Nick Bertke : The Story of Pogo and His Ideas of Music

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We discovered Nick Bertke a.k.a Pogo’s music in 2010, on his work for a Pixar movie called ‘Upular’, as were getting blown away by this track, we decided to find out more about him. Pogo has garnered more than 90 million views on his Youtube channel. His skill in remixing the music has been praised by so many influential people, one of them is John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar. He has created remixed-tracks from movies like Harry Potter, Toy’s Story, Pulp Fiction, and even Wizard of Oz. We had a chance to interview the amazing Nick Bertke to discuss about the story behind his music, his ideology and inspirations that brought him to plunderphonics music scene, and his project in Manila. (Alonzo : A, Nick Bertke : N)

A: Hey, Nick! How is life in Manila so far?
N: Life in Manila is good. I just finished setting up my apartment here. We’re building a recording studio just down the street from where I live. We finished up a meeting with the architech today. And everything is going full steam ahead, so it’s exciting times.

A: You said that you recorded something that had not been done before, is it like you invented this type of music?
N: well I certainly give it my own spin. I haven’t seen many music producers create music using just sounds from a single film or video game. So it definetly feels new to me. Yes.

A: What about the work that you did for ‘Up’ the movie, how did it start?
N: Upular is a piece of music and video I created for World Disney Picture. It’s a piece that I created for World Disney Pictures, they came to me saying “We’re just about to release this movie ‘Up’ on BlueRay and we want something to help promote the film”. So I created a kind of a remix if you will, the film using sounds and voices to create a kind of dance track and it went up on youtube, it’s got a good 6 or 7 million hits now. It’s done really really well. It’s quite awesome walking out of Pixar with a copy of the BlueRay before it was available in stores

A: It’s pretty cool. So how did they work with you? I mean like, did they see your video before or someone sent your project to them?
N: Yes, someone sent them my Alice video. And at first I didn’t believe them when they told me. Someone who was working at Disney marketing sent Alice to the head guys at the Disney Marketing and she contacted me and said “Hey look, the guys here really like what they see, is there any chance you might do this on a commission basis?” And that’s how it all started.

A: How hard it is to create a music based on movie’s sampling? Do you actually find it very easy to work with?
N: Well it certainly gets easy once you’ve done it 30 or 40 times. But it still takes about 3 or 4, sometimes 5 weeks to create. It’s very much like creating a composition, but then having to create all the instruments for the orchestra at the same time.

A: So, usually how long does it take for you to complete one track?
N: Usually 4 weeks.

A: 4 weeks? Is it like standart or the longest ?
N: No, that’s pretty much standard. Most people don’t understand how much work goes into it. I am very much creating all the drums myself and creating all the chords and melodies myself. And that’s a tremendous amount of work.

A: in March, you deleted all of your social media accounts. What brought you to that decision?
N: Yeah, I just felt that I needed a break from social media. I felt like it was a negative part of my life and I found it to be very difficult to deal with everybody’s expectations every day. And I didn’t have the right mind for it at that time, so I decided to take that out of my life.

A: So you said that you couldn’t deal with everybody’s expectations. So they expected something high from you, like they set a bar from what you’ve worked on?
N: No, not necessarily . Expectations come in many different forms. You have people who say “ you’re breaking to much outside the box” you have people who say “ you’re too much in the box” and eventually after a good 5 or 6 years being on twitter every single day it becomes frustrating, it becomes unhealthy I think. I felt that I was focusing too much on people and not enough on my music and what I wanted my music to be.

A: I would like to know the project that you’re currently doing in Manila
N: Well I’m in Manila, Philippines at the moment. We’re building a recording studio and a film studio called The Breeze and we’re developing singers here and we’re developing talents and dancers and actors and we’re enganging a whole bunch of really exciting music recording projects and film projects with the facilities that we’re building. So it’s going to give me the power to create bigger, better things with Pogo as well by having a production company that I work at. So close to my apartment as well. I think it’s just about 2 minutes walk down the road.

A: So you’re working with the the local musicians or?
N: That’s right. The Breeze is a studio that I’m helping to build. We’re actually working with some fellow Australians here to get the whole thing made. And I think we’re about ¾ of the way through construction, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. And we’re actually also building a college in to the studio, to teach people how to make music and how to make films. So that when they’re learning they can actually row back into the production studio as employees and artist for the company.

A: Why do you pick Manila to work on this project,like why not the other cities, like Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta?
N: I pick Manila because its tremendous amount of opportunity here . There’s a lot of ‘can-do’ attitude. Manila in the Philippines as a country is very much on the rise, people’s minds are very open here, there’s a lot of ‘can-do’ attitude, there’s a lot of opportunity, and the people in the Philippines I just find to be very talented, very loving people. You can really get a long with people here so well. It’s really like no other place I’ve been to before. I think it’s fantastic.

A: I’ve been wondering why did you pick the name Pogo for your stage name? because I’ve been googling about the history of this Pogo.
N: well, I think Pogo is a student. Because when I was in school, I drew comic strips more often then I actually did any school work. And one the comic strips I came up was called Pogo. Which was kind of Pokemon concept. So when I started making music and I was releasing it on the internet, I thought why not just call myself Pogo? It’s short, it feels personal to me because of what I had drawn in school. And it just stuck ever since then. .

A: Is there any music or films that you like to work in the future?
N: I’ve always wanted to make a mix out of Muppet Treasure Island. Well The Muppet Treasure Island was one of the biggest films that The Muppets and the Jim Henson company ever made. And if you can imagine Pirates of the Caribbean but with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Basically Pirates of the Caribbean with the Muppets. It’s a lot of fun members and so much sounds to work wit. Also Breaking Bad the TV series. I’d love to do something with Breaking Bad. I think I’ll be fantastic.

A: So Nick, if you were asked by some pop musician to work on their music, who would be the musician that you would like to work with?
N: Geez. I would love to work with Akufen who’s actually one of the artist I took inspirations from back in the day. Nobody’s ever heard of him because he doesn’t have marketing around him whatsoever unfortunately. But he makes music using nothing but small sounds that he records from the radio. And he’s an absolute bloody master at it. And he was one of the first people who actually inspired me to the whole plunderphonics sampling scene. So if I got the opportunity to work with him, I’d say “ hey man, lets work on a Breaking Bad mix or something “ cause I think he’d be an absolute master. He’d blow me out of the water any day.

A: What do you think of the progress of the music scene in Australia?
N: Well what I found. The electronic music scene in Australia I found to be very underground. So it was never very easy for me to tap in to. It was very underground. Whereas in Germany or you know Europe, I think electronic music has quite a big presence there. Whereas in Australia it’s very rock and it’s very pop.

A: Have you been listening to some musicians in Manila or some local music in Manila?
N: Yeah, there’s some really talented MCs and rappers here. It’s quite amazing. You find it, that kind of music Is actually underground here as well. Because what I find in the Philippines is they really like their covered songs. One of the initiatives that we’re trying to take at The Breeze is to teach people, you know about being original and about finding your own identity and making your own mark on the world. Whereas in the Philippines a lot of people like to do cover songs and that’s kinda where they stop. So it’s a very different culture but it’s very interesting, because there is so much opportunity to inspire people to find their own voice.
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A: From the music that you have worked on. Is there any message that you’d like to convey?
N: Yeah, I never really sit down in the studio and say “this is what I want people to think” I think music has to come from your soul which is a horrible cliché. But it’s true. You can’t think about music to write it. You just have to write it. You have to almost let the music write itself . and I’ve always found that when my best tracks have come about when I’m not thinking about it. I think Michael Jackson said it best, he said “You need to get out of the way of the music” and I think that’s so true. Every time I’ve tried to formulate a piece of music it’s just been a horrible failure. So, no there’s no message I try to convey. But the message I would say to people is you shouldn’t chase trends. You shouldn’t make music for anybody but yourself. If you’re not happy with it, then chances are other people aren’t going to be happy with it either. You need to follow your ears, you know, ears and you mind. And you need to know very strongly what you like. This is the kind of kick drums I like, this is the kind of melody I like, and It is self indulgence, I think making music has to be self indulgence. I mean, you listen to the radio nowadays everything on the radio sounds the same. It’s all dance music or rather have the same beat and has the same massive built up and then massive drop. Because the music industry now is extremely industrialized, it’s extremely formulated. Back in the 90s you have a huge variety, you had Smashing Pumpkin, you had Will Smith, you had Fat Boy Slim, Michael Jackson. For now, not at all, just boom boom boom boom boom, like a club. It’s a sign that they’re trying to make music to please as many people as possible. And I think there was a time in the music industry where they took chances and the took risks. Now if you don’t follow to a very strict formula, the industry is not interested in you anymore.

A: Yeah that’s true. You have created so many great tracks. Do you have the least favorite from those tracks, like the one that you think you didn’t do really well?
N: I like that question because it demands reflection sort of self criticism. I actually like that question a lot. I would say, I’m thinking about Crimson which is the remix that I did of Dexter. Yeah, the tv series Dexter, the tracks called Crimson. I actually did that for a commission for show time, so I don’t know if I should say too much really. But it’s quite a long time ago, so I suppose it’s okay. The thing with Crimson I suppose was it’s just really slow. It starts off slowly and it keeps going slowly. If I went back to it, I want to make something that’s more engaging , that gets up and moving quicker. Cause it was in 2010, that’s quite a while ago. And also Buzzwing. Buzzwing is a remix of the Buzz lightyear from Toy Story. That’s also very repetitive. I definitely wouldn’t do something like that today. And Alohomora the Harry Potter remix. That’s, I think that’s quite an uneventful track. It doesn’t give you much. I would say, it’s kind of just a generic drum bass track if I listen to it now. So yeah, your taste changed over the years.

A: Yeah, I get it. Is Alice in Wonderland your most favorite work? Because it’s your first work and then it’s booming.
N: No. Alice is far from my favorite work. I actually think Alice is some of the most simple work I’ve ever done. If I was to create Alice now, it would be a lot more complicated I suppose. It wouldn’t be so repetitive, it wouldn’t be so simple. And it’s interesting to think that if I uploaded Alice today, wouldn’t get as many views. Maybe it was just a question of making the right music for the right time, I don’t know.

A: So which one is your favorite? Upular? Because I really like Upular, it’s very good.
N: Thank you [laughs]. My favorite, I’m just looking through my folder. Honestly I’m very happy with Muppet Mash. It’s a remix I did for Sesame Street, the first Sesame Street. I’ve always been really proud of that one. Mostly, I suppose because I tried to make it more acoustic. I wasn’t going for that electronic sound. I actually used a real drum kit and a real bass, I’m so happy with how it came out. Everything else I made here, I’d say this, there’s nothing really on my channel that I’m more than 80% happy with.

A: You’re now developing your project in Manila and you’ve done so many great tracks and then what’s next? What do you really want to do in the future?

N: Well, what I really want to do is some kind of interactive Pogo. Because you always watch Pogo videos. Interactive Pogo. You know, instead of just watching this premade video, I want people to have a creative input. I want them to be kind of making the track on the videos themselves. So instead of just a youtube video, maybe it’s a full page of small videos. So each video is like a small sound, just have to enable each and then it will add to a big track. So people can almost develop the track themselves and they can explore the difference sounds and feel like it’s something that they have a creative part of. I’d love to experiment with something like that, I think that could be the next thing.

A: Do you have any plan to create the same project in Jakarta?
N: well it depends. If the studio here is successful, there’ll be no reason not to create a branch in other parts of the world. Yeah, absolutely.