Glitch Culture

Interview // Team Lazerbeam – Teenage Blob: Weaponised Cuteness and the Future of Interactive Punk

Teenage Blob Cover

Modernising the traditional punk collab, Teenage Blob is a split-release album from Team Lazerbeam and The Superweaks as they wreak havoc across ‘Capeadelphia’ with wacky handcrafted care. Colourful and nonsensical, this ‘split-album’ in the form of six genre-bending video games wrapped up into one adventure lets you live out your teenage [blob] punk-rock fantasies.

The game’s doodle-esque style from Ben Rausch, Richard Pieterse and Jason Sutherland perfectly blends the gritty, punk rock abandon with equal parts wholesomeness. Including a host of features from a get-up-in-the-morning simulator, guitar riff play-along, a quest for rad boots and a built-in zine, Teenage Blob is an all-round arcade blast set against The Superweaks’ pop punk anthems.

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“Enter Teenage Blob – a cross between a raucous punk rock EP and a video game. It’s both a throwback to the lost era of this kind of musical consumption, and a vision of how it could be for an ADHD generation who can take in more media than ever before.”

Nanna Venter

Glitch Culture caught up with Team Lazerbeam’s head of Art and Writing, Ben Rausch, one third of the brains behind a wide range of ecstatically fun indie games and the revolutionary Playtopia festival about the merging of punk music traditions and video games as well as the future of punk in SA: 

Teenage Blob has been out for some time now and I have loved skating around Capeadelphia, did any particular experiences shape the contents of the game and how did the team’s love for punk music inspire the game modes?

The whole game’s full of moments inspired by our own experiences. From melting out of bed and feeling like a gross blob to working shitty jobs as a teen to going to a gig, feeling high on positive vibes and having the music knock you off your feet – the whole Teenage Blob journey is long string of us trying to turn our real life experiences into interactive moments.

Team Lazerbeam’s creations have been heavily inspired by punk rock. Our agenda has always been to make games feel more raw, immediate and human. Typically, games tend to be highly polished, often feeling cold and sterile in their quest for perfection. With Team Lazerbeam we really want to do the opposite; embrace imperfection, and capture a sense of spontaneity. In Teenage Blob, the opportunity to team up with The Superweaks was an amazing way to push that agenda while reflecting on the highs and lows of being a weirdo teen.

The Superweaks are a pop-punk band from Philadelphia, but your team managed to merge atmospheres and attitudes from both their scene and the Cape Town one. What was it like collaborating with them?

It was a total blast creating Teenage Blob with The Superweaks! This October marked the 10 year anniversary of befriending Evan and Chris, when Johnny Foreigner played the basement of their music-house The Sprinkle Kingdom. We’ve been friends ever since, and over the past decade I’ve only grown more fond of the dudes, and their wonderful hometown Philadelphia. In that time, there’ve been quite a lot of collaborations between our creative communities, but Teenage Blob gave us a chance to really push that to another level.

The Superweaks definitely pushed us well out of our comfort zone, encouraging us to make something far more action-focused than our previous releases. In the past we really shied away from having any conventional games stuff like jumping, shooting and trying to earn achievements, but it felt great working some of that stuff into the Blob games. I think those arcadey influences help a lot with making the games more dynamic, which compliments the songs really well. Those more traditional game mechanics also evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. The whole process just felt very organic and spontaneous. I’d give it a solid 10 out of 10. Would Superweaks again.

Considering that Teenage Blob is a ‘split release’, something that has been a big part of the DIY attitude in punk music, whose idea was it to merge the two magical powers of both band and game designers?

We’ve always seen Team Lazerbeam as a “game band”, so when the Superweaks reached out about collaborating on something we were quick to propose that we create a split release between both bands. So far as we can tell, this was the first time a game band and a music band created a shared release like this. We certainly confused a lot of people by releasing a music/game split, but in our books shaking things up and causing some confusion isn’t a bad thing at all.

Teenage Blob is clearly a project made with an immense amount of love and a wholesome attitude towards punk music and the music scene in general. How did your team figure out such an open and outlandishly fun spin on the usual, ‘grimey’  atmosphere of punk music and bar culture?

In 2015 I did a talk called “The Shape Of Punk To Come”. It became a manifesto for Team Lazerbeam, laying out why I felt the next frontier of rock and roll was interactive, and highlighting the particular corners of punk that I found most inspiring.

The word ‘punk’ means wildly different things to different people. To illustrate this in my talk, I’d show a bit from the Fugazi film Instrument. In this clip a skinhead teen slates the band for their policy to stop playing if mosh pits got too rough, and to call out people in the crowd that were acting violently. In short, the kid looked at this and said, “that’s not very punk of you”. In my books, I think it was punk as fuck. They were breaking away from convention, agitating people, sticking to their principles, playing by their own rules, and most importantly, creating spaces that celebrated kindness and community over nihilistic aggression and disregard for others.

With Team Lazerbeam we really want to build on the idea of punk being a force for radical kindness and positivity. This has been a vital part of punk’s DNA from day one. Twee bands weaponised cuteness into something that proved to be super abrasive for those who saw rock as this macho tough-guy thing. From The Slits, to Nirvana, Bikini Kill and The Blood Brothers, punk history is a goldmine of people sticking it to the patriarchy and sexist bullshit. And today, we have bands like Chai and Kero Kero Bonito, proving that cuteness and surrealism are as wonderfully abrasive as ever.

With Team Lazerbeam, we feel that, in capitalist, patriarchal societies built on crushing people’s spirits, it becomes wildly rebellious (and vitally important) that art uplifts and unifies. We see punk games as being an amazing opportunity to do that. In a medium that constantly celebrates violent power-fantasies, we’re excited to make games that instead revolve around vulnerability, and the power of kindness and connection.

Our favourite part of this endeavour is the overall DIY attitude and easter eggs, especially the Zine. Was it always on the cards to include these added goodies or did this come later? What was it like garnering such impassioned art and words from the community?

The Blobazine was something that we only settled on pretty late in the process. Looking ahead at releasing the split, we were considering what physical and digital extras we could make for our special editions of the game, and a zine seemed like a great creation that could work for both. From Team Lazerbeam’s side, we’ve pretty much always wanted to include a zine with one of our creations, so this felt like an ideal time to make that dream a reality.

It was really awesome gathering everyone’s contributions. I think the final result is an awesome document of our creative communities, representing both Cape Town and Philly. It also turned out to be a very cool way of linking in people who’ve guested on Superweaks songs, or who’s bands are referenced in the game. After referencing all their band’s in the game, it was a joy getting beautiful contributions from music friends like Peter Helmis (Algernon Cadwallader & Dogs on Acid), Danielle Hitchcock (The Dollfins & Beach Party), Melissa Brain (Amanda X & Yankee Bluff), Greg Labold (Band Name) and Ines Soutschka (Julia Robert). We also got some incredible contributions from fans on our Discord, which was encouraging on a whole other level.

The Zine’s opening piece, a love letter to the game and the music scene from Nanna Venter, perfectly encapsulates today’s attitudes towards music consumption in the digital age. Was this sentiment a driving force behind shaping the game, and do you consider this release’s format to be something we will be seeing more of in the future of punk music and indie games?

Seeing Teenage Blob as something that pushes people back towards the old school ritual of sitting down listening through an album start to finish – that was all Nanna [Venter]. She was around to see the whole development process, cheering us on through all 3+ years of making Teen Blob. She had a very good grasp on the whole thing forming into a cohesive experience. Looking back on what we made, I think her observation is spot on, but it wasn’t really something that we were aiming for. Like most of our efforts, we just followed our hearts and made something that made us happy. 

Team Lazerbeam is a ‘Punk Game Band’, does this mean that there is a Team Lazerbeam EP on the horizon? Or perhaps even a potential show in the future?

Our agenda with Team Lazerbeam has always been to explore the idea of creating games as a band, rather than as a group of developers.

A long, long time ago I read an interview with Trail of Dead (one of my all time favourite bands). There’s a bit where Conrad Keely says “It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take the multimedia thing. Just kind of to expand the concept of what a band can be– can a band be filmmakers as well? Or writers or storytellers? Can you incorporate these things under the umbrella of the idea of a band and have the talents of all the individuals of the band be part of that whole experience?” That idea really hit me like a ton of bricks, and has guided most of my creative efforts since. Whether it was DJing, or putting on parties, or making short films, my agenda was always to create something that channeled a punk spirit. I guess where it comes through most clearly is in my approach to VJing, where I perform live visuals on stage with keytar. It’s really chaotic, and something invariably blows up at some point in every set, but it’s spontaneous and wild in ways that you won’t see from a normal VJ standing at the back of the room.

So, with Team Lazerbeam we’ve wanted to push this concept, following the power trio template, but replacing “guitar, bass & drums” with “code, art & audio”. We want to put a very personal spin on the act of creating games, embrace imperfection, celebrate our individual talents, and (more importantly) what happens when the three of us get together. Our agenda with our older games was to make really short, single serving experiences, like cheap 7″ singles. And with Teenage Blob, our half of the split is a collection of 6 tracks, so more like an EP.

We’ve been toying with the idea of doing a live set with Team Lazerbeam. I think it could be something very interesting. Hopefully it’s a dream we’ll realise!

Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob
Julia Robert live at Playtopia 2019. Photo by Lauren Thomas.

Will (lockdown restrictions depending) we be seeing more events like Playtopia in the future? And should we perhaps start dreaming about VR mosh pits?

Yeah, it’s super unfortunate that The Pandemic forced us to cancel Playtopia 2020. It really is something very special, and the response to past events was super positive. Sadly, for the next while, there’s no way to safely do an event like Playtopia without completely butchering what made the fest so special. Super Friendship Arcade has also had to put a pause on hosting jams or throwing parties. It’s really sad, but I feel good about doing what we can to keep people safe, and making the choice to preserve the spirit of the festival. The event was always about bringing people together in real life, creating physical experiences around digital creations. For us, it just didn’t make sense to try to do that virtually.

That said, I think there’s heaps of great examples of people fully embracing that transition to virtual, and making awesome things happen. I’m so stoked to see that A MAZE will still be running their annual Train Jam, hosting the whole thing in VR!

What’s next on the horizon for Team Lazerbeam?

Thanks to Teenage Blob, we’ve entered into a crazy exciting new chapter for Team Lazerbeam! Our era of making aggressively short, self-funded games is over, and we’re now super excited to craft longer games and create worlds that people can really get lost in. We’re currently prototyping a sequel to 2016’s Wrestling With Emotions, with plans to make a hilarious, surreal game about building relationships and big muscles, breaking hearts and breaking rules. It’s going to be a good while before people can play this new game, but if they’d like to follow our adventures, we’ll be sharing progress on our Discord and Twitter!

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Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 1
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Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 8
Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 4
Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 3
Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 2
Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob 6
Buy Teenage Blob on Steam now for all your friends this festive season and check out Team Lazerbeam’s other indie game releases whilst you’re at it.
Follow Team Lazerbeam on Instagram.
Team Lazerbeam Teenage Blob

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