words: Jason Karlson
pics: Phillip Rhodes
January - February 2005
micro- or micr-
1.a.Small: microcircuit. b.Abnormally small: microcephaly. c.Requiring or involving microscopy: microsurgery.
2.One-millionth (10-6): microampere.
macro- or macr-
There are some bands that reflect the world they live in, they record it and rebel against it. Then there are bands that create there own unique and wacky world full of wonder and weirdness, then promptly disappear into it.
Somewhere, deep within the darkest cranny of North Yorkshire, in a small city by a river lies a doorway into one of these off the wall parallel universes. You step through and just as your eyes start adjusting to the vibrant and pulsating colours you see robots whirring across computerised beaches, kicking aside mathematical equations. Rainbow soaked buzzing guitar melodies and bright Casio keyboard beats drifting into your ears. Welcome to Bitmaps world. A world where you wouldn't be surprised to see the Beta Band waving to you as they amble across the digital landscape or Fonda 500 popping round to borrow a cup of sugar. A world we are given a glimpse of through Luke Barwell aka: Bitmap's second full-length album Micro/Macro and the ingenious and unconventional press release that comes with it.
"The story in the press release is an imaginary true story about songs on the album condensed into a neat 150 word package," comments the mastermind behind this digitised masterpiece, well that's that cleared up then.
"If you read it while you listen to the album it'll make more sense. Ideally Micro/Macro will do a Snow Patrol and become the surprise hit album of the spring. Realistically though, it'll probably be well received by the press and sell a few thousand more than the last one did."
Bitmap, a former member of Salako is signed to the independent ‘Gentle Electric’ label, home to Punish the Atom, Husband and Hull’s Casio darlings Fonda 500 who he regularly helps out, a label known for being just a little bit quirky when it comes down to its artists and policies compared to the more mainstream labels.
"There's less money there but it's balanced with complete freedom to do whatever I want. It can be frustrating sometimes seeing bands who clearly have no talent having their path to the top paved with big bucks from their clueless record companies. I don't worry about that too much though," he explains about the company who are now releasing his songs into the world.
"I've never really had any problems getting stuff released in the past. When I was with Salako we sent out some demos and a few months later we were signed with records on the way. We were lucky I guess. Getting music heard is harder. I think the Internet has helped in that respect. Music fans can bypass radio play-lists and get what they want."
If it's an album of delicious Sun drenched achingly catchy digital pop, then Micro/Macro is what you're after. It's only January and already from the gloom and overcast skies the album sounding out what this summer should sound like is already cheerfully waiting to help brighten the days of these damp and dismal first few months, especially on the track "Hey Summer Sunshine" with the line ‘Hey summer sunshine / won’t you come back to me now?’ that simply makes you smile - unless you're Bitmap himself worrying over every details and feeling "critical, but that's because during the recording process you have to listen to the songs over and over and over again."
"There'll always be tiny bits which don't sound quite right to me, but I suppose if I made a record I thought was perfect there'd be no incentive to try and better it with the next one." And as for the emotions he hopes to make the listeners feel? "Happy, sad, warm, amazed, angry. I don't know. As long as they feel."
The album boots up, bleeping and blipping like an errant computer with opener ‘Someone To Call My Own," a funky guitar riff quickly joined with Beck-esque vocals and some Casio keyboard stylings for good measure.
"I've been making electronic music for a long time, so it comes to me probably more naturally than any other bits I record."
Speaking about getting just the right electronic sounds for a track, "it's not a precise art, but I guess when it sounds right, you've found the right sound"
Having already made a name for himself with his former band Salako and collaborating with numerous other musicians it seems that music comes naturally for the man behind the Bitmap.
"I picked up my first guitar aged 8 at primary school. I learned to play OK. Practicing the Jewish folk songs I'd learned earlier on the way home. Then one day I put the guitar back into its bag and left it there for a while. Ten years passed. Casio keyboards came and went. Then I remembered the little guitar in its bag in the cupboard. It was a bit small when I came to play it, but I persevered and eventually we became friends again."
The track "Micro/Macro", from which the album gets its namesake, is a charming, slight lo-fi guitar opener that lulls you in and then suddenly, bam! In comes the hyperactive guitar twangings and oscillating electronic waves.
"To be honest I don't really know where the songs come from. They mostly just pop into my head. I don't ask too many questions. I'm afraid I might find answers and the songs will stop appearing" he worries "I really enjoy writing them and putting them together, but once they’re done I kind of forget about them and move onto the next one. I think my favourite track on the new record is ‘Gravity Has Got Me Down’. It started off as an instrumental with me playing an old wooden flute over the top and grew into the multi-part monster it is today. It's a song for Isaac Newton and his apple."
Luke has already started work on the follow up to Micro/Macro. "I've already got most of the songs for the next record written, so I'll just take my time and make them sound as good as I can," leaving him time to muse over the benefits of becoming one of his digital robot creations.
"Having an electronic heart with a reset button would be a benefit and I've always fancied a bionic eye," he ponders. "One of the pitfalls would be going rusty when it rains."
Bitmap’s Micro/Macro is out now.