Lightfrequency: Skyline Splitter

a2318103040_10Skyline Splitter is the debut album of Lightfrequency, the first solo effort by producer Mike Beaton into the realm of synthwave following his duo project of Big Lich with Patrick Stein. While Big Lich tends to rely less on the sounds of the synth and more on chiptune styled metal, thus creating a more heavy and aggressive tone, Lightfrequency is more or less as it’s name suggests: a lighter frequency of sound.

This is clearly evident from the start with the opening track, “Firebird,” which floats softly into your ears while conjuring up images of the titular sportscar driving along the coast. “Pink Shades” not only brings with it the sounds of the ocean just off that coast, but also a very chiptuned quality to it that almost plays like if Big Lich were to do a love ballad. There is also a particular soundcue in the middle of the track that I can’t quite place, other than to suggest that it sounds like the flippers on a pinball table. Either way, it works!

“Voltage Control” certainly cranks that light frequency up to eleven, delivering a banger that’ll get your adrenaline pumping and your body moving as it crosses itself over into the OutRun genre; I can personally attest to this after a listen while driving at night. “Check It Nice” brings the levels back down a bit, into a more mellow and sublime affair like “Firebird,” but still has that chillwave like quality to the sound as those chiptunes make a subtle return as well.

“Solo Run” is very akin to “Voltage Control,” by bringing the energy levels back up again, while “Skyline” brings those waves back from “Pink Shades” and closes out the album on another quite similar dreamlike note. All in all, while only six songs long, Skyline Splitter is an amazing showcase of Mike Beaton’s range of talents. Under Lightfrequency he is certainly more than capable of not only producing those fast paced songs, but also those of the slower variety, and with Big Lich he has also proved that he knows how to get real heavy too.

 

To further delve into his creative process, we conducted an interview with him:

Watermelon Banzai: Who is the man behind Lightfrequency? What is your musical background?

Mike Beaton: My name is Mike Beaton and I’ve been a music lover of all genres and musician for over 25 years. I was heavily exposed to music as a kid – my dad was way into hi fi audio and rock and roll. I started playing guitar at 13 and spent my adolescence and early adulthood in angsty basement punk bands in my hometown in the 90’s. I had a decent amount of local success writing and recording, performing and even touring with my bands, getting free drinks from record label scouts and all that, but eventually lost interest and focused my energies on home recording.

As I got older I found it difficult to tolerate crappy food service and retail jobs, so I decided to embrace the idea of a commitment to full-timing music as an actual career. I went to the university to study classical/orchestral composition, forcing myself into a life of indentured servitude with student loans. Maybe it was a bad idea, or maybe it was some kind of Freudian blood-oath that I made with music. It’s my only choice now, no regrets. I learned everything I could, graduated with high honors, and more importantly, I learned how to learn more on my own while staying confident and critical.

My current situation is focused on scoring video games, but I’m always making
music by myself for myself as well as various projects with friends. I’m releasing my first solo EP “Skyline Splitter” on Thursday, August 17. Upon recently discovering the synthwave genre, I wanted to spend some time in a world like that, so just made up my own version and jumped in it. Skyline Splitter is basically my knee-jerk reaction to synthwave.

Watermelon Banzai: How did you come to be involved in the synthwave genre? Were you influenced by anyone? Is there anyone that you’d like to work with or recommend people check out?

Mike Beaton: I’m a bit of an outsider to every genre, so I just consider myself a fan. But my synthwave story begins with Big Lich. We were making this video game metal, chip-type, WTF stuff and were trying to figure out what genre to label it. I found Hexenkraft online and I was immediately stoked – not that we sounded like him at all, but he was like a beacon of synthy darkness that I knew would lead us to the promised land.

I found my way from there, checking out various record labels like Timeslave and Retrosynth, and inevitably then, I stumbled across Echosynthetic, Vehlinggo, and you. You guys are my primary sources of info and I can barely keep up! Since then I’ve just been listening to tons of your great suggestions and exploring on my own. It’s all been very inspiring, and the community, at least what I’ve seen of it, is amazing.

I made this set of tracks as a “tip of the hat” to this scene. Stylistically, I’d probably consider Skyline Splitter to be slightly tangental to proper synthwave but it is definitely inspired by the same instrumental essence. Sometimes naivety and creativity have a nice synergy, so I figured I’d write this music while I’m still forming an idea of what I think synthwave even is!

As much as I would love to recommend a ton of synthwave artists, I know I’d be
preaching to the choir. I love crossover/collaboration too, so that’s definitely something I’m open to. For specific recommendations of my favorites, I’d say to check BigLich_music on Twitter for “Follow Fridays.” My personal favorite right now is UKOH’s LP – Encounter. “Love you” is super catchy. Definitely into what I’ve heard from the new Ethereal Delusions “Ascension.”

On the darker side of things, I’ve been digging FacexHugger, DREDDD, Skeleton Beach, and Gregorio Franco among many others. If I had to recommend something from my old favorites that I think synthwave fans would dig, I’d have people check out Severed Heads “Dead Eyes Opened” (1984). I got that cassette for 10 cents at a record store 20 years ago on a whim because I liked the name and it was cheap… I was blown away and I’m still a fan to this day. Definitely worth a listen for any retro or synth lovers.

Watermelon Banzai: This is a solo project for you, and is a bit of a departure from your more heavier work with Big Lich, so how do you feel the two differentiate other than the sound? What are the big differences, for you, between a duo project and solo?

Mike Beaton: At this point, I’m very comfortable in either a solo or team role. All of my early experience was collaborative. I like what extra brains can do, especially if they all have a completely different perspective. It’s more fun and exciting, but of course, can be frustrating at times. Primarily, I work alone. Although, one night a week, the coffins rattle and there is a stirring in the catacombs. That is when I get to collaborate with my good friend, Patrick Stein, from my old sceney days back in Indiana.

We call ourselves by a band name: Big Lich – a side project we’ve been using as an outlet for our punk/metal instincts – kept within the confines of our basement DAWs. It has been a hilariously good time. It’s mostly for fun, but we have goals too: like eventually recruiting Phil Collins to play drums for us live (or at least a hologram or a jumbotron video of him). Can you imagine how rad that would be? I can’t even. I usually host our sessions in my basement studio.

I refuse to open any of the files unless we’re both there in person, ready to work. It’s like a freshness seal for the music. Our schedules allow only one night a week, so we make it count. No time for overthinking, just turn everything to 11 and go into full primal writing/recording frenzy. Then we close the file and try to forget about it till next week, when we open it and are like… WTF? As you might expect, solo work isn’t as much fun, but it is very rewarding on a pure expression level and is great for experimentation. It’s invigorating to have total control, and actually know what to do with it… get all Super Saiyan on it.

Watermelon Banzai: What kind of equipment do you use?

Mike Beaton: I don’t have a lot of gear of my own. Most of my work is done in midi, on software and synth emulators in Logic, but I have access to some pretty good hardware from friends when I need it. As for actual hardware I own personally? I’ve had an old Roland Juno 60 since forever, which I used for the vast majority of the sound in Skyline Splitter… like 90% of it is that one damn synth!

A limited palette can seem like a problem, but I found it easier to keep the momentum going when I was in the zone writing/tracking, rather than going down the rabbit holes of software presets – which can be a massive buzzkill. Plus it allowed me to heavily diversify the tracks in tempo and form, while hopefully still retaining a cohesive sound, just by limiting the timbre set to primarily this instrument.

We use it in Big Lich too… It’s always been kind of a go-to for me. For that luscious, spidery Big Lich guitar tone, I run a mexi Telecaster D.I.’d straight into my RME Fireface. I just use Logic’s crappy built-in amp simulators to shred the depths of the heavens… We don’t have time to worry about trying to win a grammy, we just crank it out. Stein handles the most of the drums and practically all of the engineering and mixing. I think he uses Reaper, which sounds way heavier of a name than Logic, so it’s worth it for the placebo coolness to run our final mixes through his rig.

Watermelon Banzai: A lot of acts in the synthwave scene are starting to make a transition into doing live performances, could we ever see either Lightfrequency or Big Lich on stage someday and, if so, when and where?

Mike Beaton: No plans for live shows unfortunately. I’m a family man with 2 young kids – I don’t get out much. At least for Lightfrequency, I’m pretty much a studio guy for the foreseeable future. I still love going to shows, especially to visit with old friends as they pass through on tour. I do happen to be quite comfortable on a stage, so don’t be surprised if Big Lich shows up somewhere around here eventually. If it does happen… it’s gonna be ridiculous is all I can say. We’ve had a few really badass ideas for it, but it’s gonna take a while to get it together and we’re not in any hurry to force anything.

Watermelon Banzai: What goes on your pizza and inside your burrito?

Mike Beaton: My friends all get huge chunks of mushrooms and squash and all kinds of esoteric garbage on their pizza – or like a huge redwood forest in their burrito. I like some veggies and stuff, but I’m pretty unadventurous with staples like pizza and burritos.

Watermelon Banzai: I’ve seen it mentioned that you’re working on the music for a number of video games. Can you tell me about them and the process that goes into making music for said games?

Mike Beaton: Ok, so I’ve always been a gamer. Like, before it was “nerd cool.” After I got my degree, and had been teaching lessons and taking random commissions for chamber music and arrangements, I followed the lead of a friend in the game industry. I got lucky and landed a few really cool games last year. I was nervous to try it but always thought it would be an amazing career for me. I loved the process and decided to pursue it heavily. Now, a year later, I’m putting the finishing touches on the scores to 2 really sweet indie games, both of which were greenlit on Steam and are due out (at least in early access) before the end of the year.

I’ve only ever written instrumental music, so the process for me is similar, but with even less formal restrictions. It’s mostly a matter of dynamics and tension within a specific format. Every musical choice is already directed by the feel of the game. It actually makes composing music easier for me. The art and storyline for both of these games offered plenty of inspiration. In both cases, I could have continued to write well beyond the scope of what they hired me for. So I feel lucky, and definitely excited to finally play the full, official versions.

The Thin Silence is a narrative-based puzzle-platformer with a really nice minimalist pixel art style. The soundtrack is very light and minimal, mostly piano and cello, but does feature a few synthy moments.

https://twopm.studio/the-thin-silence

Nowhere Prophet is a roguelike deck-building game set in a sci fi post-apocalypse. The soundtrack is a kind of cyber-electro, mixed with traditional Indian instrumentation.

http://noprophet.com/

Watermelon Banzai: What is your favorite video game of all time and why? Furthermore, what is your favorite video game soundtrack as well?

Mike Beaton: That’s a tough one for me, as I love all types of games. I’m tempted to make a list… I would honestly have to say Final Fantasy VI, but I also really loved the original, V, VII, and XI. All great in their own ways. Nobuo Uematsu is my soundtrack hero. I listen to a lot of game music from other composers like Chris Christodoulou, Disasterpeace, Austin Wintory, Curtis Schweitzer, Harry Mack, to name a few.

Watermelon Banzai: What does the future hold for not only yourself but Lightfrequency as well as Big Lich?

Mike Beaton: The hope is to get comfortable in the gaming industry, pick up some new skills and keep learning and searching for new music. I’m sure I’ll start another project soon, but I have no idea if it would be along the same lines as Skyline Splitter. It just depends what comes out. Hopefully, this EP will find a place in the hearts of its listeners, and ideally it will leave traces of inspiration for the synthfam, as their music has done for me.

Lightfrequency is not going away though. I’ll be sure to keep people updated about any games I’m working on and any other future releases. And you will definitely be hearing more Big Lich soon. We are nearly finished with our new 6 song EP, so watch out for that Dark Matter! Also check out my music video for Pink Shades:

Mike Beaton can be found as Lightfrequency on Twitter, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp where you can pick up a limited edition cassette of Skyline Splitter. He is also one half of Big Lich (Twitter | Bandcamp) along with Patrick Stein (Twitter | Soundcloud).