Valerie J. Bower
N8noface and Skumbag Tony of Crimekillz
One of the last things you imagine when thinking of punk music is old-school, black and white, handheld video games. But that's what the duo Crimekillz specializes in: "Gameboy punk." The Tucson, Ariz. group has lately made waves in L.A.'s avant-garde Low End Theory scene with its digitized thrash music. Now signed to A1R, the label of San Diego-bred future-folk singer Gonjasufi, Crimekillz is primed to release its next album, Destroy Stress. I caught up with vocalist N8noface of Crimekillz in anticipation of their first San Diego show at the Go Lounge in La Mesa (join the Facebook event here).
Quan Vu: Can you tell me how you first hooked up with Skumbag Tony to form Crimekillz?
N8noface: Me and Tony have known each other on the East Side of Tucson for years. Me and my partner, Zackey Force Funk, owned a hip-hop shop, graf store, record store. He would always come in as a young'n. And we started doing music there, just doing remixes. We started a little group called I Was A Teenage Monster. We just played with samples and stuff. And we always did music together. Years and years later, that kinda just formed into Crimekillz. He had this idea one day like, "Yo I wanna make punk music off a Gameboy." He produces beats and does so much other stuff, he produces all kinds of different styles. He just got that in mind like, "Yo, I wanna make Gameboy punk music. Let's do it!" I didn't know a lot of punk. I skated. I knew some of the bands. But I'm mostly a hip-hop head. I was like, "Alright, I'll try it, man. Let's just try it." We had no clue what we were doing. We'd known each other for years and, after years and years of making music together, we kinda just ran into this idea and ran with it.
QV: How did you even get the idea for Gameboy punk?
N8noface: He had heard of "chiptune" music. He had known about it for years. And he heard producers in the beat scene sampling the sounds. He was like, "You know what? We're always digging and sampling." He's always trying to one-up cats. So he's like, "Screw that: I'm not gonna sample it." You know, the chiptune people have always made music with Gameboys but no one did punk. So he was like, "Yo, I'm just gonna start writing on it." He knew about the genre and the style but he just wanted to do something different with it. What inspired him exactly? I have no clue. He knew about chiptune music in the '90s and stuff.
QV: Was it hard for you to go from an underground hip-hop background to doing punk vocals?
N8noface: Yeah, it bugs me out. I just didn't care and I think that helped us. A lot of people's favorite record still to this day is our first one, Crimekillz, put out by Hit N Run. We had those songs on deck for years before anyone heard them because we were like, "Aw, this ain't it. We don't got it yet. This ain't it." Sure enough, my brother, Zackey Force Funk, he heard it and was like, "Aw, screw that. You guys are ready." Before we even had a name, Zack just grabbed our songs, threw it on Myspace and DJ Kutmah in LA heard 'em and went bananas and started bugging out. Then, it was like, "Wow, maybe we do got it."
But I don't know. I didn't know what I was doing. I just started yelling. Suicidal Tendencies was a huge inspiration in my life coming up as a kid. So I knew some of the bands in that genre. Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains. Knew of them, listened to them because I'm a music lover. But again, I really come from hip-hop. I don't know if it was hard or whatever. I just tried it. I didn't know what I was doing.
QV: Were you rapping or making beats before then?
N8noface: Making beats, yeah. And I would rhyme, yeah. I never really pursued too hard the rhyming. I just did. I always wrote. I alway try to create, man, no matter what. I would even try to sing, not that I can sing or anything. I could just try to mimic some sounds. I just tried to do anything, I don't even care. Definitely, I was always writing rhymes. That's what I was really big on coming up, just like lyricism. I was really into that. I don't know. With punk stuff, I'm like, "I don't even gotta write nothing. I'm just gonna bug out."
QV: You mentioned DJ Kutmah. Is that how you started getting involved in the L.A. scene?
N8noface: DJ Kutmah's the one that really took things off for us. Because otherwise, we'd just be sitting in Tucson, chilling on the East Side. Once he heard it on Myspace, he started sharing. He was doing Sketchbook out here, Low End Theory out here. He just kinda shared us and that's when things took off -- everything started rolling after that. He showed us to one DJ, Gaslamp [Killer] showed us to other DJs. Then Gaslamp had us over for an 11-11-11 show. Sufi [Gonjasufi] had heard about us. Shawn of Mainframe who's down with Blu. They had all heard about us. But that's kinda what solidified us when they saw us at 11-11-11. That's when Gonjasufi was like, "Yo, I wanna sign these guys to my A1R label." Everything else has just been rolling since then.
QV: You're getting ready to drop your album, Destroy Stress. Tell me about that.
N8noface: Yeah, Crimekillz, Destroy Stress. It's like a take off of "Crush, kill, destroy, stress!" from Organized Konfusion. It's like more hardcore punk. The first album was like Casio and Gameboy. This one is all strictly Gameboy. It's real intense. We live on the border in Tucson, Arizona. So it's always coming from that border town stories of what we go through. So it's all kinda just about that.
QV: Do you ever mess around making beats with a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis?
N8noface: Me, all I do is mess with samplers. I got a SP-1200 and an ASR. Tony, he's got the NES and he's got this stuff. But I don't think he even got into it. I know he was talking about getting it. But he just stopped and kept it moving with the Gameboy.
QV: You guys are affiliated with the Low End Theory scene. But I heard you've been trying to branch out and get more into the punk scene.
N8noface: Exactly. The beat scene out here in L.A. has embraced us and we always kinda was bugged. But we always were like, "Yo, we wanna know if we can play with real punk bands." Going back to the OG punk bands like Screamer out here in LA where they were just some keyboards. We're like, "Yo, I think we can hang without the guitars and the bass. We just bring that energy." So we always wanted to branch out in the scene because that's a scene that doesn't know about us -- the skate scene, the punk scene. That's what we're gonna try to do all summer. I'm out here in L.A. Scumbag's coming out here. The San Diego show's really gonna be what sets off the California movement for us. We're performing with [local band] Batwings. We wanna just go and start messing around with all those hardcore kids and that hardcore scene. We wanna really try to embrace that now.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.