Scandal: Hex, Shrugs, and BleepBloop” that verifies a lot of the things Logan told me about Torres’ USB cartridge woes.

There was a lot of drama going on. Jose designed that board, but where did he get that initial code for the first round of his version of the cart? I don’t have any proof that he took the code from them, but, I mean, it was pretty obvious that he had.

When he got accused of that, he basically came up with a new version. So he pushed to keep coming up with a new version that would push it further than what these guys had, so that it was legitimate.

With cartridge sales and controversy stealing Torres’ time, Logan began to notice his involvement in 8-Bit Collective declining.

Low-Gain AKA Logan Erickson

[Jose] got fixated on [the fact that] this was his business. 8-bit Collective kind of got put on the side for him. He had enough people, like Stefen and myself, running it, as well as all the other moderators and admins and whatnot, that he was able to focus on doing this business of his. He got fixated on making money, and he was just never around.

Obviously, this was very frustrating for the 8-bit Collective community, and the relationship between Logan and Torres deteriorated until Logan was ultimately banned from the site he had worked so hard to build.

How did Logan take this? Find out in the next segment, as our Low-Gain interview series looks at the infamous 8-bit Collective ban.

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