If our generation of ADD-afflicted, media-saturated video gaming youths of today needs a standard bearer for their collective freak flags, look no further than Daniel Sutliff. Under the name Daniel(s), the 28-year-old composes and performs hypertastic, electronic 8-bit songs that verge on becoming amphetamine-addled Nintendo soundtracks. Strangely enough, it is the sound of the future in the most nostalgic way.
"I love that original 8-bit NES stuff," Sutliff said, "but it's only one facet of what influences me."
Sutliff cited the Blade Runner soundtrack and bands like Lightening Bolt and Animal Collective as significant influences; bands that view songwriting in an abstract or experimental manner. Hearing those bands, among others, changed the way he wrote and played music, he said.
But the source material for Daniel(s) surpasses the sphere of music alone. Sutliff draws upon his love of epic tales, he mentioned The Lord of the Rings in particular.
"I'm a huge fan when it comes to that stuff. I love people that create their own world and share it with others," he said of author J.R.R. Tolkein.
Equipped with the Daniel(s) project, Sutliff has created his own private world as well. A Daniel(s) performance features Sutliff as the sole performer armed with a laptop and bass guitar. His live show is further enhanced by a custom video projection that is sequenced along with his electronic tracks. The dual sensory assault greatly alters the mood and ambience of the venue where he is performing giving one a unique glimpse into the Daniel(s) universe.
Sutliff will be bringing the Daniel(s) experience to the Soundpony, 409 N. Main, on Saturday, April 10. Local synth-pop band Guardant is also scheduled to play. In addition to the Soundpony performance, Sutliff will present a film and music piece during ChitChat 2, an art exhibition hosted by The Young Architects Forum on April 14 at Joe Momma's Pizza, 112 S. Elgin.
Sutliff performing as Daniel(s) is an incredibly personal thing. He has developed an entire aural and visual environment that is solely his own creation. Every musical note was painstakingly arranged by computer mouse (in actuality a laptop track pad) and all video footage and editing was compiled by him.
The resulting atmosphere is meticulous and telling. While experiencing a Daniel(s) show, one gets a sense of Sutliff's obsessions, attention to detail and sense of humor. For example, his inclusion of footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the horror film Dead Alive, and the way he edits it into his performances speaks volumes about him in a way that casual conversations probably could not.
And Sutliff likes it that way. For the time being he prefers to keep Daniel(s) a solitary project.
In addition to having complete creative control, performing as a solo artist has freed Sutliff from the schedule restrictions of others. With plans to take full advantage of that this spring, he has booked a two-week, east-coast tour in April that takes him from Mississippi up to Rhode Island, and he plans to tour again in the fall.
"I just want to get out and play as much as I can," Sutliff said. "(As a solo artist) I can do it all on my terms."
Sutliff was quick to espouse the usefulness of social networking Web sites like MySpace in scheduling the tour. Before the prevalence of such sites, one needed to harass venues and send press kits, he said, but now one can communicate and network directly with the venues or artists in other cities digitally and quickly which expedites the entire process.
"There's an amazing culture out there that helps you play shows (in other cities)," he said.
Locally speaking, Sutliff said that he is excited by the reception of his music here in Tulsa as well as the health of the local music scene in general.
"Ten years ago there wasn't the same receptive group of people (in Tulsa). There's a coherence that wasn't here before" he said. "I feel like if I was doing this stuff 10 years ago, it would not have resonated as well."
Although Sutliff performed as Daniel(s) for the first time in April 2009, he is no stranger to the stage. He currently plays bass in the recently reformed And There Stand Empires and was a member of the now-defunct indie rock band Callupsie.
But for Sutliff, the collaborative process of being in a band only partially satisfied his compositional prowess. What started casually six years ago with a drum machine and a bass guitar gradually morphed into Daniel(s) as he began to take his music seriously.
"I feel like I've had this music in my head for a long time but didn't have the means to get it out," he said.
Two months of living in his mother's basement during the fall of 2008 provided Sutliff with the perfect opportunity. He tucked himself away and began composing his debut album Marfagal, a record that for all intents and purposes is a soundtrack to a video game that never existed.
"(Marfagal) was pure escapism for me," Sutliff said.
He ambitiously set out to create his own "pseudo mythology" in the vein of Tolkein complete with song titles that read like whimsical literary chapters: "Emerald Lake," "Passage Through Abalung Woods" or "Akran's Mirror."
What better vehicle for these melodic narratives than the 8-bit motifs that weaved together the story of the Nintendo games of his youth? Using the retro sounds he successfully created a sense of whimsy, conflict, tension and triumph on Marfagal that act as a musical storyboards for a dramatic non-existant tale.
"I'm really attracted to things that are uplifting and triumphant in a way," said Sutliff.
The sound of Daniel(s) continues to evolve since Marfagal. Sutliff expressed a desire to make his bass guitar playing more prominent in the sound of the project and incorporate other electronic sounds and influences. Whether playing as Daneil(s), And There Stand Empires, or any project that pops up along the way, Sutliff plans to keep his love of music central to his life.
"(Music) is a vehicle to meet people and enjoy life," said Sutliff. "It's what I live for and what makes me happy."
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