Jam On It
by Kevin J. Elliott

Editor’s note: As we’ve done in the past, for the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we call “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!

To the untrained ear, the music of Games might seem like it was made on a lark by pretentious pranksters simply slowing down Teddy Riley samples to a DJ Screw-esque crawl and passing it off as their own original creation. In the past year, the Brooklyn duo of Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin has been ubiquitous in the realm of hypnogagia, lending their name to countless remixes and obscuro mixtapes that have defined the amorphous genre—so much so that it’s already apparent their influence has oozed over onto a legion of lesser-knowns who really are just phoning it in. But talking with Ford, it becomes obvious that the current evolution of Games is more than just excavating rare sides by Roger Troutman and Cube. Games has grown into something that sounds more akin to like-minded time-travelers reporting back on their search for the apex of electronic pop in the portals of tomorrow.

As Oneohtrix Point Never, Lopatin has already peered through the interstices of modern composition and into a future of synth-heavy soundscapes, totally capable of hypnosis and enlightenment. By comparison, Games is the glittered, mainstream cousin to Lopatin’s more nuanced and quiet alter-ego. The duo’s 2010 debut EP, That We Can Play, arrived as one of the most exciting and intriguing progressions in electronic music in some time. Much of their cratedigging re-contextualization still resides on the record—one notable instance being the sublime echoes of “Shadows in Bloom,” which rips a long forgotten Secret Service sample—but the majority of the record finds them exploring a new universe of dancefloor-ready beats and mind-altering psychedelic strategies. A song like “Strawberry Skies,” on which their aided by the siren coo of Laurel Halo, is eerily reminiscent of a time when Trevor Horn was steering production standards towards a pristine ultimate. Yet it’s that platinum pop turned inside-out, reverberating in a landscape of hyper-romanticism and intense synesthesia. “Party Planet” is the glare of FM radio in the mid-80s, the bump of the rollerrink, urban street-funk, and the chip-art of Atari consoles—only magnified for those who might only remember such things in brief ephemeral flashes. Those entranced by the grooves on That We Can Play can expect more of the same on the duo’s forthcoming full-length. I had the opportunity to speak with Ford while he was taking a break from a long day of recording at Jan Hammer’s studio, where the duo has been holed up for weeks.

You’ve been friends with Daniel since 1994. Were the two of you making music back then? In the beginning, was what you were making similar to what you’re doing in Games or was it closer to rock?

Joel Ford: I’ve known Dan since sixth grade. Our early attempts at making music together were at times similar to the music Games is doing, though it was a kindergarten version. Actually, in our first attempt at a band, Dan wanted to play bass, but we didn’t let him. Those days it was just about learning power chords and it was mostly guitar-based.

What attracted you to synths and R&B, as opposed to starting a typical rock band?

JF: That didn’t come till later, when we were in high school. We used to jam in Dan’s basement. Dan played a Juno-60, which he still uses, and I borrowed an Ensoniq FC-1 from our school. I was playing the drum pads on that and he was playing chords on the Juno. We would record little tapes of us jamming. That was our first attempt at hip-hop and pop music. It seemed like a natural thing for us.

So how much of Games is sample-based?

JF: All of it is sample-based, but it’s us making the samples 90% of the time. Everything is all cut-up electronic music. What’s cool is when we do rip a sample we find, you might know what it is and that’s fine, but we try to jam sonically inside of the sample and make it something new.

How do you compose then? How do the two of you decide where to meld samples into songs?

JF: We are doing a full-length now and it’s a different setting for us in the studio. But we are using the same process in the sense that we are creating loops and combining dozens of keyboards and drum machines to put together a jamscape that we will eventually cut up and make a patchwork of ourselves. As far as crafting a sound, that’s the same. Being in a legit studio, though, we are able to get the sounds we want and to make it a bigger, more dynamic sounding record.

I love the mixtapes. It’s great to hear a late-era Roger Troutman single getting recognition this way. Where do you find most of the source material?

JF: A lot of the stuff comes from us just being fans of that music over the years. Last winter, when we started gearing up to make the first Games record, we started making mixtapes for fun and to get the word out, to put out a vibe. But people had such a reaction to them that after we were done being absorbed in recording, we went back and made a few more.

Obviously, the internet makes it so much easier these days to search and find. Are you guys opposed to finding stuff that way? Are you strictly vinyl or are there other avenues you take?

JF: No, not at all. That’s 100% how it is done. We completely dredge the internet. We also find a lot of stuff on YouTube, like that Cube song was totally found after following a few links from something more obvious.

There’s a whole camp of artists now who are tapping into a very specific sound from ’90s R&B and New Jack Swing, so do you have any theory as to why that era has emerged as such an influential template?

JF: I think that electronic music is becoming more of a staple in popular music. One of the reasons is because labels don’t have the money to put people in the studio for a long time. And now making music in your bedroom has become so easy. All you need is a laptop and some simple software and you can begin making music. You buy a mic for $30 and you’re on your way. People are curious about electronic music now, so they go back to that time and listen to those hits and realize “Holy shit, that stuff’s amazing! I want to make that,” and they do it. Going back to the internet, with that tool, electronic music is more accessible than it’s ever been.

You are currently recording. Is Games constantly evolving? What can we expect?

JF: As I said, everything has been stepped up. It’s a full-length record made in a real studio with skilled audio engineers who can put the building blocks together to make it sonically how we envision it. It’s not going to be a bedroom record. There will be some psychedelic, fucked-up moments like any bedroom electronic record, but it will be much more dynamic and diverse. We’re going to have a lot of special guests: friends, singers, instrumentalists. It’s going to be big.