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Confessions of a Scene Wannabe
by Alecs of Brainstorm

My would-be introduction

My first computer was an Atari. I was 8 years old and it was both exciting and mystifying. I'm sure there are plenty of you reading this saying to yourself, "yeah - I was there once. I remember those days." And I'm sure you do. I have fond memories of those days, too - trying to figure out Atari DOS, remembering which games had to load at a particular address (I'm still not sure what made them any different), trying to anticipate when my 810 drive was going to eat the disk and hitting the door release before it could. Yeah - those days.

But, those days, for me, were in the U.S. And it wasn't untill age 12 when I think I finally found another person who was "into computers" like I was. Sure, the schools had plenty of labs full of Apple //e machines, but we never got to play on those. I would, occasionally (when his mother let me) bring my Atari over to my friend's place after school...but all we'd ever do was play games. Nobody seemed to want to really learn about computers.

And the Atari wasn't a nice ST, either - it was a 400. My father, from whom I eventually inherited my electronics tinkering skills, had upgraded it to 48 KB of RAM. This allowed my brother and I to play those pirated 800 games, but it was still a paltry 400 at heart. Just a single cartridge slot, the good-ol' pokey sound and that cursed membrane keypad. Looking back, it's no wonder I soon tired of the machine, which was good since my parents' divorce eventually deprived me of access to it every other week.

My beloved Atari 400, with external keyboard mod

Then, around 1993, my Mom and step-father got a P.C. It was supposed to be for his home business, but he never touched it - meaning it basically fell into my hands. It was a 386 at 25 MHz (a big step from that Atari which, by that time, was eating every disk I put into it) and I learned everything I could soak up about using it. DOS. Batch files. QBASIC. I should have been set to discover demo scene...but I didn't.

A chance encounter

My first encounter with anything scene-related was entirely by accident. Back in the day when a certain popular retail store actually cared about something besides MP3 players and cell phones, I frequented "the shack" to stare at gizmos and buy the occasional part for my electronics kits, and one day they had something decidedly cool on display: a computer was playing music! On its screen were four bar-graph looking lines that pulsed in time with a crappy cover Axel-F, but it amazed me. "P.C.s can play music?" I asked myself. And that's when I discovered that, for all its speed and 4 megabytes of RAM, my P.C. was missing the one thing that really mattered to me. Alas, sound cards, I discovered, weren't important for business P.C.s.

So, cursed with a mute computer, I went on to learn some real languages like PASCAL and C. It also didn't take me long to discover the early trappings of "the internet" thanks to my father's shell account at the university. I took all the computer classes my high school offered - both of them - and I met other kids who shared my interest in computers. We learned to program fractal-like graphics in PASCAL, but I was never very good at them. Instead, I found a program called "Piano Man" which could play music through the P.C. speaker. It was primitive, but it was all I had and I had far too much fun with it. And once I discovered how to make it mix 4 songs together into a time-sliced "chord" I was almost giddy (well - actually - I was almost in the principal's office for making all the machines in the lab blast the school fight song at boot one morning).

But, despite all I was learning, I was still missing what I realize today is the essence of the scene: the social community. Nobody I knew had ever heard of a demo party. The closest thing we had was the annual computer science competition. But, because it was always held on the same day as the concert band competition, I could never go. Our team always did well, but I never got to share in the experience. And, despite my early access to the internet I never discovered anything scene-related there, either.

Finally, at age 18, about to leave for college, I got my first "multimedia" P.C. I don't remember how, but I also aquired a certain CD-ROM of almost universal familiarity in the scene: the Gravis Ultrasound Experience CD. I still have it to this day - in fact I'm looking at it right now. I think the first demo I ever saw was either Crystal Dream 2 or Verses but it didn't matter. These 386 and 486 productions looked awesome on this Pentium (most of them, anyway and that was just the CD-ROM portion. The audio portion of the CD contained a clip of Jogeir's famous "Guitar Slinger" and I must have played that a hundred times."...mod, scream tracker, ultra tracker and other formats which contain note data and encapsulated custom instruments..." - I MUST FIND OUT WHAT THESE ARE.

Armed with this new knowledge, I hunted down these trackers and replayers. The CD-ROM portion contained a pretty lackluster selection of MOD tunes but I got to know the famous scene handles: Purple Motion, Jogeir, Dr. Awesome, Captain. To this day, their tunes are still some of my favorites.

Fast-forward 10 years and here I am at keyboard attempting to express my frustration at being forced to watch the Scene from the sidelines. Thanks to the modern internet, I've been glued to the screen for the last 3 years watching netcasts from the great parties like Assembly and Breakpoint. I've got 8 video DVDs of demos from Amiga and P.C. But I'm dying to make it to a party. I just know it'll drive me crazy until I do. In the meantime, I build my collection of scene music and contribute where I can (Nectarine coding, ZINE editing, etc.)

So what's up North America?

So what's there for an east-coast U.S. Scener to do? NAID didn't last - I'm not sure why. Sure, it was technically in another country, but just a couple days' drive for me. Pilgrimage is on the other side of the country, though. But now as I write this, I'm discovering "Blockparty 2007." It's a first-time party, but it seems like they're headed in the right direction. It claims compos for demos, graphics, fast music, oldskool music, and even photography. It's in Cleveland, Ohio. I've never been there, but naturally I'm intrigued. Could there be scene life left in the US?

Update: Now that some party reports have come out I see I should have made more effort to get there. Here's hoping for next year.

In the meantime, I really dig the direction the Scene is taking on the modern internet. Thanks to Nectarine, I've "met" more sceners than I could hope to find here in the States. Axel has even been kind enough to let me join a demo group! And now I'm writing my thoughts down for a reasonably well-known Scene rag. This is all great! But I still feel I'm missing what it's really like to be "in the Scene."

I'm not sure why the scene is dying in the US. I suppose the declining emphasis on science and technology in schools may have something to do with it but it can't be entirely to blame. Perhaps it's a social issue. Are computers just not cool? Seeing as how teenagers here practically live on the internet, I can't see that being the case. So what gives? I don't know. But I wanna find out.

And then change it...

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Comments: (click here to comment the article)

001 BarZoule
here's my quick reply to this 2yrs old article. You indeed should have gone to BlockParty2007. I don't really get why you didn't attend, cuz that's exactly what is killing the NA scene: the lack of believers and the amount of doubts. It's like "no one will come to my party so i won't do one" and "i won't do any demos cuz i don't have a party to release it at". Sure the distance doesn't help: 500-800$ for a trip to cleveland is the cheapest demoparty-trip i've seen so far.. That's something students can hardly't afford, tho last year at cleveland i'Ve seen some yougsters that did the trip by car (IIRC all the way down from Quebec city!). Anyway, so far we've had Pilgrimage to show that anyone can do anything and call it a demoparty, Blockparty to show that the scene spirit still lives on, and NVScene to show that you can even get hugely sponsored for such an event! ..all i can say is: spread the word! believe and convert ppl around you and be part of the NA-Scene-Resurection (tm)
meanwhile take a look on demoscene.us, it's all about us, the north-amarican demoscene :)
Posted 16/3 2009 - 19:10

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