Ceephax’s last album, Camelot Arcade (Wémè Records, 2017) is a triple 12” LP packing no less than thirteen songs. King Arthur playing ’80s coin-ops? Let’s hear how that sounds!
Since his very first shows in 1997, british musician Ceephax (Andy Jenkinson, A.K.A. “Ceephax Acid Crew”) has always been searching for the perfect mix of analog and early digital technologies through his enduring career. His own stage name is a testament to this vision -as well as his own origins-, making a clear reference to the “Ceefax” system (the BBC’s first teletext service, now defunct, that represented primitive digital technology in the era of analog TV).
This hybrid approach is also reflected in Ceephax’s own creative methods and recording practices. His more than decent collection of -mostly- analog gear: vintage synthesizers, dusty drum boxes (with Roland machines occuppying a special place in his heart) and old-school mixers; is frequently sequenced with obsolete technology, like decades-old Commodore Amiga PCs running trackers -primitive sequencing software programs-.
But there is more to this approach than just methodology. When you hear Jenkinson’s music it’s clear that this fusion of the analog and archaic digital worlds is echoing devices like the SID (a hybrid sound chip found in many ’80s videogame and computer systems), and the melodies it used to play, accompanying those beautifully pixelated sprites of yore.
The whole 8-bit aesthetic and the medieval references have always been characteristic of Ceephax’s output, and his most recent album is no exception as the LP’s title –Camelot Arcade– cleverly implies. Medieval chiptune knights on acid? I definitely want to hear the outcome. Humor is also one of Jenkinson’s trademarks; his DIY style videos are legendary, and if you look at the cover art you’d easily come to the conclusion that this hasn’t changed at all. Dressed as a -purposefully inauthentic and quite unmanly- medieval knight, Ceephax’s portrait seems to bring up yet another profoundly british cultural reference: Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”.
Once you put the needle on the record you can hear all of those influences come together. The opening track, “Trusthouse forte” -one of the LP’s highlights-, is a techno-pop piece seemingly citing retro videogame tunes from the likes of (NES era) Castlevania or Zelda. The chord progressions, ostinatos and the choice of straight drum beats are a clear nod to those 8-bit classics, the baroque music period -Bach, Händel-, as well as some later 16-bit games like the legendary “Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom”.
The next song, “Camelot Escalator” starts off with a simple -yet effective- bassline, closely followed a TR-909 beat. The addition of synth arpeggios with generous doses of delay gives it an early 2000s feel, similar to some Discovery-era Daft Punk stuff (just listen to the endings of Aerodynamic or Superheroes if you need proof), although with less of a disco influence; while the mid section is a bit more acidic overall, with a hint of underground flair mixed in -sounding like of a poppy version of Orgue Electronique-.
“Life Started Tomorrow” is much more of a downtempo track. It begins with an epic (bordering on kitsch) intro, clearly influenced by 70s Goblin and B-movie terror OST’s, later turning into a dark italo-disco track via the use of sequenced melodies, four-on-the-floor beats and classic octaved basslines.
The fourth song “Shadowfax part I” is even more laid back. The drums almost dissappear in a sea of reverb, as the track takes us back to the present (or even the future) with an “out of focus” aesthetic -verging on IDM/ambient-, while also keeping a few bits and pieces of retro “cosmic disco” style sounds. It’s certainly an unusual mix of genres, think BoC meets Brian Bennett.
Next is “Creon Happy”, revisiting the 8-bit theme with a joyful Siriusmo-ish approach, featuring classy (although a bit too repetitive) 808 beats and some string synth pads thrown in. This is later followed by the moroderesque sixth track, “Path to the none”, that blends by-the-book italo/HI-NRG production values with some 80’s new-wave melancholy (regarding its choice of chords and melodies, à la Fad Gadget or Cabaret Voltaire).
“Phraxby” is a cosmic ballad that wouldn’t feel too out-of-place in a ’90s Warp/Rephlex catalogue -which seems natural, considering Ceephax has previously appeared in a few references from those labels-. If it wasn’t for its slightly conventional and rigid TR-707 beats, it could well pass as an AFX track out of Analord. The following song, “Hovagen” goes to more housey territories, pairing electric piano sounds with an overall electro feel, echoing Discodeine, Avery and similar contemporary acts.
The 9th cut, called “Green Night”, is a classic acid tune in true ’90s fashion, with a galore of dirty 303s, 909s, and familiar string section samples. Its sound seems closer to minimal or techno (think Plastikman or Mills, as well as some of Ceephax’s earlier works) than the rest of Camelot Arcade. On the other hand, much like the third track, “Wasteline 389” keeps on with the New-Wave meets Goblin/Carpenter theme; while “The Great Greatsby” seems to mock F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book -not sure if intentionally- with an overdose of cheesy pianos drenched in reverb.
The 12th cut, a sequel to the 4th -called Shadowfax part 2-, is quite dissimilar to the former, sounding like more of a 2000s Ceephax (acid/IDM meets chiptune) track. The ironic 8-bit sounds, synthesized bass lines and 909 beats are unmistakably “acid crew”, bringing back memories from Ceeland and similar releases. The closing track, “Yodecahedron”, goes back even further to revisit Ceephax’s untitled LP (released in 2000 by Fossil Funk), yet taking you sonically to a distant future at the very same time.
Even if Jenkinson doesn’t seem to take himself -or his music- too seriously, this LP is well-thought-out and carefully produced. Camelot Arcade is a fairly solid album, with a bunch of 80’s influenced songs (in line with his more recent work) and a few “back to the roots” tracks, more reminiscent of the old Ceephax Acid Crew sound (’90s / ’00s). By and large, I’d bet that if you’re a fan of either (or both) types of nostalgia, you’ll most likely love this one.
You can get this vinyl here.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.