Text by Anthony Thomas
Are you someone who has an insatiable appetite for both music and video games? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you need to familiarise yourself with 7bit Hero immediately. Lead by budding innovator, Hans van Vliet, and made up of equal parts music, video game, audience interaction and vision, 7bit Hero is at the cutting edge. 7bit is an experience, one that is challenging audiences tangibly, through the redefinition of the traditional live performance realm. But it’s not all fun and games. Woven behind the shiny visual façade, the songs themselves probe, question and highlight what forms the core of 7bit, human interaction. Through the seamless integration of audio, visual and atmospheric ques, 7bit creates an environment ripe for breeding audience engagement. In a nutshell, it’s the future of entertainment. I got Hans on the phone to fully explain the 7bit concept and as I found out, even visionaries use their mothers as a benchmark sometimes.
MM: Is 7bit Hero a nerd band then?
HV: It’s more of a gig band. I really love the nostalgia of it. But we have some really amazing nerds on board though, for hardware and code and stuff.
It isn’t your typical band, is it?
No, no not at all. It’s been birthed from a love of indie music and it hugs pop culture. In fact, it hi-fives all that kind of stuff.
And it’s a collaboration between your other band, Hunz, IV Motion and Graetz Media isn’t it?
That is correct. It does involve those three entities and we’re creating, in this first step, a very simple example of what we want it to look like at the end of the year. IV Motion, a company that I own, makes video games and interactive content, as well as motion design. So we provide the code and hardware, how it’s going to all hook up to everyone’s phones. Graetz Media are more or less responsible for putting together the content live on the night.
How does Hunz fit into all of it?
7bit Hero is kind of like the side project of the other guys and my other band, Hunz. With our music, we are the backbone, what people look at when they aren’t playing games. [laughs]
Games? You’re going to have to fully explain the concept behind the 7bit Hero.
Basically, what we’re trying to do is mash together everything that we love about entertainment and bring it into one place. The idea is that you play simple video games that we’ve made for each song, similar to Mario Party, if you know it? All of the games work in a very big group setting and they’re very simple. Then each song looks at what each game is about. Have you heard about metaphor gaming before?
Metaphor gaming is the new indie movement; games like Limbo, Sebastian, Sword and Sorcery, etc. It questions basic gaming conventions like in Mario, you jump on people’s heads, they die and you move on, etc. In a metaphor game, the end of it would see you in hospital with those guys, making you accountable for those actions by turning gaming on its head by saying, “Look what you’ve done, you’ve actually hurt people.” This has all come out through indie gaming and it’s a big, important movement. We know gaming mechanics, we know how a joystick works but we all want to feel something from it now. What we’re doing is creating bursts of that through our games. In one of the games, the aim is to put up more money than anyone else and the song going along side it is all about material wealth and letting that sort of stuff go.
What about the other songs/games? What have you touched on with those?
There’s a game in there called Caring Hurts and it’s all about hugging a cactus, which obviously always hurts you. So while your playing, this giant cactus is yelling out, “Hurt” and you have to press the button in the space that he yelling it and if you don’t then he hurts you. The accompanying song is a very sobering song, about whether to stay somewhere with people that could hurt. Do the hard yards, stay there with people. It may hurt, it may not hurt but if you do the hard yards then you will end up with really solid friendships at the end of it.
So despite your music seeming quite happy and fun, there are quite deep messages in the songs?
That’s right. It’s just glazed with this happiness. Some of the songs are pretty dark with pretty strong themes about them. One of the songs on the album is about playing games with my heart; it’s the guy’s realisation that his girlfriend is an evil mole. So it takes you through these concepts you understand in terms of computer game talk and mashes them together with real world
Does the evil mole girlfriend theme come from personal experience?
[laughs] We’ve all had those people in our past, right? It’s one of those moments we all have were we think, “Oh man, what am I doing?” I don’t know if that particular game will emerge in this setting but the game we want to do with that is pretty rad. It’s literal in its execution but has a really cool vibe about it.
Obviously, the audio and visual is all so integrated. When you’re writing the songs, how do you make that integration work in a strictly musical sense?
I’m fortunate because I’m a creative director, so I think in terms of graphics and music at the same time. My writing process is thinking up a few ideas, improvising on the top of those, some lyrics come to the front of my mind, and then as I’m going through that process, my head starts inventing all these graphics which I quickly write down and that becomes the base. That’s why I never feel like it’s tacked on at the end because it was all a part of the process from the start.
Are people going to have to come to the EP launch to fully understand what you’re doing with 7bit?
Not necessarily. If we’re allowed to progress and there is an audience for this kind of stuff then it will become a lot more integrated with all of what we do. With technology there are so many different ports that you can open an communicate with. The way I look at it, the show is one part of the experience and then eventually we’re making a game that ties all of this together that you can download on whatever device you choose. Technology is incredible, man, all this thinking that is happening. You can just bounce information everywhere. That’s what we’re hoping to do with this. You own and create what you want. For instance, you rock up to a concert with that character you have created and you integrate them with what we’re doing. The process for doing that shouldn’t even feel amazing, it should just work.
Is it something you see becoming more and more involved in the whole music experience?
For me, personally, [with] my experiences with entertainment I’m at that point where everything is a bit boring. I’m not sure if it’s because we all get so fatigued with what surrounds us unless they are this incredible band that evoke certain emotions when you’re watching them. Other than that, your headspace takes all the elements apart. Kind of like a matrix, we just say, “Oh wow, they just throw the guitar around their back,” or, “Oh wow, they just jumped off the keyboard.” With the way my headspace works, I just kind of blanket all that out and that motivated me to ask questions about what’s next and what excites me. Then it clicked, I loved video games and music, why don’t I just merge the two and see what happens. I’m taking a big stab in the dark[laughs]. I’m excited with it could go though.
Do you feel like there is a big audience for it?
I say yes. There’s a place in the Valley called Mana Bar. You may have heard of it?
On Brunswick Street, yeah!
That’s it. Places like that are awesome; that’s the audience. Then there are things like Adventure Time which has had the biggest saturation of cross over imagery. It’s all just video game culture mashed into cartoon. I’m hoping there is a larger audience and I hope that people see that although it has this cute exterior, it actually has this numbing experience through it that is very real.
Is that real aspect important for engaging people who aren’t necessarily “aligned” with gaming culture?
I always ask myself, “Would my mum play this game?” Because it’s so layered, on the night, what you see at the end of the day is still a live music performance. From it you will soak up the energy of people being involved in the various layers of it. What we’re offering on stage is that you can just rock up and be entertained. The games and visuals all match all the songs, so it feels like one big hug…or whatever you want to call it [laughs]. One of the big things I focused on with the games was making them extroverted; games are typically so introverted. The way we’ve tackled that is by producing one button games. That’s all it is, playing single button games against thirty-two other people in the room while the rest of the room is enjoying the band and watching the games being projected behind them.
What kind reaction are you expecting from all those librarians on the night?
[laughs] They’ve already told us this is the highlight and they can’t wait to see what we actually do. Which is good! At the heart of what 7bit is me wanting to turn the tables. You know the Occupy movement? I was just listening to a podcast about it and they keep going on about, “We are the 99%.” The thing for me with entertainment is we always live in this place called the exception, the 99% of us are not the “exception”. That’s just the way it is. I want people to accept that not being the exception is ok. Let’s just accept where we’re at. There are incredible things that happen when people just rejoice in the fact that it is ok. We just want to celebrate normal people. Getting that interaction with the audience takes the focus off the band and really unifies the audience. I’ve performed a lot and when we tested this down in Melbourne I have never seen a crowd like it. It was probably the highlight of my life so far. Everyone was just laughing and having the best time deciding what they wanted to focus on. Whether it be the game, the music or the visual. I just want to use my understanding of communication to help everyone in the audience have an awesome time. I really do want to turn the tables on entertainment.
You’re definitely on the right track. I can’t wait to see this in the flesh for myself. Thanks for chatting Hanz!
Not a problem at all man. Thanks so much for taking the time.