Unbeknownst to each other Marcus Fairley and Ant Struselis went to the same school but their paths never crossed. Luckily for our ears and musical pleasure, they met later on in life and formed the MidiMidis - a duo who compose their music using Midi and 8 bit sounds. We caught up with them before their gig at The Secret Garden Party to chat about artwork, unreliable equipment and to find out how they produce their unique sound.
If you think of midi and 8 bit sounds, the first things that spring to mind (after retro computer games and thoughts of your childhood!) are two a penny frantic dance acts. Then you have the other end of the scale - the MidiMidis. They have taken that sound and made it their own by adding New York style indie-punk guitar, Strokes-esque vocals and heartrending lyrics to create the sort of melodic sound that you wouldn't normally associate with this genre. And their formula seems to work, they have received backing from the likes of Huw Stevens and Tom Robinson and have recently helped launch the new BBC Introducing night in their hometown of Reading. This exposure has also won them a couple of high profile fans in the form of Eddy Temple-Morris and Tom Bellamy who Marcus says have been '.key in the whole thing, sort of like the big brothers'. So much so that there has already been talk about Losers producing The MidiMidis' debut album.
But the musical direction they've taken is an unusual one and apparently started when Ant was studying Music Production at college. He had written songs in 8 bit with the aim of writing music for a band. Then, bored one night, he sent them to Marcus over MSN. The response he got was not one he was expecting 'Basically, he said, I really like these, but what we should do is keep all the 8 bit sounds like a computer game' explained Ant. 'Its such a ridiculous weird, contrived sound' agreed Marcus - and so the band was born. Although their songs are essentially written to sound like retro computer games, they really work as individual tracks and Marcus is convinced it's all in the melody. 'All the best tunes are some of the themes from Mario and things, they always stick in your head because they're so melodic.it's all about melody for me and texture and we like noise as well, so lots of weird, strange sounds'. But the MidiMidis are well aware of the clichÃ© surrounding other 8 bit bands and have worked hard to develop their own sound. Marcus is confident that they have achieved that 'I mean it sounds quite odd I suppose, it stands out. We don't want to use it as a gimmick per se because there is an 8 bit community that started in New York, but its all dance music and we kind of just wanna take it a little bit further'.
Although the 8 bit bleeps form the basis for their music, Ant is also clearly a talented guitarist who takes his inspiration from the likes of John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jonny Greenwood ( Radiohead) and, much to Marcus' amusement, Slash! His guitar adds a dimension to the music that sets them apart from anyone else. Marcus' vocals too have a distinctive ululating sound which is a contemporary combination of the influences he cites; with echoes of David Sylvian (Japan) and certainly a nod to the Strokes' Julian Casablancas - but without impersonating either, they always have a strong identity to their sound.
The thing that first attracted Contactmusic.com to the band (apart from their impressive live show!) was that the music is innovative and fresh, very different from the majority of artists you hear today. Part of that may come from unusual way the lyrics are added to their tunes. 'Basically all the lyrics come from, in a way, when we start practicing freestyle, basically like MCs. So all the songs genuinely have 3 or 4 lyrical versions and then when we record, I have to pick which one I want, so I mix and match' says Marcus 'It's just conversational, so it's like having a conversation with a really depressed person in a pub!' Indeed the lyrics are often very personal, reflecting the highs and lows of life's events but Marcus hopes that this means people will be able to relate to them. The band spends a great deal of time focussing on each facet of their sound to build the finished article.
That sort of attention to detail doesn't stop at the music. In an era where vinyl is a rarity, it seems musicians are becoming more and more blasÃ© about artwork - not this lot! Marcus' love of modern and pop art shows in the artwork he has produced for their releases. The striking pink cover of their Note-To-Self EP was inspired by a relationship break-up. 'Like most failed relationships, all the words and things exchanged between those two lovers become forgotten and meaningless. I wanted the art to be understated and appear innocent, so we only use two colours and just an everyday boring object - the post-it note - which contains no writing, no message, no memories, nothing, just two colours and the music.' 'I specifically wanted a bright pink post-it note with a burn hole through it. It's a bit of an updated, mildly post-modern homage to Andy Warhol's famous phallic banana image. Only with note-to-self, rather than it being the male organ depicted innocently, our note represents the feminine parts instead.' The cover of their current EP, Mayuko also reflects both the music and the band. One striking thing you notice is that unlike the MidiMidis' releases don't bear the band name or the name of the record. 'I think the image alone should be as is, a much more personal thing to the viewer and myself' explains Marcus.
The emotion from the music is harnessed in a different way for their live shows. They have gained a reputation in their home town for being an explosion of energy and chaos and now they are unleashing them on the rest of the country - we can't wait! But surely the equipment they use won't survive this sort of abuse? 'Yeah there's quite a large danger that a lot of machine would be broken if we take them everywhere!' agrees Ant. 'It's really unreliable! We've got an Amstrad CDC464 today, so we're going to be playing that live, they're so delicate these machines.But a lot if it is all on the PSP at the moment in various files and we kind of sequence it all together. But the intention would be if we were touring is that we would have a lot of the machines there live, so it is quite cool!' enthuses Marcus.
So apart from live shows and a tour in the near future, what's the next step in the MidiMidis' path of world domination?! They continue to work closely with Eddy Temple-Morris and Tom Bellamy; 'We've done some collaborative stuff together and it has been like a big snowball!' says Marcus, 'It's a good thing, to keep the momentum and it keeps us on our toes 'cause we have to keep writing. We've got loads of demos, about 80 midi 8 bit demos and its just a case of filtering through, so were recording loads at the moment'. Their EP Mayuko is out now and the upcoming single Ambulance CafÃ© (with a Losers Vs MidiMidis remix) will be released in digital media in October. The boys have also recently recorded a MidiMidis version of a famous cover for the Losers' album, although they won't divulge which song - we'll just have to wait to hear it, exciting times ahead!
As they finished their drinks and headed to the stage, Contactmusic.com had one parting question: How would they describe their unique sound in one sentence? 'If you can imagine a cross between The Human League, Nirvana and Super Mario, then this is it!' says Ant. Whilst Marcus goes for 'Its like tears in the rain' before collapsing in hysterics.and that's why we love these guys!
Mayuko is limited to 250 hand made copies and is available on self release through their website
EML Ritual (Making Of the Live Visuals)
I'll Sere You There (Making Of the Live Visuals)