Interview with Laxity of Kefrens
& Polka Brothers
Done by EP and Magic of Nah-Kolor
Today Hugi had an exclusive interview with Laxity of Kefrens & Polka Brothers. This ex-Amiga scener was one of the best coders on the good old Amiga 500 but also did some nice modules as well! Laxity is wellknown for his demos on the Amiga in the early 90's Guardian Dragon 1+2 and of course the mighty Desert Dream demo, which was re-produced on the Commodore 64 in 2007 and won the Commodore 64 demo competition at Breakpoint 2007. The interview was initiated by EP, but due to circumstances later on continued by Magic. Have a good time reading this interview with yet another demoscene legend here in the special edition #3 of Hugi!
Magic: Please introduce yourself to the readers.
I am Anders Emil Hansen, aka Laxity of Kefrens and later Merge of Polka Brothers. I currently live in Copenhagen, Denmark, after a couple of years in Aarhus, Denmark, and London, UK. I am 32 years of age.
EP: What happened to you since you've stopped scene activities and updating your webpage?
I'm currently residing in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I recently resigned as Lead Programmer for Sirius Games A/S, a small games company, and accepted a new job as Lead Programmer for ZeitGuyz, a new games company. I've no family of my own yet, but am dating a lovely young woman named Astrid. I stopped scene activities at the time when I was employed in the games industry, programming console games. I basically used all my energy professionnaly so that I didn't really have time or passion for doing any programming besides this. I guess this is not out of the ordinary. Also, since I stopped working on demos, my taste for music started changing towards the more basic and acoustic genres rather than hi-tech electronic music. I've devoted much of my time to learning to play the guitar and arranging music from acoustic recordings. Though I have not yet released any of this music to the public.
EP: So you've continued in real life to be both a coder and a musician. What has this special combination brought to you?
It's becoming common knowledge that there's a lot of math in music. Scales, beat/tempo etc, is all somehow part of a structured scheme that can resemble mathematical patterns closely. I know several programmers who also compose music, as I think the creativity involved in both parts is quite common. Besides, it enables you to closely time and plan visual effects with audio effects, which is in any event a very desirable situation. My early demos proved how much a solid combination of music and programmed effects can "extrude" the visuals from the screen and extend the scope of the demo or game. Audio makes the 2D image on the screen more 3D and much closer to the audience. Generally speaking, I would think the most common denominator between demo coding and music is the temporal and rhythmic aspect, which is also why my early music was very much a basic rhythm and timed effects rather than complex harmonics.
EP: So as a demo director, you've as a designer acted very much like a choreographer and as a composer musician you've filled the space with sinus vibes sounds while RWO has created the bitmap elements of the decor to bring a whole clip to reality? Please explain me what techniques / methodologies you've discovered and applied to build your best demos.
Well to be honest, being with the musical upbringing I have, I've always begun my demos in whichever tracker I'd be using at the time... From the music and sounds I've envisioned effects that I wanted to create, and put the timing of it all right into the score. Of course, sometimes I would be toying around with effects, or some of our artists would bring me a drawing and I would go "hey! that's just what I need for this transition or effect." But mainly it was all tied around the score, much like the better music videos that actually relate to the music. Of course, I've also done demos with someone else's music, and in this case I've usually had a bunch of effects, I would then sit down, listening to the music over and over again, and decided the sequence and timing of these effects and transitions.
EP: So like a videoclip maker, you've made the clip after the song has been made. It seems in the end that lots of demo and lot of things about the demoscene is looking like the pop music world except from money and drugs of course. I've noticed that with the kefrens "label" you've created like a brand name:
1. A mystic: coming from the Egypt mythology, full of strong symbols like sex and society structure vision. I mean the Ankh key is in fact a symbol of the womb and the penis or female / male duality while also meaning fertility and life, the pyramid is a symbol of pyramidal societal system where the elite is at the top aka King / pharao Kefrens and it has been used by others like KLF for instance. The eye used in your demos symbolise the truth / justice. And the gremlin is also a symbol of strange, unusual thing bringing something new to the stage and keeping people attracted.
2. An organisation: to make and spread your demos around you with swappers like the music industry do but in your case more craftman biased. You've also the fan club like real stars. And you've like most musical / demo groups suffered from some trouble between members like the famous Melon story.
3. Hypnotising effects with catchy design and synced musics (or synced effect to be more precise) to keep us entertained and cheer up the audience with few hand claps and crowd samples. You know how to make a show out of 7.14 MHz!!! You've altogether planned a killer group on the end to achieve your ultimate goal in life: becoming a legend! And you've succeed brightly!
4. You've also brought some humour to the scene with famous sentences like "my balls are bigger", the melon slice and the gremlin.
5. And last you've stopped all activities from the demo side when at the top so fans stay forever in need of more! :) What do you think of that?
I would agree with you on most of this that the demo world is looking like pop music, except on one aspect, where are all the women?!? ;) It's true that in many ways we did create a brand that we wanted to succeed, and it did succeed for a number of years... but as with all big success brands, it takes a lot of hard work and renewal to maintain, and we simply didn't have the time or energy. If you don't have the energy or will to renew your brand, it ends up like a horrible cliché -- a true artist knows how to start a good thing, but he also knows how and when to end it. The Egyptian theme was a big inspiration to us at the time."
EP: You come to it: the scene is slowing down due to women! Coders and other artists are more interested in women geometry than common geometry and move to others kind of experiences... As a coder and musician, you're supposed to have a few unknown and original tricks to date women and yes we are interested in getting some clue. (You can say that this is the yin part, the feminine part and the yang, the masculine part is mathematics / physics. So I can then ask related questions.)
To be honest, I can understand where you're coming from, but I think on a wider whole, many of the really talented people out there use their talents to reach a wider audience, including the female sex. The problem with developing demos is that the audience is usually very limited. I myself am reaching an age of 32 soon, and I want to influence and inspire all kinds of people, not just the ones who started out like myself spending most of my teen years in front of a computer (although arguably, even more teenagers spend lots of time in front of PCs now than in my teens, but mostly not for the same reasons). I find that I have the biggest influence on people through music. You're right, of course, that women are generally more interested or feel more at home in the art and music of the demos, whereas the technical and programming aspects are dominantly male interests. I guess it's the nature of the genders. Since much of the early years of computers have been about pushing boundaries of hardware limitations rather than experimenting with artistic flavour, many demos have been concentrated on tech. In the mid 90s, as technology developed, demos started concentrating on artistic experimentation; and now it's almost entirely about using the immense computing power we have today as an artistic tool.
EP: As you've continued coding far from the scene, what have the new powers found in high frequency CPU / GPU given to game coders and specifically to you? Mathematically speaking, what are the new possibilities given by the new hardware?
The main possibility is to be a lot more sloppy with your code ;) No seriously, I think the main advantage of the new hardware is that programmers can spend a lot more time designing and inventing on an abstract level rather than forcing a few extra cycles out of a near-beaten-to-death CPU. The stuff we see these days on PC and next-gen consoles is amazing, and what we could only dream of in our wettest fantasies back in the 90s. The hardware is so complex, however, that only a very few programmers actually get involved with really low-level code like we used to do in the 90s. Most of what we used to code, and sometimes a lot more, is being handled natively by hardware today. The focus of a new programmer today has shifted completely, and I've worked with many new programmers who didn't know much binary logic and low-level operations at all... sad really, but then, some of the same guys are good shader programmers, so... it's just a shift of focus.
Magic: Andromeda has made a comeback on the PC after 13 years. Do you still watch demos? Could a comeback be something Kefrens would do?
I don't think a comeback is at all possible for Kefrens. I get the impression that the Andromeda people are a much tighter knit crew than Kefrens ever were. We had some great times back in the day, but I think we've just gone in too different directions and live too far from each other to even think about doing it again. I do still watch the more important demos that pop up from time to time, like the Farbrausch ones that are breathtaking, but nothing more. Today, I find the interactivity of games much more exciting.
Magic: In the beginning of the 90's Kefrens had a 'war' going on with Melon Design. What was this about? How did it start? How did it end?
The 'war' between Melon Design and us started out as a mere joke from Melon Design, but was misinterpreted by some members of Kefrens who decided to take it as an offence. I can't remember the details of how it started, but it basically ended once I decided to release that "poem" in Desert Dream which stated the irony of it all and which I hoped would end the stupid thing. A couple of years later, Vention and I went on a fishing trip with Seen from Melon Design and had a real good time, so it's all one happy ending :)
Magic: Talking about your Desert Dream amiga demo, have you noticed the release of Desert Dream on the commodore 64 ? :) Yes, your demo was re-made on the c-64! Please comment on this. Do you like it? Are you honoured?
Yes, I've seen it, and I was blown away. Those guys are mad. I love it, and I have no idea how they did it :) When I started out programming on the C64, all I knew how to do was scrolling sprites through the side-border and plot simple lines and circles. I think everyone who worked on the C64 in the 80s and not since are completely baffled how these guys managed to compose realtime effects like they do today on this old breadcase. Just amazing. Really makes you wonder what you could do with PCs from the 90s if anybody actually bothered to still develop on them.
Magic: Could you tell us in a few lines about the making of desert dream? How long did it take. What was the hardest part etc etc..
Hmmm, it took about 6 months in all, though most of the demo was finished 3 months earlier, but the final part of it was the hardest to think up. A lot of work went into the design of the intro. It pretty much all came to me like a vision, once I had laid out the basis for the intro music one late night in Vention's basement. :)
Magic: What are the other Kefrens members doing today?
Vention works for a Danish games company (not the same one as I work for). Airwalk works for some company outside Aarhus which specializes in controller logic for physical measurement devices of some sort, Dize I think is writing on some novel, the rest I haven't had contact with for years.
Magic: What was the best demoscene party you have ever visited and why? Please tell me your memories about this.
It's hard to say. They were all great in their own way, as I got to meet so many creative and crazy people! The first one I ever went to in Glostrup, Denmark, was such a big impression on me (I was only in 2ndary school at the time!), but then, the one in Rykinn-hallen in Oslo, where Desert Dream was released, was the top of my "career" as a demo programmer, so it is the one I will always have the biggest feelings and memories from.
Magic: How do you look back on your amiga period? Was it all worth it? Any regrets?
It was definitely worth it. It was the only reason I got a job in the games business, and any boy's dream came true for me, to turn one's best hobby into a living. Although I do a lot of management today, I still get to work on algorithms and implementation of shaders and animation controllers.
Magic: Describe a normal day in your life as it is now anno domini 2007.
Hmmm in the morning I usually go jogging, then at 10am I go for a 200 ft walk to work and I drink my coffee and discuss game designs and try to make fun games. Then at dinner time (if we're not in crunch!) I go home, cook food, usually I start working on my music (yes, I still write music, but not at all in the same genre as I used to... I turned to a much more acoustic and oldfashioned style). Or sometimes, if I'm not in the creative mood, I go out on dates with my girlfriend or crash in front of a cool movie. I used to do Karate, but I got beaten up too often. :) That's about it for an average day in my life.
Magic: What are your goals for the future on a personal basis and for work?
My goal on a personal basis is to finally release some of the music I've been working on for years on CD and get out and play it live. Professionally, I would hope the game I am currently lead programmer on will be a big success, and I hope my team will grow to a bigger but very well working group.
Magic: Any last words or greetings? Be my guest! Don't be modest, take all the space you need for this! :)
I hope that people will keep being inspired by the demoscene many years to come. It was a truly awesome forum for me to develop my creative skills. All my best wishes and greetings go out to anyone I've ever met at a party or exchanged letters with, and deepest respect to the amazing people who inspired me with their demos and music through the years. I hope you're all doing great today.
EP, Magic & Laxity