The Sultans of SID: #2, Steven Rowlands

Our second SID sultan of our Advent Calendar

From yesterday, our little clue was:

One of two Essex brothers at the height of their powers.

‘Essex’ refers to their birthplace, which is South Ockenden. ‘The height of their powers’ could also be known as the apex (or Advance Purchase Excursion in BR speak). Apex means Apex Computer Productions, their company. The brothers in question, John and Steven Rowlands. As for the musician…

Steven Rowlands

Towards the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Commodore 64 began to lose market share to games consoles and 16-bit computers. At that time, coders, graphic artists and musicians continued to stretch the barriers of the C64’s capabilities. Steven Rowlands, the musical half of Apex, was no exception.

Though Apex Computer Productions favoured quality over quantity, their legacy on the C64 is phenomenal. As for Steve’s compositions, not a single duff note.

Essential Tunes

i. Retrograde

Before Creatures made the C64 in 1990, Steven’s big break was Retrograde. Beefy sound effects and a bass heavy tune was the order of the day in 1989. This clip has all the music and effects from the horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up.

For the main theme from Wizball, this comes in just after the sixth minute. It sounds incredible in 2016 as does the rest of the tunes.

ii. Creatures II: Torture Trouble

 

Before Mayhem in Monsterland became their swansong, the development of Creatures II was extensively covered by Zzap! 64 and Commodore Format. The music for this well loved title stands up well today.

This clip above shows the game in its entirety, including the torture sequences and title screens.

iii. Mayhem in Monsterland

 

No reference to Steve’s sonic abilities is complete without Mayhem in Monsterland. As their previous publishers Thalamus went bust, their last Commodore 64 game was self-published. Released in 1993, this wasn’t only a swansong for John and Steve Rowlands. It was a good send-off for the C64 in its commercial era. Again, this was the subject of lengthy diary feature, in Commodore Format.

The game itself was technically superb, and the closest thing the Commodore 64 had to Sonic the Hedgehog.

Shortly after the release of Mayhem in Monsterland, a compilation of all of Steve Rowlands’ music was the subject of two music demos. These featured on Commodore Format‘s 44th and 45th issues as cover mounted Power Pack cassettes. (From my personal experience, they were better than the rest of the games that were bundled).

Tomorrow’s Sultan of SID…

Once again we shan’t divulge who our next SID legend is, but we can give you a clue. The clue is as follows:

A Dutch noise maniac.

All will be revealed tomorrow.

S.V., 02 December 2016.

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