Mangadrive is the solo project of one man based in South Carolina who has a huge love for action films, anime, and retro sounding music. Though his previous musical efforts have garnered attention from the techno/rave scene, his latest album Botrun has made an evolution into retro/synthwave sounds. With this transformation, I had an online chat session with the skilled producer about his change in sound that started with Refactor, and how he feels about his newest and best album. I leave the Bandcamp streaming link below for you to enjoy his sound as you read through this informative interview.
You are a relatively new face to the Brutal Resonance audience aside from a review that was conducted for Mechafetish back in 2013. So, could you give us a little introduction to yourself and your project as a start?
Mangadrive: My name is Bee aka Teknofiend, and I'm a music producer like half the planet these days. My notable projects are Mangadrive and Gheists, but I've worked with and remixed a lot of familiar names around the industrial scene.
From what I've seen and heard, Mangadrive is a name tossed around in the retrowave scene quite often. When was it that you started to get noticed by fans of synth/retrowave and outrun music? Was there any one release that really boosted your name out there?
Mangadrive: I started shifting more that direction on Refactor. I think Allspark was a good combination of heavier techno as well as the synthwave sounds, which was something I was trying to dial in. There's some other tracks on that album as well, but before that, I hadn't really pursued much other than just doing my own brand of ravey techno stuff. I basically just tried something new, really found enjoyment in it and planned to push more in that direction hopefully without completely alienating my love of heavier and more distorted beats.
Were there any musicians/artists out there that pushed you to move into retro/synthwave? I mean, as you said, techno/rave music can easily blend with the 80s styled electronic music, but where did you look for inspiration when diving into music you hadn't created before?
Mangadrive: I actually downloaded a small EP called After Dark by Nowtro after I heard a few clips on Youtube thanks to some links posted on social networks. I was kind of taken by this atmosphere. I mean I had heard Daft Punk and Danger where the 80's or retro stuff was a bit more pronounced but that particular flavor never grabbed me. Then I went digging through a friend's feed on Bandcamp and found Carpenter Brut as well as Pertubator. That approach blew me away. As a person who loves more dark and aggressive themes as well as a healthy dose of action movie, it really just struck me in a way that music hadn't in a long time. Psytrance grew really stale. Most industrial stuff just started forcing in vocals or live elements to stay relevant and I got a bit lost inspirationally and I felt like doing just "more techno" was a bit boring. I then found more stuff like VHS Glitch that tapped into that grittier base and knew I had to figure out a way to take my sound into that dimension.
And how did you find the way to transition yourself from your earlier techno/rave sound to synthwave? I would imagine that it was extremely experimental and maybe even a bit lopsided at first.
Mangadrive: Yeah. The first tracks I made were just really safe sounding. Almost too "Miami". I actually backed out of releasing it entirely because it just wasn't the right direction. I wanted to still do Mangadrive but add flavor. I think the fans of the project expect me to change and morph sounds along the way, but it was just so distant from the energy I created before and it really sounded a lot like a guy trying to force synthwave over substance. That's an ideology I'm strongly against as a musician, but there is a lot to be said from studying a core idea in a more pure form so you can understand how to completely destroy it. I wanted Refactor to be a lot more retro sounding, but the more aggressive techno and even neurobass elements showed up a lot more in writing. I actually just decided halfway through that album to start putting tracks towards something else so it would be more focused. I worked my way through Refactor just doing what I felt sounded fun, but Botrun was over a year of very careful and considered construction to get the right balance. So approximately 2 years total to really make a shift I thought sounded right.
And I guess now would be a perfect time to start talking about Botrun since you already mentioned it. I know that you take a lot of inspiration from Yoshiaki Kawaijiri films. Was Botrun also influenced by his experience with anime and other animated works?
Mangadrive: I think his approach in general. His influence in art direction is a masterclass in any artistic field. He really has a sense of dialing in his theme and exploiting the strengths of it to create more strengths. I even recently finished up One Punch Man and noticed a ton of shots and angles that were just straight out of Ninja Scroll, so he's become somewhat of an example to follow. How that translates to music to me is a bit harder to explain. As a visual medium you have to dissect it a bit and realize that he creates very interesting characters and puts them in tense situations. The art becomes very dramatic and just impacts the strength of those characters. So it made sense to write more of a story on paper and try to visualize all as a movie. There's a start, a middle and an end. So in essence I had to learn to write an album that made sense as an album. In the past all my stuff was just a collection of songs that did their best to fit together. So it made perfect sense to find a master storyteller and find a way to identify with their work.
So, this being your first concept album, what story did you create? I saw a bit about a robot fighting arena, but what's the full run down according to you?
Mangadrive: Haha, it is actually insanely complicated and near convoluted. It's a lot more than the music could ever tell. I got pretty obsessed with the storytelling aspect. I have a folder with so many notes, whole chapters, character descriptions and everything. I'm also a huge Gundam fan and love the way the political strife takes place, so of course there had to be no less than three factions all fighting over something and backstabbing each other. The story does start in the arena as well as end in it. The basics are the character known as the Blood Coast Renegade has been resurrected after he was killed in a Botrun competition. Yazmina, our antagonist, is actually an AI mirrored from her original form who actually shared a past relationship with the main character. So we have a guy thinking he has to destroy the love of his life to save all humanity from becoming destroyed by a substance that corporations began to exploit for profit. They rigged her likeness up because they knew people would listen to what she had to say more than a hostile takeover. She was a pop queen diva type so she's easier to listen to than deceptive suits, which is something the figured out in the future. Naturally our hero has to struggle with fighting a whole army while he doesn't know about most of this. And if you listen to the album and piece the tracklist together, hopefully you can make more sense of how that plays out. I'd love to write and release the whole story somehow, but that kind of thing probably makes more sense to me than it would anyone else. Who knows though.
Would you consider releasing the story just in plain text or Word documents just so fans could have access to source material?
Mangadrive: I'm very much considering it, but it won't before I've rewritten it and actually got some help in turning it into something other than the mindless ramblings of a guy that makes computer music. I think there is a good story there to read and I think it would make an entertaining anime, though I don't have any of the tools or connections to make that even remotely possible. I do think the story as a story would be a fun thing to have out there.
You have quite a discography out there on Bandcamp. I counted at least more than 8 releases. That being said, where would you rank Botrun out of all your albums? Would you say it's your least favorite, favorite, or somewhere in the middle?
Mangadrive: It's number one to me. It's not that I completely hate all of the other albums at all. It's just taken me this long to build a musical identity and to write music where I felt like it said exactly what I was intending rather than just coming up with a a lot of noises that worked together. I did a lot of studying and watched videos on how to make better music. It was something I sat down from the very first kick drum pattern and knew exactly where I was headed and what the goal was. It wasn't just shoving stars into square holes and hoping it sounded right. That album just feels right. If you ask any musician they will have regret pieces or think they should have fixed that snare in that mix. There's very little of that on that album and outside of weird niche mix details I'm ninety-nine-point-nine percent happy with how it came out. It's also gotten more response, traction and I hate to use this as a benchmark but yes... sales than previous albums already. That's how I know I gave a good effort, because people that haven't paid attention to me in years are sending messages saying they enjoyed it. I know some fans will be critical that it's not completely driving super fast paced techno and this doesn't mean I'd never go back to that. Inspiration is a fickle beast, so who knows what I'll get into. I will say there is a bit more of this style of music coming though. Not everything worked for Botrun, despite working on different levels.
You say there is a bit more of this kind of music coming. Do you already have a new album or EP planned in mind?
Mangadrive: More than likely an EP. I really want to try to create smaller experiences. This doesn't mean I'm saying fuck albums. It just means that with the way my paid contracted work in music operates these days, albums are a very long process that require a ton of planning and time. EPs where I can just write a loose story and create 6 tracks that dial in something very specific or even get extremely experimental is a lot more approachable than an album. I think after Botrun I'm setting a bar for myself that an hour of music has to be on point. Thirty minutes or so can just be fun to listen to. Who knows though, I may hit a stride and do eight to ten tracks I love by the end of the year. Again inspiration is fickle. But, yes, I already have art and a theme for something new either way.
That sounds pretty cool. I know I might be jumping ahead, but do you have any idea as to how long it will take you to create a new EP? You said earlier Botrun took you about two years. Now that you have a new sound, do you think it will be easier creating something new?
Mangadrive: My whole process is refined. I actually learned more about the software and how easy it is these days to create your own prefab chains or instruments and just basically bring a whole track up sans midi and get started immediately. I have days where I spend time doing sound design or creating drum banks. I have certain drum styles ready to just be drug into a project. I always wrote music fast because the ideas that work in fifteen minutes and less are the best ideas. Usually. But I found ways to make it a lot more efficient and not just fast. How I write songs is actually the slow part though. I tend to write the first minute or two then just painstakingly overthink it, but then realize I went too far and come back to something sensible. I don't think an EP by the end of the year is out of the question, but I'd rather not give the fans too much waiting timeframe. I had to do that the past couple years of out necessity, but moving forward I don't want to endlessly hype. I could get put on a different job or something crazy happens and two months of my time disappears.
Getting to the end of things here, what else do you have on Mangadrive's checklist? Are you doing any collaborations, remixes, or anything of the sort?
Mangadrive: It would definitely be great to get some synthwave artists out there into my universe. I've just been so into my own little concepts that outside participation has struggled, but that's also because my time has been condensed a bit into "I have two hours so let's work on my stuff, screw everyone else," which is a bit selfish but I think most musicians would get it. I do have some collaborative stuff coming up soon, but it will probably be for Gheists and other people's projects that I like working with them on. I'm a bit burnt out on remixing as a concept, but I wouldn't say no to obvious names that for whatever reason saw me fit. I tend to see more collaboration in the synthwave world and a lot less remixing, so that's actually a good thing. But yes, that's an invitation for other artists to hit me up. I usually tell people, "If it works, it works." We won't know until we try.
Is there anything else that I failed to mention that you would like to put out there?
Mangadrive: Big thanks to Chris Cozort of Iammynewt for his mastering duties on this project as of late. Also mega-mecha thanks to the people that have been around for years now and supporting the music even if it's just a post on social networking telling people to check it out. It all helps an independent artist like myself. Outside of Brutal Resonance it seems to take a miracle for people like myself to get any kind of press because we don't have too much to name drop and don't really try too hard to play exactly into a bubbled scene's sound. Or, you know, don't want to hand you money for a shout out, because we are already fucking broke. It tends to create musicians that want to defy your logic and actually disrespect your attention to aesthetic which comes off as substance substitution. It's also a bigger reason why scenes stagnate and fold on themselves. If you aren't willing to accept new faces and new ideas, you will not survive as an artist or a medium. So thank you to Brutal Resonance for making sure the little guys are heard.
Well thank you for the kind words. I wish you well and thank you for your time!
Mangadrive: Thank you very much, too, and I'm sorry that took forever!
Botrun is available for purchase from Mangadrive's Bandcamp page in digital, CD+stickers, and CD+Refactor+stickers bundles HERE.
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
Share this interview