We first heard Egyptian-born Fayek Helmi spinning, sorry, pressing, at Cairo Jazz Club over a year ago and were absolutely blown away with his innovative musical style.
Choosing to produce and play high-octane electronic tracks directly via his original Nintendo Gameboy, Fayek Helmi's (AKA TheSkyIs256K) unique genre – known in the industry as ‘chiptune’ – is both the past and the future of music. Probably the only Egyptian chiptune artist in the world, we sat down with the man, otherwise known as TheSkyIs256K, to talk about his button-bashing beats and which Nintendo character he’d most like to have sex with, before he wows us with a live performance…
We’ve noticed that in Pokemon, the characters generally evolve in stages of three but then you get a Pokemon like Magikarp who all of a sudden evolves into this super powerful beast called Garydos which is really strange. This begs the question: when did you start playing music?
I actually know nothing about Pokemon, so I’m glad it went to that. I started in September 2010 with Gameboys, but I started teaching myself guitar in 2003. My friends and I wanted to start a band to play a gig at our prom.
To get chicks?
No, not even. We were at an all-boys school.
Who are your musical influences?
There are a lot. When I started, it was with a punkish background like Blink-182 and Greenday but I have influences from all over the spectrum now.
So at what point did you decide, ‘Fuck it I want to play music from a Gameboy’?
Well, I had no idea that chiptune existed until December 2009.I heard a song by this artist Bitshifter and it blew me away.
Did you just make him up?
Haha! No I didn’t.
When you’re not playing music from your Gameboy, what do you do for a living?
I actually test video games for a living!
Ok, so for us simpletons, explain how it works. How do you make music for the Gameboy?
It’s quite easy. You can buy these cards that are just like Gameboy games, but instead of having a fixed memory, it’s like a flash drive. And there are tonnes of different softwares you can buy and just load it onto the Gameboy.
We have a sneaking suspicion you use your Gameboy for other things, like time travel. What else can you do with it?
There’s a thing called an Arduino Board. It’s a micro-controller board that was developed by an Italian university to simplify electronic manufacturing of devices. You can use the board to input sensors or data to be uploaded in a very easy way. You can even change the code. It helped the electronic scene a lot because it helped kids who are interested in electronics develop hardware and software without getting a degree.
We didn’t understand any of that. If you could do anything you want with a Gameboy what would it be?
Watch porn on it.
Fair play. If you could time travel to any place or time where would you go?
I would go back to when the Gameboy just came out so I can show off my modified Gameboys and blow their minds. I installed backlights on them and I rewired the sound and some other stuff.
So, is there a big fan base for gaming device-based tunes?
Yeah, definitely, there’s a huge community around the world. Chiptune is especially popular in Montreal and Tokyo but it’s picking up in Europe too.
What’s your dream venue to play?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore. It was a show called Blip Festival and it’s one of the reasons console music became mainstream. But they stopped doing it after last year.
Have you had a lot of gigs in Canada?
I think I played about ten shows in Canada.
If you had to have sex with one of the original Nintendo characters, who would it be?
Princess Peach is taken. She’s a whore anyway.
One of the Double Dragons’ girlfriends.
Good call, they must be hot right? Even when they’re pixelated, you can tell.
Yeah, definitely, or Chun Li from Street Fighter.
What Nintendo game has the best soundtrack?
I know this is going to sound cliché, but Mario Brothers.
If your life was a game what would it be called?
‘Why Did You Buy This?’
And what would happen in ‘Why Did You Buy This?’
Umm, people would return it. Actually, if I had to compare my life to another game it would have to beLeisure Suit Larry.I’m not really a gamer though, people typecast me as that, but I’m not.
Maybe it’s because you walked into our office wearing a Pacman T-shirt with two Gameboys and you test games for a living. Has anything weird happened to you whilst performing?
Yeah the Gameboy crashes a lot and it gets awkward. I just say, “this Gameboy is a piece of shit,” and everyone laughs because they expect it. It happens a lot.
Do you have to use the original Gameboys?
No, you can use any, but this has the deepest bass sounds.
Where do you find old Gameboys?
I think they were all hand-me-downs. I would just explain to people my music and they’d be like, “I have a Gameboy you can have at home.”
Do you ever think about playing music off other devices, like a Sega Megadrive?
There are people who play off other consoles like that. But I like my Gameboy.
What other Egyptian electronic artists do you admire?
Neobyrd, definitely. He’s a good friend and I’ve always admired his sense of production. He has an amazing ear.
Do you like Sean Paul?
Can you play us a Sean Paul tune from your Gameboy?
No, but I can play one of my own tracks called Edge Of Reason.
*Fayek goes on to play the greatest and only gig ever in the MO4 office. Inspires some interpretive dance from Timmy and Wally*
What’s the best drug to take when listening to Gameboy music?
MDMA for sure.
Can you tell us about your upcoming gigs?
I’m playing at Bikya Bookcafe in Nasr City on the 10th of January and Photopia on the 11th.