A Nameless Dreamers Story
By Jacob Chase
Fuel up your airship and take a journey through a cosmos of sound and alchemical nostalgia with Nameless Dreamers by Equip & R23X. Pressed on Yetee Records exclusive Azure Storm vinyl, the Original Sound Version to this collision of worlds is here to whisk you away on a fantastical quest through the ether and back. Featuring artwork by Vacuum-chan, Bani-chan, and PJ Rork, Nameless Dreamers is the quintessential vaporwave release of 2022! Mastered for analog playback by Marc Junker (R23X), and Kevin Hein (Equip), Nameless Dreamers is a tour through the subconscious melodies of a universe beyond our own.
A project years in the making, Nameless Dreamers marks the culmination of two of vaporwave’s most synonymous and nostalgia-driven composers. Renowned in the video game adjacent sub-genre that they both helped create— Equip & R23X have collided in a magikal and unbelievable journey that most vapor-heads have only dreamt of until now. This isn’t just the manifestation of two powerhouse beat makers, sample twisters, and composers, this is the journey of two friends reaching into the firmament and bringing back a saga of their time together in waveform. In order to give you all a glimpse into what’s to come in the quests ahead, I have sat down with both Kevin & Marc to peel back the veil on this incredible blend of music and fantasy so that we may all embark, together, into a dream. This is the story of Nameless Dreamers:
Based half a continent away from each other, Equip & R23X have always had this sort of gravitational pull with the media that they create that draws in so many of the same fans from all over the world. This sort of cross-generational synthesis of raw nostalgia, JRPG-esque sounds, and the love of all things gaming exudes out of everything that they create. Whether it’s a soundtrack to a game that doesn’t exist, an experimental soup of beats filled with samples, or a poignant amalgamation of that past we all wish we could crawl back into, one thing is for certain, Nameless Dreamers is everything we were all were hoping for and more! From the outside looking in, it seems like Equip & R23X have had this sort of inseparable relationship for what seems like forever! But how exactly did the two of them meet?
“We both know of each other from being ‘in the scene’ so-to-speak, and were Twitter mutuals. In early 2017 or so Marc posted a general Tweet that he was in Chicago so I DM'd him to see if he wanted to meet up. He was hanging out at Logan Arcade with some friends, which is pretty close to where I live, so I hopped on my bike and rode over there to hang. The rest is history.” - Kevin
“Yeah, I remember meeting Kevin in the middle of winter in Chicago... He rode his bike to the arcade, and I thought ‘this guy’s a real one!’ Drew Wise was there and said ‘Hey, you guys look the same, you both ride bikes, and you both make JRPG music. That’s crazy!’” - Marc
Haha, that sounds exactly like how Drew would handle that situation between two of his really good friends! It’s kind of crazy to see how that small interaction became the catalyst for the collaboration we are all experiencing today with this album. As a huge fan of both Marc & Kevin’s work, I know that this record has been on mine and many others’ radars for quite some time. The fact that it is finally here kind of feels like Music Christmas to me. But was Nameless Dreamers just an eventuality of that happenstance meetup, or was it more deep-seated in the psyche of these two individuals' joint passion for music and all things JRPG? That gravitational pull I mentioned earlier that has brought so many like-minded fans into the fold of their respective musical universes over the years made something like this album feel so inevitable, destiny even. But, was this eventual project something that Marc and Kevin had in mind from the onset of their casual Logan Arcade encounter?
“We really just hit the ground running… we became fast friends and were already fans of each other’s work. We wanted to collaborate right off the bat. It took us a while, but we’ve been working together on so many things (Yetee Records and 100% Electronica related) that chipping away at this project felt really natural, to be honest.” - Marc
“Marc is an excellent producer and is able to do and make things that are outside of my spectrum. I've always liked how seamlessly he was able to blend that lo-fi glitchy hip hop aesthetic with RPG sounds and wanted to work with him from the get-go. Thinking back now, wanting to make an entire album seems super ambitious but I guess we were both game!” - Kevin
Both were very much game indeed! Being a collaborative project, and living so far apart, I could see how perspective could make undertaking something like this seem daunting, but as Marc said, the work came to them effortlessly. Through the power of the ethernet vines, and wireless waves that hold this modern world together, Kevin & Marc began putting together the pieces of what they would call Nameless Dreamers, but just where did that name come from?
“I can't even remember what the post was about, but some Reddit user was dissing on us in the comments. Questioned why anyone would get excited about our music and called us "no-name" producers. Immediately the name kinda sparked, I kinda grabbed hold of it and wore it like a badge of honor, I may be a no name producer, sure, but at least I can dream. Nameless Dreamers.” - Kevin
“Very much that… to me it sounds like a fantasy game title for a pair of wandering adventurers… perfect fit for us.” - Marc
Yeah, eat it Reddit troll! Honestly, it’s so funny that they were able to take some innocuous and uneducated comment and turn it into a badge of honor, heck, even naming the project and album after it is just perfect and totally sounds like something Kevin and Marc would do just to have the proverbial last laugh at someone in the modern era who likely wrote that on their phone from a toilet. But Nameless Dreamers can’t just be a name, right? Anyone who knows what’s what knows that the majority of albums and projects that Kevin & Marc produce tend to have some sort of narrative or cohesive pulse, whether that be through the artwork of the album itself, or the soundwaves that emanate from the final product. So, I just had to ask, what is the overall narrative/concept of the Nameless Dreamers album?
“As always this is open to interpretation. We both make music that is centred around the idea of a narrative-based, role-playing video game from the “golden age” late 90’s–early 2000’s. Soundtracks for video games that don’t exist. We both have strong avatar characters and wondered what it would be like if they met, just like us. Kevin best describes how our worlds collide though.” - Marc
“Haha! Marc and I have had several ideas about the ‘narrative’ over the course of making the album, but ultimately it's best left to the listener’s interpretation. I decided that the Equip protagonist from "I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky" basically opens a portal after destroying the ‘Cloud Generator’ and gets pulled into another world— R23X's. R23X is struggling to make it through a ‘Severe Mountain Pass’ and Equip helps. They realize in order to survive they have to combine forces. Violetta Leigh wrote a little mini-walkthrough for Severe Mountain Path that's stored on the floppy disk release. I believe we gave her freedom to do whatever she wanted story-wise, which is how I feel about pretty much the whole album.” - Kevin
That’s so rad! I remember getting that floppy disk and immediately pouring over the included text file headed with ASCII art. That’s the thing about this release and the ones that Kevin & Marc have put out prior that is so enrapturing to me. While not everything was planned this far in advance for these two fictional heroes to finally meet, the groundwork for this duo was not only woven through the fabric of physical time and space, but through drip-fed story drops, and extrapolation via various albums and media throughout the years. It almost seems like a living breathing world that is just beyond our grasp, but when it makes itself known to you, it holds on firm with a bite of nostalgia and static that can do nothing but pull you in further for the ride! With such rich and engaging narratives surrounding the Nameless Dreamers project is the story aspect of the album’s writing process something that takes the driver's seat or is it part of the thrilling discovery that the music they create shows them along the way?
“I’m not sure about Marc, but for me, the music comes first and the narrative will start to surface after several tracks are done. The narrative is a fun way to thematically link the tracks on the album and it also affects track titles and so on.” - Kevin
“Ha, I’m the opposite, I totally imagine a buncha stuff happening…maybe too much. Almost like scoring my imagination… then picking up the pieces and seeing what I’m left with. I often forget what I was thinking about… or maybe I rework it down the road. Maybe this is from my background in scoring films… something’s gotta be happening in the background.” - Marc
Photo by Jose Calvo
During the buildup to this album’s debut, Kevin and Marc released all of the singles for this project on various unique and somewhat antiquated audio formats and mediums including a single-sided 12" DJ vinyl and a Floppy Disk, but nothing was quite as bespoke or as outmoded as the Edison Cylinder for Bejeweled Grotto & Exploring Quartz Temple. A freaking tube vinyl of all things. I remember when that came out and was completely dumbfounded, but all the same, intrigued by such incredible commitment and dedication to something not many people could ever even play. How did that even become a thing, and furthermore why?
“Vaporwave is an art movement steeped in nostalgia. It comes from the term ‘vaporware,’ which is software that's been worked on and sometimes advertised but never surfaces. I first heard the term "vaporware" when I was about 10 years old and it’s stuck with me. I've been interested in media formats since I was a kid, recording my own mix cassettes from my dad's vinyl LP collection and borrowing CDs from the library. As a fan of video games, I’ve always enjoyed collecting and playing older titles over contemporary ones as well. Outdated media feels like a historical record to me — a genuine artifact — proof that something existed! The idea of releasing music on outdated formats is quite popular in the sphere of vaporwave, it's not a new idea, though no one else had done a vapor release on a cylinder. The cylinder is something I've wanted to do since 2011 or so. When I first started working at a record shop there was a customer who bought a lot of experimental music and mentioned he'd done a release on Edison Cylinder. I was familiar with the format but wasn't aware there was any one left still making these. It's been lodged in the back of my head for about a decade before I finally tracked down the guy making them, and was happy to see he was still in business. Asked Marc if he was down to spend a stupid amount of money to get them made and he was. Haha!” - Kevin
“Cat’s outta the bag! That was all Kevin’s idea. I was on board from the earliest mention of it. I’m always game to do something absolutely insane and anachronistic. Hell, Techmoan even made a video about us! It even took the master of outmoded tech like a year to find a way to play it.” - Marc
Coming off the back of their previously released solo albums Cursebreaker X & Lost in Time respectfully, the evolution and polymerization of sound on this album is so palpable. Blending the raw, thrashy percussion and melodic synth of Equip’s soundscapes with the ethereal dreamlike sequences of Marc’s orchestral compositions and sampling is truly a dream. As we are a couple of years on from those releases I was wondering if there were there any cutting room floor pieces from those projects that Kevin & Marc revisited that helped to shape this new album’s direction?
“Lost in Time feels like a tiny blip in my musical headspace… when I think about the nights spent starting work on Nameless Dreamers… I remember being absolutely enmeshed in scoring two animated films at the same time. My head was really in ‘scoring mode’ for a small orchestra and I think the cinematic/score-like influence probably came from me. I think 2019-2020 Marc was grinding his teeth to cello parts before bed…” - Marc
“I think we finished the bulk of the album before I even started working on Cursebreaker, so most of the album's sound is actually stuff I started recording to make the follow-up to ‘I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky.’ I’d say about a third of the album are my demo tracks that I got stuck on or couldn't expand any further, so I sent them to Marc to finish. ‘Airship Theme’, ‘Forest Jam’, ‘Flight/Plight’, and ‘Goodbye’ were all motifs or scrapped LP2 demos. Another third of the album are of tracks that Marc started, sent to me, and I finished. The remaining third are tracks that we both traded back and forth specifically for this project. We also each have a solo track (try to guess which ones!). My writing style has continued to get more and more linear and geared toward pop, so this is probably the last Equip release with kind of ‘open-ended’ tunes that don't follow typical pop song structure.” - Kevin
Oh wow, that is actually so interesting to hear that a few tracks were meant as a follow-up for I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky! As one of the most well-regarded albums from the Equip catalog, it’s neat to know that the influences on Nameless Dreamers carry a reference that will mean a lot to so many! The sort of cult classic status that Palace has earned itself lends well to the narratively driven story showcased on this new record, as well as being a direct link to the incarnation of the portal that led to the genesis of the timeline we find ourselves in.
To circle back to Marc’s orchestral musings for a moment: For those of you who don’t know, when Marc isn’t donning his blue hair and weaving static orbs of nostalgic tunes through a VHS filter, he’s composing soundtracks for breathtaking animated films by the legendary award-winning director Denver Jackson. If you haven’t checked out the recently released Esluna: The Crown of Babylon or the previous films from the series you owe it to yourself to give ‘em a shot. The stories are so incredible, and the music is just as rich. It’s so neat to find out that Marc was in an orchestral mindset during the writing sessions of this album. That’s definitely a motif that I picked up on. That blending of old synthesized orchestral sounds with a twinge of real strings lulls you ever deeper into the tale being spun. Let’s hear a little more about that inspiration, shall we?
“I love the sound of the cello or flute as lead instruments. The mixed-fi sound of Nameless Dreamers happened organically as we are both into that mixing of fidelity. The Chrono Cross OST (and its predecessor Radical Dreamers on the SatellaView) really expanded my mind with its re-working of themes in various states of midi/synth/sampled synth fidelity. Those two OSTs are baked into my brain and foundational to the R23X project.” - Marc
“Marc has experience doing orchestral scores from working with animator Denver Jackson, so any and all of the realistic orchestral timbres come from Marc. I had just done Synthetic Core 88 which features heavy use of lofi ‘plastic sounding’ synthesized orchestral tones, so that stuff is all me. It's neat to combine the fake and real-sounding strings, this was done in a couple of scores from the PS2 era as composers upgraded their gear but kept some of their more charming synths even though they were technically outdated. Final Fantasy X OST has a lot of this, Really nice well-recorded strings mixed with synthy bells/plucks etcetera.” - Kevin
It’s always so awesome to hear the influences behind the sounds of a record, and this album lends itself to a multitude of influences. With lots of inspiration comes the many facets involved in composing an entire universe. So, what programs or instruments exactly did Marc & Kevin utilize to conjure up this album?
“I use Ableton Live and favor VST emulations of 80s/90s digital romplers. I rock the presets and build my own effects chains in Live. I went nuts buying rackmount synthesizers in the summer of 2019. "Camping" is 100% hardware synths, sequenced by Live. Roland XV-5080 in particular. TBH I can't hear the difference between hardware and software and the hardware is more of a pain to work with and takes up a lot of space and generates obscene amounts of heat, so I've since sold all those synths. VSTs all the way for me.” - Kevin
“For a lot of the finished products I produce, I wind up with a mixture of high-quality sampled synth and real recorded instruments in a studio. A lot of compositions/phrases for Nameless Dreamers were sampled orchestra VSTs… composed in Logic Pro, then bounced and sampled in Ableton Live. Kevin and I work together well in Ableton. I find that creating my own “samples” is great. I like Logic Pro for composition and Ableton for beatmaking.” - Marc
Photo by Jose Calvo
It always blows my mind hearing the type of tech that Kevin and Marc have at their disposal when setting out to create their albums. While many aspects of their setups are grounded in modern programs or plugins, the one thing that always remains constant is their respectful reliance and usage of tech that is true to the time they are trying to capture on tape. Speaking of technology, a lot has changed around the world during the production of this album, and with both of them being so far apart, I was interested in just how they were able to collab and create this album in such a flawless way virtually.
“We are both busy guys so we agreed from the beginning that this was gonna be the most casual, laid back, low-stress project ever and we'd work on it when we had time with no real deadlines. This is why it's just now being released even though we started on it in 2017. I think the album has more or less been totally done since late 2019… We sat on it for a while, figured out the singles, sequencing, etcetera, and just took our time with it. We had a lot of fun and weren't thinking about trying to appease a certain audience or making sure they would work with streaming algorithms. Just two dudes makin’ music at our own pace.” - Kevin
“Exactly, I really think the key to this was ‘no pressure.’ We didn’t set out to make a ‘product’ per se…we really just genuinely created stuff we found interesting and compelling when and how we wanted to. The end result is a really organic and honest LP. Really happy to be sharing this with the world finally.” - Marc
This perspective is super refreshing to hear. It’s nice to know that the album had this casual mindset from the get-go because often times burnout or audience expectation can turn into a roadblock that hinders the final experience. However, after spending some quality time with this album, I can absolutely feel that cozy comfy vibe from the polished end product. It just oozes from every melodic passage and beat that precedes it. Nameless Dreamers seems so calculated yet free-flowing and experimental at the same time. Being able to take a step back from it all and unplug from the Matrix-like rules we can often confine ourselves in is essential to having true freedom of expression with projects like this. With the relaxed nature of the music and overall good vibes the album exudes, I was curious if either of them had gotten into or rekindled some old hobbies during the writing session of this album that helped them unplug a bit from the music-making machines and world around us.
“I have been riding my bike and exploring nature more than ever. As some of you who follow me on Twitter may know…I call this part of the world the Mist Continent. I am endlessly inspired by the coastal temperate rainforest I live in. Nearly every day feels like running through a pre-rendered mystical, ancient forest background. Sometimes I even find myself taking little detours looking for loot/chests. ‘Trinketitous’ as Tim Rogers calls it…” - Marc
“I play a fair amount of video games of course. I'm pretty invested in the world of modern artisanal mods for retro consoles. Been following the RetroRGB site since 2016 or so, stuff like upscalers, PVMs, SCART cables, getting native RGB output out of old consoles etcetera is my main hobby. I joke with Marc that I spend more time making gaming setups and cable management more than I do actually playing games. Been chasing the childhood dream of ‘the perfect setup’— basically every console hooked up and ready to play at a moments notice at the best possible quality. Been adding to my setup since 2016 or so and it's more or less "complete," but there's always more stuff to hunt down and check out. Right now I'm looking for the goofy super obscure stuff, most of which is Japan exclusive- Apple Pippin, Casio Loopy, Bandai Playdia, NEC PC98, Sharp X68000, etcetera etcetera.” - Kevin
Yo, that is actually so cool! The complete dichotomy between both outlets is really neat to see in regards to the interconnectivity and exploration that Nameless Dreamers as an album provides the listener. From separate worlds, R23X & Equip convene in a space relegated between the here and now to act as an escape for all of us. The world that has been built here musically and visually is truly like no other project I have ever seen. I think, beyond the music, a lot of that has to do with the collective of artists that Marc & Kevin have worked with over the years to create the visual experience that bridges the gap between beats per minute and visual luster. So what exactly was it like for Marc & Kevin to revisit those relationships with artists they’ve worked with in the past?
“I love collaboration, it was great to work with so many great artists all over the world. Bani-chan, Mochipanko, and Vacuum-chan all knocked it out of the park as far as our character design and fleshing out our references and ideas. Music wise, Marc and I made several great friends in Japan during our 2018 and 2019 tours and wanted to get some of their sonic influence on the remixes, so it was really satisfying working with Kissmenerdygirl and Mikazuki BIGWAVE. Music is a great cultural bridge.” - Kevin
“I have been floored endlessly by seeing my avatar ‘R23X’ rendered by different artists. Ever since 2016 when Nina Matsumoto drew the first R23X illustration for VELTAHL (character loosely based off an RPG maker build) it never gets old. Whether it’s a quick commission, full-blown album art, or all the awesome fan art on Twitter… it always warms my heart to see the ideas translate to the visual medium.” - Marc
From my perspective, the cover art definitely has this Chrono Trigger-esque campfire motif to it, and really encapsulates the feel of this album perfectly, so what was it like working with that Vacuum-chan and seeing them bring that aesthetic you all were going for to life?
“Haha, busted!” - Marc
“We actually sent Vacuum a screenshot of the Chrono Trigger campfire scene as a reference. It's one of the coziest images I can imagine, and that's the feel of the album for me.” - Kevin
Oh my god, that’s actually really funny that Vacuum-chan was sent a screenshot of that scene. If that’s what you all were going for then Vacuum-chan absolutely killed it! The cover art for Nameless Dreamers is so inviting that you can’t help but want to remove the album from its cozy jacket, place it down on your turntable, and take a much-needed rest after a long day of questing! Contrasted with the back cover of the final boss sequence the reprieve the front cover offers is definitely something I will be retreating to so I can heal up after a tough battle or three!
Speaking of adventures, both Kevin & Marc have traveled around together for various shows, like the NEO GAIA LEGEND tour in Japan with the Deaths Dynamic Shroud crew and Vaperror, Electronicon where they tore the roofs off of highrises in downtown New York, and at the Yetee Warehouse Sale where they streamed to Twitch via a GameBoy camera! So I was curious if there was a particular moment or show while on the road that stood out in either of their minds as a formative moment in their real-world journeys together.
“Yes, probably one of the funniest moments of my life was with Marc. We had been walking around in Japan all day, James had found us this awesome AirBnB on Lake Biwa out in the countryside. It was kind of an all day event getting there, tons of trains, transfers, and hiking with giant suitcases. We were so tired and slap happy and trying to figure out the laundry situation in the AirBnB. The washer was really advanced and had tons of buttons and knobs and of course, was all in Japanese. We were so exhausted and tired and trying to use the Google Translate iOS app to translate the buttons, but it was giving us stuff like ‘i love you blanket’ and ‘~i melt away~’. We were just laughing so hysterically we couldn't breathe, it's a treasured moment that I'll remember for the rest of my life.” - Kevin
“I dunno if this is a GOOD memory, but it stands out in my mind as legend: one of the first times I ever visited Kevin in Chicago, I stayed at his place. If you follow him online or watch his streams… you know his apartment is a ‘retro gamer’s paradise.’ Kevin was kind enough to make me coffee and a delicious smoothie for breakfast… set up a buncha consoles and CRTs to really start off the visit off on the right foot. Sadly, I had a migraine attack (probably from the few drinks we had the night before). I have this distinct memory of laying on the couch (coffee and smoothie untouched right next to my head on the side table), with level 1 of Dracula X/Castlevania Rondo of Blood just looping endlessly whilst I writhed around in pain all morning.” - Marc
Wow, those are both such great and candid memories! It sort of personifies that bond that many of us see Marc & Kevin share in the online spaces we all cohabitate in. While we are on the subject of fond memories, one of my favorite things to ask artists whilst picking their brains about a project is their favorite memories from the writing sessions. It often creates a unique lens into the mind and world of the artist's perspective and gives us all a snapshot of what it was like during the most intimate moments of artistic and musical expression. Here is what Marc & Kevin shared with me:
“For me, it’s the gradual connection between us. I can say that Kevin is one of my best friends now and also I feel comfortable sending him music in any state or form for feedback or to collaborate on. I think it’s rare to have that kind of bond with someone as a friend as a collaborator. I’d say it’s due in part to our long term collaboration on this album, which has only strengthened our bond–personally and professionally.” - Marc
“I distinctly remember sitting on the couch playing a game and Marc sent me the demo for Severe Mountain Path, it was already so strong but he was stuck. I just kinda jumped up and ran straight to the computer and finished the song in one go.” - Kevin
What’s next for the Nameless Dreamers / Equip & R23X projects? Anything on the horizon that your fans should keep an eye out for?
“We have some ideas for a second album. It's gonna be a pretty wild departure from the first, but it's an idea that both of us are super into and I hope we can see it through. We want to focus on IRL collaboration this time, try to book out a week and write as much as possible in person.” - Kevin
Nameless Dreamers is available to purchase on vinyl now via Yetee Records! Whether this is your first foray into the world of VGM-Infused vaporwave soundtracks to JRPGs that don’t exist, or you are a veteran who’s looking to grind out more XP, one thing is for certain: You owe it to yourself to add this album to your library! As stated before I am a huge fan of Equip & R23X’s work, so that may make me a little biased in that regard, but this album is truly everything that I hoped it would be and more. Nameless Dreamers feels like a gift from Kevin & Marc to all of the fans who have followed them throughout the years, and in my opinion, will be an album that many will point to for years to come as an earmark in vaporwave history.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this interview! I would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to both Marc and Kevin for taking the time out of their busy schedules in the lead-up to this album to answer my questions and be so candid with me. I’ve interviewed them both a lot over the years and it’s always a magical time when I get to pull out the old tome and scratch in another little page into history books like some VGM-Vaporwave scribe. It’s been so great to get to know you all over the years as a fan and friend. I can’t wait to see what you both dream up next!
To stay up-to-date with all things Nameless Dreamers related keep an eye out on Equip & R23X’s socials/websites as well as their collection here on The Yetee for any and all new merch and music drops!