Low-Gain Interview, Part 1: A Conversation with an 8-bit Legend

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I pulled up to Logan Erickson’s home in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. I mean, I knew the man was something of a legend in the chiptune scene, but this is a music scene that’s remained fairly subversive and has stayed below most people’s radars, meaning its history isn’t a very well-documented one.

I was hoping to change that.

Now, before I get too ahead of myself here, let me explain what chiptune music is for those who don’t already know. It’s a form of electronic music that’s basically programmed on retro videogame machines. (If you want to look at the earliest roots of the genre, you’ll find instances of what eventually became known as chiptune music being programmed on home computers in the late 1970s.) There was a Commodore 64 scene at one point in time, but the Nintendo Game Boy has since become the instrument of choice, most likely due to its portability.

Yes, you read that right. People actually make music on Game Boys. And a lot of it is fantastic.

So I walked up to the house of Logan Erickson, a man who’d been making chiptune music under the name Low-Gain for several years, and I was invited inside for an interview. Over the course of the next hour and a half, we discussed the state of the chiptune scene in the Minneapolis area, the rise and fall of chiptune website 8-bit Collective, and even the legitimacy or non-legitimacy of chipmusic as a sustainable genre.

Low-Gain AKA Logan Erickson

But first, let’s look at Logan’s personal history with chiptuning.

I got into the 8-bit thing probably in 2000, 2001. I’d been performing [under the moniker] Lameboy, and I just continued using that name. Little did I know, [someone would eventually come] out with an emulator called Lameboy.

But it’s understandably hard to stay passionate about a type of music when there’s no one around to support it.

And then I fell out of it. I mean, I was up in Duluth. I was not aware that there was anything going on in the 8-bit scene. I didn’t even know there was a scene. If it was, it was pretty scattered. We were all on [music websites] like mp3.com at the time.

I was a DJ at the time, so I was more into four-on-the-floor stuff, a lot of minimal house or techno or whatever you want to call it. So that’s all I was really doing, with Nanoloop [chiptune software]. But I fell out of it for a few years, and I came back probably 2005/2006. I started posting some stuff on my MySpace page.

Perhaps this renewed interest was partly due to having moved to the Minneapolis area by this time, where he met one of chipmusic’s most prominent stars, Stefen Keen.

He’s another local artist around here. He’s like my best friend. I’d call him a brother if I could. [His stage name is] Unicorn Dream Attack. Voted number one worst band name in The Onion one year.

Oddly enough, he found me on, I think it was MySpace, and he hit me up and he was like, ‘Dude! You make this kind of music too? I’m in Chanhassen! We should get together!’ And we got together, and we clicked as friends. It was cool; there was someone else in the area doing this.

And we pushed hard. We tried doing all sorts of stuff, trying to do shows around town.

Being unfamiliar with the Minneapolis chip scene of the mid-2000s, I asked which types of venues would even host chiptune shows back then.

It’s like any electronic group. We tried to get a show anywhere. It’s really a matter of whether or not they wanted to listen to it. And Kitty Cat Klub, we had some connections there. But, I mean, anybody can get a show at places like Big V’s, or, what’s that place on Central? Terminal Bar? Yeah. What a craphole.

But yeah, you could just play anywhere. We had connections down at the Garage, which is like a kids’ community center down in Burnsville.

This was starting to sound familiar. I was performing in a band at about this time myself, and I had done shows at the Garage several times. Logan and I shared some personal anecdotes about the place before moving on.

Low-Gain AKA Logan Erickson

We [also] did 8-bit parties that I organized. We did two or three of those. We had 100 people at one of them. The first one was a house show. The second one we did at the Garage. The third one we did at Sugar Records. But the first one was by far the most fun, because it was a house party, and we had like 100 people in that house.

The thing about the chip scene, though, especially in the mid-2000s, is that it revolved more around the Internet than around any physical venue. Much of Logan’s personal push was to get music online and hope a chip scene could form around it. Besides the obvious places like mp3.com and MySpace, Logan tried some other sites with a narrower focus on chipmusic.

We’d try to get stuff up on micromusic.org. If there was an online community [at the time], that was the first really well-organized one. The problem is, if you were to upload a track, there’s no guarantee that it would actually make it onto the website, because they went through and actually filtered [all the songs]. I don’t know who determined what would go on the website, but they’d only put on like eighteen songs every couple of months, or every month or something like that. So they were very selective. We were really frustrated, because we wanted to have our music available places.

And the website really drove me nuts. The coloring scheme looked like a Commodore 64, so you’ve got that dark blue with light blue text. I had enough of that.

But then Logan stumbled upon 8-bit Collective, which would not only be hugely instrumental in connecting chiptune musicians from around the world, but would also play a major role in his own life.

You can read about that in the next installment in our interview series with Low-Gain. Read that here.

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