Retro-Review of Role’s Rockin’ FactoRDOWNLOAD: Rockin’ FactoR
In March this year there were released two collections by Czech musicians – Sad’s Sadism 3 and Factor 6’s Rockin’ Factor. I wrote the review of Sadism 3 and supplied it to c64.sk. The file date says March 30th, 2003, and I’m sure I sent it in on the next day. I also phoned up the webmaster and we agreed on that he’d publish the review in something like two days, because, although I can write in HTML, I’m hopeless when it comes to layout, so I asked the Master to add a few pictures to it.
The good news – the review got published in the end!
The bad news – the two days turned out to be 6 months.
The surprise – in the concluding part of Close Encounter with Sadism 3 I speak of Rockin’ Factor, saying that a review of the collection will follow shortly. And now I receive a mail from the webmaster, whether I’m still planning to do it. „Better later than never!“ he says. Well, sometimes better never than later, I think, and some comments prove me rather right (hi Dane!). But then I get it at last… Hey, >I< am Professor Ugha Sid, the stone age SID music lover! It has always been me who said that it’s quality what matters, not the age. I’ve always hated swappers who refused to swap stuff which was not „hot“. And I’ve always hated similar tendencies at c64.sk. So now it’s time for sabotage – I’ll write the review! The collection is as long as 6 months old! Some former elite swappers would probably call this a retro review then! This stuff is not hot. This stuff isn’t even fresh. It’s just…
Rockin’ FactorWhen I thought of reviewing the two collections six months ago, I couldn’t help myself not to think of them in a comparative way. Sad, as a techno musician, is someone who transforms his emotions into steel. I appreciated his grasp of the SID chip but complained about the originality. It’s the other way round with Factor 6. His music definitely features the X-factor – it’s got a human touch but sometimes lacks in technical precision.
Speaking of technical aspects, the collection was released under ROLE. Having said that, you already know that it can’t be really bad, as it went through the producing hands of Commander, the man whom we all respect for the endless support and motivation he’s been emanating all over the years. The music is good, yeah. The music selector works. The rest – well… Woodraf, who did the coding, says in the note it’s the first collection he ever coded. Well, actually, one can see it. The first thing you notice is that the provided tune lengths don’t sit with the clock on the screen. The clock is at fault – roughly measured, 1 minute on the screen equaled 1’12" on my wrist watch. Maybe this would be one minute on NTSC but definitely not in my PAL parts of the world. Both Woodraf’s and Factor’s English have some room for improvement – and the more they contrast with the neat way Commander expresses himself. On the selector screen, there’s the recyclable female face which probably must feature in every second or so production. Nice work, no doubt, but somewhat predictable. I’d like a role in the selector, maybe a factory, or number 6, some rocks, whatever that would have more in common with the man, with the music or with the group. Sure, in a way women have everything to do with these, so let’s say I’d prefer something less universal. And last not least the collection resigns on anything like being a SID album – the tunes are ordered just alphabetically. It feels too hot from too hot a needle – and the expression „Realase date“ in the directory just confirms that there wasn’t much double-checking before the release. On the other hand, the more ordinary the outfit, the more the music can stand out!
I had a major problem with both Sadism 3 and Rockin’ Factor. I don’t like techno – and Sad is a techno musician. I don’t like covers. Rockin’ Factor comprises of 30 tunes. 7 of them are original works, 3 are semi-covers and the rest are – guess what! I feared that because of this I wouldn’t be able to find my approach to this work of art. Fortunately, it was not the case.
Rockin’ Factor is packed with music. The author himself comments on Acid Candy, the first tune in the collection: „It’s simple and short, like most of my tunes.“ Yeah, that’s right! But man, it’s m-u-s-i-c! It’s not the typical composition of today – a boom boom techno motif repeated four times, then slightly altered, repeated four times, transposed +3 etc. Every single second of Factor 6’s tunes is music, not recycled nuclear waste! E.g. for me it was hard to believe that Acid Candy really had only 30 seconds because it felt like good one-and-a-half-er, featuring so many elements. Yes, I admit, among the 30 pieces in the collection, there are such which I found no interest in but dammit, not because they’d be boring! They’re just not my cup of tea and that’s it.
You won’t find (depends on personal taste, but ’thanks God’, says Ugha Sid) any cheesy stuff in Rockin’ Factor. What you can find in there is tension. Factor 6 seems to be one of those who can really give his music the jazzy touch, the inner tension which makes you move to good jazz and funky stuff. Despite 2/3 of the collection being pure (and sometimes poor) covers, he has an ear for a good melody and he has a pretty good ear for the bass and drum lines – although sometimes he doesn’t have as good instruments.
Covers are both the good and the bad side of Factor 6. However, it’s also a very interesting side. Some of the tunes in the collection are actually squared covers: originally made for Amiga, then covered on ZX Spectrum (sometimes by Factor 6 himself), and then remade for the C=64. Some other times it’s just a cover from ZX Spectrum, which is Factor 6’s main platform, sometimes it’s a cover of a TV series leading melody or a popular song. It’s a wildly varying journey through the world of computer and non-computer music, inevitably also of variable quality. It’s good that the author isn’t afraid of doing semi-covers, being just inspired by the original composition. Tries to convert a 20-track song with female vocal to three mono channels of SID often suck big time, and he obviously know this. Sometimes, though, he’s just too lazy to do the demanding work of converting the whole thing, like with Settlers where the covered part is brilliant (there are not many tunes in the 3/4 rhythm on the C=64), but the additional disco fill-in kills it without a bit of mercy.
Talking about particular tracks… There are real flops, like Ferlajt (yes, the Druid II music made infamous by the Fairlight intros and subsequent numerous covers) and Strikeforce (the music used in the legendary Strikeforce cracktro).
Lightforced is a mag tune, a semi-cover inspired by the Rob Hubbard classic. In the instruments it can’t match with the one and only, ours truly, but it’s got a trance touch which makes you listen to it with interest at least once.
And of course there are good covers. So far I might have sound quite critical towards Rockin’ Factor but actually, it’s not bad. If it was bad, the whole review would be „Ignore it, it’s crap.“ Don’t ignore it, you?d miss some pretty good pieces! Firefly, covering the ZX original, confirms my words about the inner tension. It’s done, like most of Factor’s great works in an oldie style, and at the same time it reminds me of the atmosphere in some compositions of TBB, one of my favourite SID artists. Bodycheck is another paradoxical but very nice tune, a cover of the Monkey Business song – funky done in the typical oldskool style! I don’t want to sound heretic, but when I compare it to some of the technically perfect yet a bit sterile hinthint* vibrating tunes, Factor 6 doesn’t come out of it as a born loser. And of course, there’s C. M. L. the hymnic theme from Navstevnici (the Visitors, the German guys might know the series under the name Die Besucher), that’s just mewsyyc powaa! People interested in parallel covers might compare it with the version The Blue Ninja did for DMagic some time ago. Maybe TBN has got a slightly upper hand on Factor 6, but not much – both the versions have something to themselves and can’t leave a knowing eye dry. Shuttle Flight, coming from the same source, also has a cool feel. Rokenrol, a cover of a notorious melody, has the instruments and especially chords done in such a style that I wasn’t that far when I spoke of a Retro-Review. Oldskool at its typical and nice, including the fact that the nicely done bass line reminds me of a tune from the Rainbow Arts classics Spherical (Ramiro Vaca and Chris Huelsbeck). And the winner among covers iiis… Sea War! Again it’s a squared cover – originally made on ZX beeper, then remade for the AY and in the end Factor 6, who liked the Spectrum versions, ported it to the SID. There’s just one association which pops in immediately when you listen to this song: David Whittaker’s The Armageddon Man. It’s got the same steely sound, the same fatal atmosphere, the same repetition factor (i.e. I could listen to it forever and still not get bored). Well done, thumbs up!
What I simply
don’t understand is why some musicians prefer doing covers, although
they’re best at their own compositions. Acid Candy I’ve
already mentioned. Illness has a rather quiet solo instrument compared to
the rest of the „band“, but still is worth a listen. The real highlights are
Woodraffing, admittedly composed as a disk-filler, but making it quite
high above many of the covers… although the very first seconds sound exactly
like one of the songs in Chris Huelsbeck’s Hollywood Poker Pro
soundtrack. My Empty Brain is a song about the after-party feelings.
It’s a funky/techno bastard which I immediately fell in love with.
You can hear echoes of Steve Rowlands, the ADSR guys and perhaps
Rob Hubbard in it, if you listen carefully. Interesting thing, my winner
in this collection is something which I slagged on so heavily in the beginning.
Winter Walk does feature repetitive themes and doesn’t develop
in any amazing way, but it’s simply a hit. It’s got
something special, well, just the rocking factor :), which makes it rock.
I love it.
Rockin’ Factor is a typical first collection. It
includes many covers of variable quality, as the composer is getting his hold of
the SID instruments. There’s one thing Factor 6 really surprised me
with: he’s the first SID musician I know who uses TFX and still
doesn’t produce the typical TFX chord sounds. Several extra points in
my eyes, erm, ears. Some of the covers are pretty good (Firefly, Rokenrol, C. M.
L. or Sea War, to name just some) and the original works show a potential for
the author’s own composing (Acid Candy, My Empty Brain, Winter Walk) ?
and I still prefer Rockin? Factor to the technically smooth but one-way-driven
Sadism 3. As I say whenever I meet this guy in person: Factor 6, I hope to
hear from you again in the future!
Professor Ugha SID
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