16 BIT SESSIONS #8: Devin Townsend – Kingdom

16 BIT SESSIONS is where James tries to figure out all this Mega Drive music business by covering songs and trying out different sounds. This time, it’s a cover of Kingdom by the ludicrously diverse and brilliant Devin Townsend.

Promo up top: our show at The Horseshoe Tavern is coming up – it’s no cover and Kai Salminen designed this incredible poster for it!

The concept of having a favourite musician is inherently weird. There are so many diverse genres and ways of going about creating music that the whole idea of picking one approach is bogus. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to be bitter about the success of your peers, or to get all territorial about what’s genuine or not (“hey, that’s not real metal!” might be the most useless sentence on Earth). This is especially true now there’s so much out there and almost no barrier to making or hearing whatever you want to. We’re all on the same team, maaaaaaaaaaaan. Am I blowing your mind with my original thinking yet? Shut up Harding and get to the good stuff!

But with that said, if you insisted I had to pick my favourite musician – and why wouldn’t you? – I’d probably say Devin Townsend.

I was first introduced to DT’s music by my housemate Duncan in what must have been 2006, because it was the album Synchestra, which had just been released. Synchestra‘s utter dedication to whichever weird direction it veered in (hoedowns, polka, ‘tallica style heavy metal, poppy ambience) hooked me. When I sat down and listened with headphones, there was a low frequency surge in the buildup of Let It Roll that, when I heard it properly for the first time, was one of those moments in music that I’ll never forget.

Since then, he’s released more albums than I care to count and his discography contains a huge amount of contenders for my favourite albums of all time. I’d list them, but I’d be listing almost all of them and we wanna get to the cover. There’s an odd cult of personality on the internet that holds DT up to be an infallible genius, but for me what appeals is the opposite – his music is human and flawed and that’s a big part of what makes it great.

Devin Townsend’s been a huge influence on how I approach music, embrace its absurdity and have fun with it – playing, recording, performing – while staying true to the kind of things you need to say (in my case not much, but still). Not all of his music speaks to me as much as some, but its diversity is pretty staggering – SYL and Deconstruction and Ziltoid came from the same hands as Ghost, Casualties of Cool, Terria and Ki, and that’s crazy. Anyone who watches SYL’s insane Download set can find almost the exact moment that I decided, on that field, that I wanted to have fun when I was on stage instead of brood and be Super Important.

In 2010 Natasha and I traveled from England to Finland to see the DTP perform the Ziltoid album in full at Tuska – an uncharacteristic risk for me at the time as I was strangely afraid of traveling, and the fun I had in Helsinki probably went some way to building the confidence I needed to throw caution to the wind and move to Canada, where we now live and I make this weird music for fun. I met him once when he played a DJ set after a gig at Nottingham Rock City. It was only a brief “thanks” and a terrible picture but it means a bunch to me.

JHDT

So a DT cover was a given. Kingdom was a challenge! The production style here is so laced with walls of sound and reverb that trying to distill it to dry notes is almost comically impossible. Some of the guitar chugs are so hidden behind the wall that I’m pretty sure, even after listening to this song 1000 times in countless versions, I’ve fucked up a lot of the arrangement.

But I think the bombastic spirit of the song is here. The drums are relentless, the guitar picking emulation sounds on point for the most part and that middle section with the arpeggios is something I’d happily listen to on loop. Overall, I think this one’s a keeper! And I think the ridiculous nature of trying to cover a song as huge as Kingdom using dry production is, at the very least, appropriate for the source material.

The approach wasn’t dissimilar to before – GenMDM sampling via FMDrive, Drum Rack and some samples. My favourite part is the choir at the start, which has been cribbed from Ristar voice samples. I altered the arrangement for it a bit so that the first choral phrase repeats and works with the second, because this is what always came to my head when hearing this song and I think it sounds cool. That tiny star guy singing his tiny star heart out. I’m also getting more confident with the bass and how to build a bigger sound. The lead is a mix of a saw wave and a square wave, panned separately and with a higher square wave octave coming in when the mix needs a boost. That alone would probably screw up the Sega hardware, but I’m working my way to being able to compose within the console’s limits!

Here’s the original – a re-recorded version from Epicloud:

Only 2 more covers to go until I have 10 and I can call this a covers album! I think I know what one of them’s gonna be. I wanna try another local band for number 9. Any recommendations?

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