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Art, Culture, Music

Go Fish

by Andy Davis / 09.09.2011

Once upon a time Mahala’s Brandon Edmonds described Goldfish’s creative output as “FreshlyGround run through an Ibiza logarithm… Toe-tapping genial niceness for hairdressers and receptionists in glam design studios where everyone secretly hates themselves. Gag-reflex bourgeois muzak. I’d vote for the Party promising to put this duo to death. And film it on my phone.”
And yet, much to the surprise of hip, disgruntled over-educated South Africans everywhere, the confounding rise of the Goldfish continues at a frightening pace.

The video for the smash hit single “We Come Together” now has well over 1 million views. Invariably we at Mahala are not immune to that kind of traffic. Time was nigh to swallow our pride and try hijack some of that action. We pulled Goldfish’s pocket animator Mike Scott and frontman David Poole into a little confab about the success of the video.

Mahala: You guys got half a million views on youtube in about 10 days… that’s some pretty heavy traffic. How did you do it?

Mike: The music video was picked up fairly quickly by the gamers from around the world. I included a bunch of video game and internet meme references so the video soon became a “spot the reference” clip. The song’s also pretty catchy. Then I had a hitlist of websites to contact and prepped an email to each. Amazingly I had a pretty good strike rate of getting the video featured. There’s also a huge contingent of people on the internet that really like pixels and 8bit stuff. I should know because I’m one of them and I’m familiar with how 8bit content can go viral fairly quickly. I think it’s us 70s and 80s babies that have fond memories of chunky pixel graphics from our childhood. So, with all that in mind whilst planning the video, I was kind of catering to my own target market and had some insight into what is kif.

Goldfish we come together

Dave: Online is amazing when you get buy in from people and the viral thing starts moving. I was just looking back on an excited email I sent Mike and Dom when we had 5000 views in 2 days! As I am writing this it has had over 1 million views on Youtube and another 240 000 views on Vimeo! It has slowed down somewhat but it is still getting loads of views. Mike knows all these gamey websites who loved the video and we pushed it out via our social media (around 90000 strong collectively) and main website avenues. Facebook was a huge help getting this to go viral as it is really great for showing your friends how cool you are buy sharing a kif video with them!

How did the concept for the video come about?

Mike: I first heard the radio edit of “We Come Together” on 5FM whilst driving to Cape Town with my brother. Soon as I heard it I SMS’d Dave and Dom and asked them if I could do a video for it. This set the ball in motion. I had an “8bit something” on the cards for a while now and I think Dave and Dom knew this. In the past I’d decided against doing a full 8bit video because it is a hugely time-intensive process. Their idea was they would like to have them smashing up some smooth jazz people like Kenny G and Ke$ha. I also kind of thought I might take off the kid-friendly brakes that have been ingrained in me from doing a lot of kids animation on TV and playing everything safe so that I didn’t need to redo a bunch of stuff. So that, and combined with my love for videogames and wanting to really push the envelope and get a claymation scene done as well as a 3D voxel scene, all resulted in some stars lining up. The story concept was pretty straightforward – I figured people like to root for the good guys and have some baddies to hate on so this time I gave Goldfish some antagonists to fight againt – the smooth jazz police, which was originally Dave and Dom’s idea. But I also made them cool. They were going to be pigs in the beginning but Goldfish and I both decided that “cats” was more fitting for the jazz world. Also they had to rescue a princess like Mario does in Super Mario Bros. There was a lot of prep work to get everything running clearly.

Dave: I was an avid gamer as a kid (I think I played Tetris on my Gameboy the entire way from Durban to Joburg in a car once without looking up!), one day Dom and I stumbled apon “Truckers Delight” on Youtube, basically it blew our minds collectively and we agreed there and then that we wanted to do an 8bit music video as soon as possible!

This was actually before we did the “Get Busy Living” video with Mike. However we try to never force things from a creative side as that’s a great way to make mediocre music or videos. Mike had done an intro and outro in 8bit for the “Fort Knox” video which kicked ass so when we mentioned to Mike we wanted to do an 8bit video he responded straight away. All we had to do then was figure out which track and some sort of concept for the story. We really enjoy working with Mike. He’s an amazingly creative guy with some crazy stuff going on in his head and once we all start bouncing ideas around pretty much anything can happen hence the wild videos that he has done for us. Anyway that’s when we hit on the jazz police… and Mike just took it and ran.

How did you manage to pull together all the different animators and how did you manage the work flow?

Mike: I found guys on the internet, looked at their work, figured out what their strengths were and asked them what they liked to do and discussed prices with each of them individually. It was quite a thing and I think I was using organizational parts of my brain that I don’t normally have access to. Still I had a clear animatic that I had made so could get people started on various bits of the video at various times. A German team was working on the 3D voxel scene whilst a clay animator was working on the clay set, another guy was doing sprites for a boss scene and another guy was doing backgrounds, another one touching up sprites and recolouring… I had everything scheduled out. I got a bunch of A4 card cut into lots of A6 pieces and wrote down stuff on those and pinned up the important ones with how many beats one animator is doing, how many scenes needed to be completed by a certain day, how many beats of the song I’d need to do per day; really just micro-managing stuff.

Dave: Watching this process was pretty awesome, Mike is a machine he just pumps out stuff at such a rate.

Goldfish we come together

Did you have a huge budget for this?

Mike: Well, I guess I may as well discuss this as it may be of use to others. The entire budget was around R70k. It later got bumped up to R78k if I remember correctly as I went broke towards the end what with paying all these other contributors. I put some away in an investment account as I knew if I didn’t it would all go into the production. I spent around half of that on getting others to do work for the video. Although everyone was working at reduced rates – most were keen to be involved in a fairly interesting project for a song many of them said they liked and I had a couple previous Goldfish videos to show. The budget took a beating and I often sat at my desk doing some serious number crunching and bargaining with contributors. Compared to some other animation houses budget this is miniature but I really wanted to make a meal out of this video since I’d wanted an excuse to do a pixel animation for years and years and years… ever since I saw Super Mario Bros in a store as a tyke, I didn’t even know it, but I wanted to make this video.

Dave: From our side we invest most of our income from record deals back into this kind of thing and with record sales not being what they used to be and iTunes not being in South Africa (which is such a shame… go get yourself a US iTunes account it will change your life… just google it). Anyway when Mike came to us with all these ideas we new it was going to cost a lot more than our other videos, but we knew Mike was going to make something awesome. When he came back asking for more we agreed instantly because by thaat stage we where hooked! How could money stand in the way of something as awesome as what Mike was in the middle of! We’ve also done a deal so if any money is made from the video we’ll split it with Mike.

Goldfish we come together

What’s up with the 8bit sounds and old skool video game styles?

Mike: My brother Dave (not the Goldfish ou) is a music machine. Him and I both gig live as The Kiffness (I do visuals and a bit of drums, he does the music, plays trumpet, synths, sings) him and I both have a video-game fetish and I asked him to make the chiptune version of “We Come Together”. He’s made a full version that may be released at some stage. Old-school 8bit games had only a couple waveforms to work with – triangle, square, noise and sine. From those waveforms you can make up a surprisingly wide range of noises, like snare drums, crashes, piano keys etc…

The look is achieved by creating a 200 x 113 pixel document in Photoshop and clicking pixel by pixel. Its painful. There’s no magic filter that successuly turns things into pixelated 8-bit style, that I know of (I tried quite a few different approaches). So whilst the rough drawing might be done fairly quickly the cleaned up final verison is painstakingly produced.

Dave: Dom did the 8bit version of “Fort Knox” at the end of that video but this time we where on tour somewhere and Mike suggested that Dave do it, we have been checking out The Kiffness for a while and think they rock so we agreed that Dave should give it a bash and he nailed it, so much so that we had to get him to do a full version. Click here for details.

Did you know this was going to blow up?

Mike: My biggest fear was that it would flop, so I ended up spending many all-nighters working on it. The title of the song is also appropriate as a lot of us really did “come together” to make this thing, I think its helped to open Goldfish a whole new market of gamers, they are currently the most viewed channel in South Africa on YouTube and I’m glad it all worked out. I remember buying Monster Hits Volume 1 on cassette because it had a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog inside the cover. The music kind of sucked but it was my affinity for the video-game that sold it.

Goldfish we come together

Tell me about Sakhile’s character… is he the Goldfish? Or does he not feature?

Mike: Sakhile features man! He’s dressed up as Keyboard Cat and bursts out of his costume when Goldfish hit the stage and features from then on. This was a little bit of a strategic move on my part as I already had 3 characters featuring throughout the video from the start, as well as the numerous other characters they encounter. Normally I’d have a single hero and that’s it. This time the work was kind of tripled (Dave, Dom and the Goldfish character) and I wasn’t too keen on making a whole extra part for another character. So he joins the Goldfish ranks later on in the story and smashes some Smooth Jazz Cats with due diligence.

Dave: The attention to detail in all his video’s is really quite remarkable even down to what Sakhile is wearing and our actions on stage. The screens behind the DJ booth have the Fort Knox video playing on them.

I noticed a lot of video game references… from Pitfall to Mortal Combat. Care to try name them all?

Mike: Man, there are a lot. Some guys tried to name them all in this video:

They did a pretty good job – they thought Dave was Rick Astley which cracked me up a lot and still does. They also misinterpreted the Sunset Riders intro as a reference but don’t tell them. By their count there’s 64 references (which would be appropriate for the Nintendo 64). They did miss a couple more hidden ones – Dig Dug in a window, a Day of the Tentacle reference with “I don’t think you should drink that”, and some others but they did a pretty awesome job.

Dave: The fact that some guys in America did this video about our video is pretty astounding! From the moment the first idea erupted to the release a few months back a the crazy response.

What’s the backstory behind the concept of the Jazz Police?

Mike: Smooth Jazz – Dave and Dom are not fans of this musical genre. The Jazz Police were created by Dave and Dom as a force that reigns down when the Smooth Jazz Police is threatened. So Goldfish are making Nu-Jazz or Electro-Jazz and smashing up the Smooth-Jazz-Police-Cat-Stormtroopers. This does not bode well for them as they face up against the Jazz Police. There may be more to their creation but this is how I understand it.

Dave: “The Jazz Police” idea has developed over the years of being Jazz musicians who turned to the “Dark side” of music and started playing more popular music. It’s kind of been a running joke since we were at university studying Jazz. There it was taken even a step further that if you didn’t play Bebop (a specific type of jazz music) then you where shunned (and the Jazz Police would find you if you stepped out of line.)

It’s kind of similar to how Mahala has “reviewed” us in the past. Maybe the next video we’ll have the Mahala Police!

That’s a great idea. Mahala is like Darth Vader, bitches. What’s next?

Dave: We are going to clone Mike and Dave Scott and lock the new clones in rooms with lots of MacBooks to make videos for all our songs!!

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