2ToneDisco on Their Chiptune Sounds, Crazy Performances, and Reasons for Moving to L.A.
Omni Rutledge (left) and James Campbell of 2ToneDisco.
Remember that old chestnut from your Psych 101 days about how the whole being greater than the sum of its parts? Well, it happens to be totally true, and not when it comes to gestalt psychology. Its also can be easily applied to the music world, whether we're talking about supergroups, package concert tours, or the mash-up work of such greats as Z-Trip or Girl Talk.
On the local level, the axiom also is applicable to the geektacular Phoenix-based DJ/producer duo known as 2ToneDisco. Comprised of chiptune fiend Omni Rutledge and British-born indie disco wizard James Campbell, the two blend their respective sonic specialties into quirky and chirpy tracks that are of an electro/nu-disco nature and evoke both an 8-bit aesthetic and a four-on-the-floor energy.
Needless to say, whenever 2ToneDisco presses start on their mixers and start going hard, its liable to get asses in motion. So if you're anywhere within earshot of Crescent Ballroom during 2ToneDisco's special guest set at Sean Watson's weekly Kismet party on Saturday, don't be surprised if their sounds cause you to shake a tail-feather.
Plus, the "super electro disco dance party" will probably be one of your last chances to see 2ToneDisco do their thing before the duo packs up and heads for L.A.
That's because Both Rutledge and Campbell have been experiencing a lot of success with 2ToneDisco over the last year or so, including releasing their latest track "Catnip" on Reid Speed's Play Me Records and performing gigs at clubs and other venues all over the country, but are hoping to grow as artists by heading to Southern California.
We got a chance to speak with 2ToneDisco before their gig on Saturday and chatted about their chiptune-influenced sounds, what they'll miss about Phoenix, and their success.
Name(s): James Campbell and Omni Rutledge
Preferred genres: Electro-house, nu-disco, and some goofy trap stuff.
Upcoming gigs: Saturday, August 16, at Crescent Ballroom and Friday, August 22, at Gypsy Bar.
What's the explanation behind the name 2ToneDisco?
James Campbell: Well it was originally from 2 Tone ska influence, also was an idea of one of the original members of [2ToneDisco] way back in the day. It's kind of funny that the guy who came up with the group name isn't involved anymore, but it just stuck.
How did each of you get into the DJ game?
Campbell: We both have been in music for a while. I would say I've been DJing for at least six years out at events. For me, I just kind of picked up some tables in high school, since I collected so many records anyway. Ever since then, it has grown and changed styles, but always heavily dance influenced.
Omni Rutledge: I was a producer for a pretty long time and was writing a lot of dancey electronic stuff, but I realized that the only way to effectively play it live for an audience was through a DJ set, so that's how I ended up getting into it
What's your creation process like?
Omni Rutledge: Well we initially teamed up in the beginning to just write one song together. I just went over to James' place with some disparate sounds and tracks here and there and then we kind of put it together and shaped a song. Since we've become a permanent duo, I've been the primary writer/producer of our tracks and I'll bring them over to James' or he'll come over to my place and we'll do a final mixdown and concrete arrangement together.
Campbell: It's a really streamlined and effective process, and it works well with both of our schedules being all over the place.
How much of an influence does chiptune music or video games play intro 2ToneDisco?
Omni Rutledge: I'd say it's pretty prevalent. I was actually a chiptunes producer before I joined 2ToneDisco, and when I came in, I was still muddling with finding a happy medium between esoteric nerd fandom chiptune stuff and more house-oriented dance music. So I'd say even now, those chiptunes roots of mine have come through a lot when I'm writing the tracks, but we're both big fans of videogames anyway, so even in terms of our visuals, logos, and song titles. The reference/inspiration is always pretty clear without just being a full-on chiptune duo.
Campbell: Yeah, we like it to be a good balance. We also take a lot of influence from Japanese culture as well. We are both huge fans of the music and lifestyle, even fashion that takes place over there.
Campbell: I'd say for music, you actually have a lot of melodic video game influenced sounds coming out of there.
Rutledge: Yeah, music specifically, I've drawn a lot of inspiration from Yasutaka Nakata, who's a Japanese producer that writes a lot for pop acts out of Japan. Japan has this really positive, almost cheesy sound that I find very uplifting and addictive. I think that's why a lot of our songs have a kind of happy/goofy feel to them. "Catnip," for example.
How much of 2ToneDisco is chiptune and how much is electro?
Rutledge: Oof. I think that's really a track-to-track thing. There are some tracks like "Games" that we released for free that are way more chippy, like entire sections of the song just break into downtempo chiptunes, but then there are songs like "Tokyo Sunrise" or "Go" where it's EDM with just little chiptune flares and sprinkles thrown in. Then there's stuff like "Catnip" that's 50/50 in that it's chiptune synths and overtones just kind of laid on top of heavier basses and drums.
So what sorta stuff do you do during gigs? We've heard that you supposedly "go all out" while performing.
Campbell: Yeah, currently we do a little more than an average duo. We actually both are constantly doing something. Most people trade the headphones off and mix one after the other. Omni actually uses the remix unit and samples and throws effects, kind of remixes the tracks while I mix on two CD-Js. Currently, we are working also getting an analog synth to throw into the mix. Our goal is to make VIP [variance in production] versions of certain tracks and have Omni perform the parts live on the synth. We want to push it a little more and have more a live performance, still without having a laptop on stage.
Are you mixing live at gigs or just dropping pre-recorded tracks?
Campbell: Well, we are mixing live, not to the measure of individual drum tracks, but we mix it up quite a bit. We have the live samples from the remix unit and we are constantly sampling drums from one CD-J and looping them in. It's like a mash-up live set.
What are each of you doing?
Campbell: I'll be mixing tracks on the CD-Js and Omni will be using the remix unit for live effects and dropping sample loops and one shots.
It seems like such a complex operation. How do you guys keep it all together?
Campbell: I think we both have an understanding of music and working in a unit so at first it was a little trial and error, but now it kind of clicks.
Do you ever collide with each other during a set?
Campbell: I don't think we have. There has been a few times where Omni unplugs something or I bump a cable, but that's more of the small space we have to perform in sometimes. It's surprising how small DJ booths can get.
Is that an "oh shit" kind of a moment?
Yeah. I mean Omni unplugged the entire power strip during a massive build once. You could feel the energy just drop and I'm freaking out trying to replug everything [back in], but in the end we just laughed it off. Stuff happens. Just gotta keep moving forward.
What's the craziest shit you guys have seen at a gig?
Campbell: Well, some girl stole Omni's burrito on stage this past New Years. That was more funny than crazy. Or the Wednesday we just played in Oklahoma City called Robotic. It was the most insane gig we have ever seen for a Wednesday especially.
Campbell: Well, we drive up to this venue they have the show in, which is a meat deli restaurant during the day. And we walk into this dance area and they have the most insane setup you have ever seen. Full Funktion-One sounds, lasers, lights, like what you would see in a Vegas club. And we are just chilling by 11 the place is packed. People shaking the metal barriers and going insane. People raging so much they had little care for their own well being, falling over and just jumping all over the place. And we are sitting there looking at each other like, "This is a Wednesday?"
So y'all are in essence making the music that's coming out of the PA?
Campbell: I wouldn't say as much as a band makes music, but a lot more than just pushing play.
What's your reaction to people who think that's what most DJs are about?
Campbell: I think they don't understand it. I can tell you most people who you think are sellouts or just hit play at some point they worked hard in one area or another to get there. It's not easy. It's accessible, but not easy.
Have you ever played "Catnip" for a cat? If so, what was the reaction?
Campbell: Neither of us owns a cat. But some of the comments on it stated their cat curled up on the keyboard and other said their cat came in the room to check things. But yeah, we have to do that someday. Maybe on stage and we will let the cat play on the C D-Js like Keyboard Cat.
Should more EDM artists use chiptune music?
Campbell: I feel like they are starting to. But yea, I think it would be a nice change of pace, especially since chiptunes are actually incredibly musical. I feel like a lot of EDM lacks that element. Like progressions and chords, it feels like a ton of music in EDM right now is super loopy.
What's been the biggest moment of your careers thus far?
Campbell: Probably the [Sun God] Festival with Juicy J.
Rutledge: I'd say Sungod just because I'd never played a festival like that.
Campbell: Yeah, it was crazy being on this massive stage and the festival vibes.
Have any big DJs or producers noticed your stuff?
Campbell: We actually had Martin Solveig reply about our most recent release called "PBR." He seemed to really dig it, we hope he plays it out sometime. He was asking for tracks for his Tomorrowland set. We sent him an e-mail with it. It's also really cool to hear the reactions from the resident DJs and the up and comers.
How come you are leaving Phoenix for L.A.?
Campbell: To grow as artists. We love the friends and all the opportunities given to us in Phoenix.
What will you miss the most?
Campbell: I think ill probably miss the friends I have made here.
Rutledge: I personally will miss the cost of living.
Campbell: And the familiarity of the place. There is always that, too.
What's your biggest accomplishment with 2ToneDisco?
Campbell: I honestly think all the releases and the music we have pushed out. I really think that is what matters most, I think we are just hitting the surface of our potential and I'm excited to see where it goes.
Rutledge: I think it was "Catnip." That track got a lot of exposure and I feel like it's the only track that people I'll meet for the first time know.
Campbell: Yeah, if you put it in a single achievement, I'd agree with Omni. Just when people are singing along to something that doesn't even have words at your show, you have done something.
Are you at all worried you'll be small fishes in a big pond?
Campbell: Well, we are lucky enough to have friend in California doing big things already. But it's kind of humbling to be small fishes in a big pond. [It] lets you push harder and in different ways then before.
Rutledge: Yeah. [It] forces you to grow.
So now that y'all are about to put Phoenix in the rearview, what's some advice to the DJ scene that you'd like to impart?
Campbell: Be humble, work on your music, think outside of Phoenix. Don't just toss it aside though, just think bigger picture and enjoy the moment you are in and the people you are with.
2ToneDisco are scheduled to perform on Saturday, August 16, at Crescent Ballroom, and on Friday, August 22, at Gypsy Bar.
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