That’s HEX, short for House Electronic eXperience which could, quite possibly, be the single most late eighties name for a music project attached to videogames anyone could have come up with. It’s all in the X, naturally.
And what a curious project that was, really. HEX occupied cassette space after releases from the equally eighties named software house The Power House. THE POWER HOUSE! A company that had a mascot called (wait for it) The Power Mouse and yes, it was a robot space mouse with a rocket pack because what else would he be? The nineteen eighties, folks. What a time to be alive that was.
So yeah, The Power House then. A label whose legacy somehow lives on by every few months someone on the internet discovering Soft And Cuddly, the follow up release to Go To Hell and one of a pair of scareware releases for the Speccy with more than a passing obsession with Alice Cooper shock-rock-isms and some of the most amazing pixel art gore ever to grace videogame screens. Obviously, that also includes a hastily scribbled pixel art attempt at Alice Cooper’s head from, erm, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell. Obviously it does.
Seriously, look at this, it’s incredible.
It’s all so amazingly teenage! Bless. TRIPLE SIX SOFTWARE. *spooky noises*
Anyway. Where was I? Ah yeah, HEX.
It wasn’t too out there or unusual for videogames to be accompanied by the odd singalong here and there. Whether it be the idle TV sitcom theme-isms of Mike Berry’s Everyone’s A Wally (the B-side to Mikrogen’s actually pretty good Everyone’s A Wally) or Mel Croucher’s little ditties or licensed tracks to go along with the licensed videogame you’d just bought, this stuff kinda happened. Where The Power House’s approach differed was in using the same band for multiple releases. Oh, and not ever inflicting this sort of thing on me:
I’m not sure the world was really ready for that but hey ho.
Across the course of six or seven releases, The Power House games doubled up as the video game as pop single too. Pop singles such as:
But who or what was HEX? How did it come about? Well. In that oh so terribly convenient way, I figured it was long overdue to get some words out about what would otherwise be a fairly forgotten part of our videogame history and went off and asked the chap who was HEX to tell us all about it.
HEX was, primarily, the work of musician Wayne Allen. This is Wayne in a more recent guise as Sam X:
And you might have seen his face somewhere before as a 15 years served member of The Dopplegangers, U2’s official tribute band. Or you may not, if U2 tribute bands aren’t your thing, natch. Wayne’s off doing his own thing now but I managed to coax him into spending a few minutes spilling the beans.
Rob: So how did this all come about then? I know there was a thing at the time for including the odd piece of music alongside a game but that was either licensed stuff from an arcade game or a band you already know kind of thing (the Frankie Goes To Hollywood game springs to mind here), at a push sometimes you’d see stuff where the author would include a little track of their own or something but I think The Power House is fairly unique in commissioning tracks to go alongside the games. So yeah, I’m sort of curious how you fall into this kind of thing, I guess.
Wayne: I have always played in bands and spent time writing and recording songs. In the early 80’s I got my first job in a recording studio – I was basically the tea boy and had to run off copies of tapes for clients as well as do the hovering and other mundane jobs. However during ‘downtime’ when the studio wasn’t being used I had use of the facilities and would use the time to record my own songs. I played guitar, bass and sung and could play basic keyboard parts. When I needed a drummer I would call up my friend Andy Wood as Andy and I had played in a couple of bands together.
I released one of the songs as a self financed independent single and it was well received by some influential people in the music industry (most notably John Peel) and although it didn’t achieve chart success it put me on the road to becoming an established songwriter.
Andy went on to work in the computer games industry eventually running his own computer games company The Power House. I went on to play in various bands writing and recording songs and working on a variety of studio projects. Andy and I remained good friends.
One day, Andy and I were talking about the fact that the cassette tapes the programmes for his games were recorded on were of standard sizes (to the nearest 5 minutes) and there was often blank space left at the end. Andy thought of filling it with music and I had unreleased material that no one was getting to hear so we came up with the idea of putting these tracks on the end of the tapes. For Andy it gave his customers a bit of extra value and it gave me exposure for my music. It was as simple as that really. There was no great plan behind it.
Rob: One of the things I used to appreciate (and still do, I guess) is that you never quite knew what the song was going to sound like. With something like Soft & Cuddly, you end up with this sort of piledriving cod-goth thing and then the next tape you’ll pick up it’ll be a dance-y singalong affair. What was the thinking behind this? Was it matching the tunes to the games, just having a bit of fun or something else? Did you even get to play the games before recording?
Wayne: The songs weren’t specifically written for the games but we did try to match suitable tracks with the games as much as possible, however I did get to play them beforehand.
Rob: Was there ever any input from the folks who wrote the games or did you get to wing it all by yourself?
Wayne: There was no input from the programmers it was just songs/ music I was writing for different projects.
Rob: The more I think about it, the more I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a more 1980’s name than House Electronic Xperience, we’ve sort of stopped doing the X without E thing now probably because it’s not the 1980s anymore. Were there ever any other names kicked around for the band or was this it from the get go?
Wayne: The name came from Andy’s car – it had a personalised number plate it was HEX something or other. We thought HEX sounded good and tried to think what it might stand for. House music was on the rise, the music was made with the technology of the time, so we thought the E could stand for ‘Electronic’ and as you said the X was just very 80s – it seemed cool at the time!
Rob: Any stuff left over or not used at the time?
Wayne: We used the best tracks we had at the time so even though there probably was other tracks left over – they probably weren’t that good. Everything was mastered on to a Revox B77 tape machine which I’ve still got, but is in need of repair. I’ll have to get it serviced and go through the master tapes to find out what else there was. I’ll get around to it one day….
Rob: Do you miss videogames? Any regrets there and would you do it all over again given a chance or one best left in the past, onwards and upwards and all that?
Wayne: I don’t have any real regrets but at the time there was a lot of talk about ‘interactive’ games and I was asked by another company to come up with some interactive music for other games – which never happened in the end, which is a shame. With the benefit of hind sight that might have been quite interesting. I’m quite happy with the way things turned out and very pleased that there is still some interest in the music so many years later. I really will have to dig out the old tapes and get that Revox fixed and maybe remaster them and bring them in to digital age. Or on second thoughts, maybe they should be left sounding as they did on cassette.
Rob: Thanks for your time.