Cihan Kaan is a Brooklyn native who in the early ninety’s made a ton of underground electronic music under the name 8Bit. In fact as he will tell you he’s the original 8bit. Last week I was chatting with Cihan and he mentioned he recently performed live in the online game Second Life. When he told me he made money I knew I had to interview him for Wire to the Ear.
You grew up in Brooklyn saw the rise of techno take place just blocks away from your house with Frankie Bones, Groove Records and the Storm Raves. Tell us in brief your interaction with the “scene” as it was called! Who were some of your friends and what were you guys all doing?
Yea, everyone lived within a two mile radius of each other, Sheepshead Bay/Canarsie/Marine Park/Avenue U. Lenny Dee of Industrial Strength Records had barbeques at his mom’s place (now a russian health insurance fraud clinic) with all the acts on his label so I was there as much as I could be without being invited, hehehe. Frankie and Adam were over on the west end of Avenue U and I had street beef with the west end Avenue U Boys (AUB) so I couldn’t really stretch over there too much without threat of escalating my beef (in a nutshell, my best friends brother was Avenue U East Side crew leader who was missing so ppl thought I had some connection to that). Heather Heart was making the Under One Sky zine and lived the closest to me and on any day you would see her wandering Neck Road with a tb-303, hunched over walking home. Thats a clear image for me because I was a drugstore delivery boy and I would see Heather all the time walking around with some vintage acid toy. Most of my crew was the “younger” lot of rave kids, so although I was one of the first promoters of Storm Rave I was primarily converting skaters and punks to the new rave scene of the time. There was never a full acceptance into the older generation of techno ppl, most of the kids I brought in were still wide-eyed about techno and there was a sense that this optimism made you less of a hardcore head. I don’t think that was true. After the Storm we all became NASA elite and I remember Moby performing every week. One night me and Moby talked about my new demo I was pimping around on Cassette (the OHMZ cassete) and he wanted to meet after his show, but that night my bag of tapes got stolen so the transfer never happened. Later in the night I was depressed in the chillout room and Ernie (a kid who ran around with an Ernie doll on his neck) found the bag, but it was too late. Around that time I hooked up with Super Mario who was starting a hardcore label with Joey Jupiter of Atomic Babies and put out my first 8Bit record Tweeked, which he took privilege to completely cut apart to make DJ Friendly. That record actually is mostly all that red box you gave me along with the Oberheim you also gave me. The 707 I bought from the buy-n-sell for $50, and the Amiga I used for samples obviously was left over from before the scene. After Tweeked came out (it was a white 7″), Curious George and Deitrich Shoenemann from Prototype 909, hooked me up with job at Moby’s old label Instinct and I packed his records in boxes all summer. I hope that answers your question, I’m really flying over lots of details and probably forgetting lots of people along the way.
Tell us a few of the most memorable events (dare I say Raves?) or nightclubs from back then.
The Storm Rave in ’93 the warehouse in Shaolin was like the Thunderdome scene in Mad Max; burning cars, people dancing on rusty metal barrels. It’s a root memory I have I always mine from when I’m making a track. Frankie screaming into the mic that we were future. Never seen party like that since. Also, remember we had no style back than, so for the most part it was a diverse set of kids (not yet called ravers) all gathered listening to this new future music. It wasn’t a poseur thing at all — in all these academic papers on the rave scene I read about, people seem to forget that techno really emerged as a movement, not a style. It was Dinkins’ New York when you were still allowed to break in to places and bring in Speakers and equipment. Storm raves were always great parties but other events that stood out were the outlaw parties thrown around the neighborhood, the Gerritsen Beach swamp parties were nuts, not only could i ride my bike to the party, but everyone would be there and the music was insane, all in a swamp marsh. I tried to recreate that in the scene in “Refuse to Fight” when the crew is staring into the fire, the video I directed for Frankie. Seems like parties were all over back than, under the highway, under the bridge, whereever we had access to a dark spot with concrete around.
Darker memories come later when I was too hopped up on psycedelics particularly at NASA, one night I lost my mind and the beats sounded like machinations from Hell and I thought the dancefloor was a shark infested pool. I actually leapt into my boy Evan’s chest trying to get some of his positive “E” vibes. Of course that didnt work and I quickly fell into a fear and loathing type of head and pulled a blade out on the guards who were trying to quell me (I was trying to jump into Dante’s chest, Scotto’s chest, etc). They threw me out and all i remember from there is walking around in the winter on the west side of manhattan with my clothes ripped off.
Since this interview is for a music tech blog let’s talk gear. Compare how you made music in 1994 to 2007. What was your computer set up then vs. now? Hardware and software.
’94 was all about the Amiga 500 and Octamed for me. I made all my tracks with that setup than slowly got gear. You gave me the red box and I figured the midi out on that. Dietrich told me to get an SQ-80 that was at Rogue Music, which I got with the money from I earned from drugstore delivery boy work. The SQ-80 was a dope synth and I really wrapped my head around it and came up with sounds nobody ever heard, that grinding LFO shit scraping sound on Dysrhythmia uses the SQ-80s layering ability and multiple oscillators. All my final mixes were done live as I managed to inherit Lady Miss Kier and DJ Dmitry from Dee-lites Tascam MM-1, a little 24 track mixer, so i would plug everything into that than go out to cassette and later DAT. Quality of sound was not important to me (I am 8Bit after all). That was my early set-up. Later on I got an MPC-2000 which i used to bang out all that K-TEL in the mix nonsense (The D-Train, Latex Brand Quest). I would make tracks for the KTEL records in under 30 minutes because I hated that it had come to that. I did most of the Happy Hardcore In the mix in under 12 hours and it shows, the iTunes reviews on it call it the worst record ever distributed. The MPC was great for that quick no brain stuff. After those years at BML I had to start thinking about new distro methods as Digital Hut went belly up so I started renting a studio at Rock, rock, rock, Rockaway Beach and me and my partner Netcro hooked it up with a full Tama drumset, several guitars and a whol turnatable setup, I got my hoover juno-2 finally the Kawai K5000 and went PC using logic. You could of just as well called me 16-bit at that point. All the tracks I banged out in Rockaway made it on my last album Reinterpret Vol 1, which is an obvious moving away from hardcore techno into more of a Psychic TV meets Throbbing Gristle live acoustic instruments meet electronic thing.
What about music gear shopping in the NYC area? Or is it all eBay these days for you?
You can catch me at Rogue Music playing with vintage toys (Im still a big 202 guy), I go to Guitar Center and play with whatever stock grooveboxes are out just to see what’s going on. Nothing new really, just more presets to make noobs sound like Paul Oakenfold. I can still bend the new synths outside of their limits. I’m the guy at the store wrecking the devices usually. M.I.A, that sri lankan singer came by and told me she made her first album with an MC-505. When I asked her if she knew was a 303 actually was I got a blank response. Should of seen her response when I whipped out the red box, now that I attached a mini toy keyboard to it for circuit bending purposes. So it seems we are living in a “groovebox culture” where artists want one thing that does everything. That’s cool but I’ll still to Sonicstate.com mining for old gear if I need to. I also give a thumbs up to using VSTs because the new Octamed aka Renoise can use them, so now I don’t really need to plug my Juno in, I have Juno X. My buddy who I rap on the Brooklyn Hoodratz side project with, Hooligan, makes his tracks using the MPC-3000 and if there is anything I would want now it would be something along those lines. Akai has a bunch of sampler/drum boxes I can see myself spending a whole summer hunched over.
You also write books and make films. Let’s talk about the song writing process a little. When your creating completely electronic music without vocals do you still envision a story line going along with the song?
100% great question O. The song writing process is all visual to me and the visuals I work off have changed throughout the years. There was a time when that Mad Max Dead Tracks outlaw vibe was my story than I moved onto the Mayday visual of thousands of heads bouncing, nowadays my visuals are less post-apocalyptic and more based on visual effects. The post-apoc vibe is played out a bit anyway especially after I actually made my short movie “She’s Got an Atomic Bomb” (bombmovie.com), I really closed that part myself with that film as I closed my Brooklyn beatdown days with the Frankie Bones video. Each time i do a track off my internal visions its really like closing that book, than if I get an opportunity to do a video it’s real deal – you are really putting whatever you have on the inside out for everyone to take and use in their own lexicons. There are moments when I’ll just make a track up to a point and really get emerged in the visual and actually enter that waking dreamstate where the visuals come to life in front of me. I’m sure you know what I mean; no difference between audio and visual to me. Tracks that you did as temper tantrum are really visual for me, ie New York City and all the Disintergrator stuff, really powerful visuals in those tracks. The challenge with putting visuals to electronic music was pronounced when I did the Atomic Babies “Purple” video which was real downtempo ambient breaks, just a sampled repeating “Birth Defects” over a very dystopic compressed beat. How do you make a video to that? My approach was to put these visuals I took of weird hitchhikers on traktors and East Village found footage along with shots I took of an Alien Abduction through the Amiga Video Toaster and in the end it was a real evocative piece.
Second Life. For our readers who do not know please tell us in one or two short sentences what is it.
SL is a Virtual 3D world with integrated economy bolstered by increasing growth in user base and online spending. It’s the closest thing we have to a metaverse as outlined in the book Snowcrash by sci-fi writer Neil Stephenson. Users have called Second Life a “Glorified Chat room” but because you can buy land on their “grid” I think its more of a community building apparatus. Also because you can actually build items and script physics it goes beyond the glorifies chatroom idea into a new universe of architects and builders vs campers and fetishists. I have a theory that most of the ppl on sl are depressed are bi-polar individuals that for one reason or another (phyical/mental handicap) cannot socialize in the real world (aka RL in second life jargon) but that’s not well researched and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Does it cost anything to join Second Life?
Purchasing a premium account allows for land ownership and access to parts of the grid. Owning land allows for creativity in building anything imaginable with open or closed permissions on visitorship. No it does not cost anything to start though, you can participate is SL for years without paying a dime, you can actually make $$ without spending a dime if your smart too.
And you can make actual real money in Second Life performing music live?
Totally, I’ve made thousands of Lindens doing shows on SL. Its easier to set up and all you really need is a stream and the technology. Most 8Bit shows have only been on SL for the last 2 years, I havent actually performed in front of a RL audience in over 6 months and I’m still making money off live performances on SL.
Not that I know of yet but SL’s viewer has its own browser implementation so you can technically go to a website in world and make a purchase that way.
From Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn to a virtual world you have taken a long journey! Give us some links so we can get more 8bit!
Rereleased reinterpret on itunes and dead tracks will be released in the spring – you can search for that on music sales sites.
I also run a web company: protoactive.com