The Alternative Party 2007 Report

Article written and photos taken by DiamonDie/Hugi

The Alternative Party was held again from the 2nd to 4th of November 2007. Before this there had been a break of almost three years (save for Altstork in the summer of 2006), as Altparty 6 was held in January 2005. I had been to the past three Altparties, but unlike them this one wasn't held at the Gloria but at Kaapelitehdas (Cable Factory), a former factory near the center of Helsinki which has hosted a number of cultural events and especially techno parties. Besides the new venue and a revised and larger organizer team, the concept was still the same. This year's special guest was Al Lowe, the author of e.g. the Larry and Police Quest games.

The doors opened at 15:00 on Friday and I and ld0d joined in some three hours later. We had planned for an earlier arrival, but a no-show bus screwed up that plan and as a result I missed ISO's demoshow. Surprisingly most of the computer places were already occupied, except for the VIP seats and the Pelulamu (=gamelamer) area. We found some empty space which turned out to be in the Amiga area, but settled there anyway. The guy who later took the adjacent place was running MorphOS, which I guess is something you don't often see outside of Altparty.

One of the first things I noticed besides the surprisingly large number of people was that there were two screens, a main one and a side one. Also now there were proper bigscreen slides. A few sofas had been located in front of the stage. For Al Lowe had been reserved a special "throne", an old armchair. There was also a kiosk selling baked goods, drinks, candy and other things. I was also trying to make ends meet on my party budget by selling homemade muffins. I guess I was missing some secret ingredients though, as some people wouldn't want to buy them when they heard there were no "special" additives.

The second one of several demoshows, Worst Demos Ever started at 7. It included e.g. Nextempire's Rush hour and several Jumalauta demos. I felt that the choices were a bit unfair, as the demos varied from hasty and silly jokeprods with MSPaint graphics to completely serious productions that just happened to make your eyes and/or ears bleed. I don't think there were any DXM demos shown. I started off my muffin business by selling no less than five muffins to Truck. At 20 there was a short opening ceremony with ravel and Setok speaking and a bunch of video clips from the sponsors.

David Hasselhoff Big Band started playing at 20:15. They had Kraku on keyboard, Melwyn on guitar, MoonQ as the vocalist and BassCadet on keyboard and accordion. MoonQ had dressed up in a Larry suit, complete with a dollar symbol necklace and a black wig, while Melwyn sported a leather vest, large sunshades and sleek gel-styled hair - some people didn't even recognize him. The audience enjoyed the show, but people just sat and didn't act like we were in a real concert. BassCadet did mosh on the stage, though.

The band also had a very special guest star this time: Mr. Al Lowe played saxophone in three songs (and he was great, I might add). Those song were the theme of Larry 1 (with accompanying visuals on the screen), "Sanovat että mullon iso kyrpä" and I think there was a third one that I forgot. Other songs DHBB played included "The Code Inside" (with lyrics), the tune of the demo Dope and a tango version of some game tune. I really can't remember the rest. The audience loudly demanded an encore when the show ended, but the band sadly had to admit "that's all we know". So no encores.

Then there was a barbeque session outside, or grilling as we call it here. I had nothing to grill but I heard that Miss Saigon had vegetarian sausages so I headed outside as well. The grill was still pretty much in flames, specifically how it should not be, so we ended up with charred, mostly black sausages that were still cold inside. That's how most Finns eat their "BBQ" anyway and it wasn't too bad. I met lots of people like MegaMies, strix, Carennah and others. I caught Truck speaking a few words of Finnish. He also finally revealed what happened in the Mr. Freshness compo. Apparently the photos all lie, but I guess I might strangely disappear if I say more about it.

There was another demoshow titled Demos With Balls. I had wondered whether this refered to metaballs or something, but it apparently turned out to mean good demos on oldskool platforms. I wouldn't have minded seeing more Spaceballs, though. As a pleasant surprise I met an old friend of mine who lives about 400 km from Helsinki. He's not really a scener, but Al Lowe or something else attracted him to travel that distance. I bumped into marycloud, who announced her engagement with Setok and chatted with jaffa about the future projects of IRC-galleria.

The Rebirth music compo started at 22:00 or so. Funnily most of the entries were either fairly monotonous and melancholic MOD-sounding tunes, or very noisy and experimental. Five out of the 11 entries were made by the same guy, John Lunney - there were no limitations fo the amount of entries one could submit per compo, though in the end some of his tracks were skipped because they all sounded almost alike. There also was no time limit for entries, which is traditional for Altparties, so some tunes were quite long. It was easy to guess that Little Bitchard's tune would win, as it was by far the most interesting and most musical one. I also liked Ravel's song Äidin syntymäpäivä (Mother's Birthday). The compo ended with Sauli's track which was of course very noisy.

Fishpool (an IT company which pretty much equals the same people as the traditional Altparty "core" organizing) presented a public beta of their product, Scred, which is an online system which keeps track of who owes money to who. People weren't very enthusiastic until they announced that everyone who joined in was given a free soft drink. Despite many tries on several different browsers we didn't manage to get in with our invitation codes, so much for the free drinks.

The oldskool karaoke compo was supposed to start at 23, but it was "only" some 1 h 20 min late, thanks to people not getting their act together in time. The entrants were to sing any game/demo/SID/etc tune with lyrics they made up. The first entrant Sylph was really good, he sang "One must fall" with fairly nice lyrics, and wasn't a bad singer either. It actually sounded like a music performance. I also caught MoonQ's entry, which wasn't bad either, and Pihti, who's famed for his appearance in the Finnish idols. Apparently there were only two more entries. Duncan was going to sing a Slayer tune (they found a SID version of it), but he cancelled at the last minute, after having already written down the lyrics.

After the first three entries we were forced to leave (which sucked as I would have liked to hear Lackluster's set which began right afterwards). I got back a little after 15 on Saturday. It was snowing - actually more like sleet, but the ground stayed white for a bit anyway. The day was also the Finnish version of Halloween, which meant that all stores were closed and the public transport sucked. The restaurant in the same building as the partyplace was open nonetheless, so they probably made nice sales (even though there was a number of restaurants, fast food places and pizzerias nearby).

When I arrived Kokeellisen elektroniikan seura (Association for experimental electronics) was playing their gig on the stage. It was quite nosfe-like with nice oscilloscope visuals on the screen. There would have been a "revolution workshop" earlier in the day, but I missed it. I heard that it was organized by the Wikiparty (or something) and featured other politicians and some sceners, including nosfe. Chatting with waffle I also learnt that Altparty had made a new visitor record with a whopping 280 people having visited the party. Later the number would grow to over 300, which almost doubled the previous Altparty record as well as making this the biggest Finnish party after Assembly for at least five years, probably more.

The esoteric programming compo started some time after 16, but it only had two entries. The entrants demonstrated their code on the bigscreen and showed how it worked. The first entry was by tAAt and featured some kind of a debugger(?) with the colors playing an important part. I couldn't really figure it out. The second entry was by a very young guy called Tejeez/TJT. He had created a programming language which is coded with "smiley faces" that write stuff to different memory addresses, so I guess you could use it a lot like assembler. His presentation was a music track created with the language. The code sure looked weird.

After the compo some foreign guy entertained us by reading some content from the old Alt magazine, which was in Finnish. It should be noted that Finnish makes no sense if it's read as if it was English. A short documentary film from Altparty 2003 was shown on the bigscreen, which included e.g. clips from the live vocal compo and an interview of Jeff Minter. Especially the live vocal compo entries amused the audience.

The obscure music compo was delayed quite a bit and began a little before 18. There was lot of variety between these interpretations of obscurity, though to my dismay there was no breakcore or anything like that. For example the first entry Valhalla was a melodic tune with a fairly ordinary structure, but less usual sounds, and the second one, Portsari Arabiassa was slightly reminiscent of folk music and featured noisy animal-like sounds. Obs! Cure! was MOD-like techno and lasted for just about 30 seconds. Better Nation appealed to the audience by sampling the genius of our time, Dubya, with "stuttering" loops and beatboxing(?).

There were many examples of industrial/dark ambient/noise, such as Junk Dub, Reconsiderism and seamen while at places unknown for you, which was probably the noisiest one with its out of tune "strings" (not surprisingly it was nosfe's). Vacation (Version) featured pleasant, mostly muted female vocals. Tejeez's Kasideemusa ("8D music") was the same song he presented in the obscure programming compo, quite obscure but still clearly recognizeable as music. Pontus raita had weird piano sounds and a kind of "circus like" melody.

Tekis ihan vitusti mieli näyttää teille kaikille munaa, jätkät was fairly random noise which was apparently trying to gather votes with a raunchy name. Dub in Disguise had pumping techno sounds and some orchestral parts, one of my favorites. Camera Obscura cleverly included camera shutter-like sounds and a great dark ambient-ish background. The style of MadTrance changed numerous times (I guess some would call it "progressive"), it included eg. fast-paced groovy pumping tecno and melodic organ-like parts and retro sounds. It worked surprisingly well. Nuclear family was another noisy tune, with some speech samples.

The grill was hot again, even though the weather wasn't very pleasant and the coals were running out. I didn't want to freeze so I went back inside. I saw Miss Saigon singing on the stage with a strange slideshow on the screen. It turned out to be a YouTube version of Nightwish's Wishmaster with misheard lyrics, Fishmaster. She sang very well, like a classical singer. Some demos were also shown on the big screen.

The propaganda compo had 11 entries. For some reason every compo at the party had either at least 10 entries, or only 1-2, whatever that can be interpreted to mean. Only my own piece was clearly influenced by war-time propaganda (though it still didn't bear all that much resemblance because I couldn't find fonts fitting enough etc). Sauli's pro-pollution photomanipulation was shown first. Time to vote, Pear Inc and Bucked were simple pieces focused on a single graphical element, Pear Inc featuring a mock-up of Apple's logo. Duck Hunt was a more "Photoshop-like" piece focusing on the prevalence of rubber ducks in demos. Asenna Gentoo (install Gentoo) was a mock-up of a motivational poster with MSPaint-ish stickmen graphics.

My vector poster Milk the deadly poison featured a cow as well as hints that milk causes all kinds of horrible things, such as making PC users switch to Amiga. Truck said he'd like a shirt with the graphic. Go For 8-bits was quite a colorful piece of propaganda, while No Espionage focused on a picture of an eye and a statement that the government is not spying on you. Nosfe's entry puzzled the audience, as it was quite abstract and it was the only entry not featuring any text. It was a lithograph and I found it very cool, though of course the message wasn't so obvious. LIDL also got their share of anti-propaganda with an entry that blamed them for low-quality products.

At 20:00 it was time for Al Lowe's special guest session. He was very funny and interesting to listen to as he told his story about transforming from a music teacher to a game designer. We got to hear how the Larry series was born and how the downfall of Sierra happened. At the end people could ask questions and he was asked several, e.g. what happened to Larry 4 and what is his favorite beer label (he said he doesn't drink beer, but that he likes whiskey).

Lowe also hosted the Larry Lookalike compo, which sadly had only two entries, but at least they were good ones. MoonQ and Jaffa had both dressed like Larry, even though you were allowed to choose other characters from the games as well. MoonQ had clothes similar to the ones he wore on the DHBB gig and had also taped a piece of toilet paper so that it stuck out from the bottom of his shoe - very clever. Jaffa had a white suit. Lowe concluded that since he had two prizes to give out it was a worthy tie.

Ravel then gave Altparty shirts to both Al and his wife Margaret. At least hers was perfect fit, and hopefully Al's was large enough. Lowe posed for pictures and signed many autographs. Someone asked him to sign a set of 5.25" floppies which contained warez versions of some of his games. Lowe smirked, signed them and then said "I signed someone else's name". That was pretty classy.

Another geek icon, the Green Party MP Jyrki Kasvi also arrived and was surrounded by people. He held a Powerpoint-supplemented speech about technology and politics. I listened to it until suddenly I could no longer see properly. I was all out of painkillers, but luckily Partycle gave me some ibuprofen for the migraine (it works quite decently for me). For some reason Altparties very often give me migraines, I'm not sure if it's radiation from all the Amigas or Commodores or what.

The mockumentary compo only had two entries as well, the classical "Damn, I should have made something so I would have automatically placed in TOP-3!" moment. Father's business was a documentary about vodka making (I believe, my head was quite messed up from the migraine) made by the Russian Natasha. Camgirl Love told the story of a camgirl who started dating a fan of hers (all imaginary of course, as this was the mockumentary compo). It was professionally made, but I think it suffered from giving the impression that it was going to have some kind of a punchline, but never did.

At 22:30 it was time for a show called "Grumpy old men" on the stage. Setok interviewed Britelite and Truck, who were grumpy and thought that everything modern sucked. They hated all modern computer games and demos. Games should have been text only (or feature only one button for controls) and real demos should be just flat-shaded cubes and scrollers. Even dirt tasted better when Truck was a kid! And of course they didn't need any pixelshaders, as they could very well shade their own pixels. It was a very comical show and we cracked up many times. A part of the humor came from their answers which were just "yes", "no" or "crap" a lot of the time. Truck especially was wonderfully grumpy.

This year there were again two democompos, alternative demo and dynamic demo (a demo which is different on every run). There was just one entry to the latter, which was shown last, but dynamic demos always compete in the main compo as well, with nine other entries. The compo started with a Linux demo which was fairly unimpressive (yes, it was a Linux demo even though the results say all the PC entries were on Windows) due to excessive use of coder design. This same problem plagued many of the entries.

I have to say I wasn't very big on any of the demos but one, though the 4k was quite alright too. The MFX demo wasn't really bad, but I'm not so fond of that style. Errorr's demo had nice visuals and a decent d'n'b soundtrack, but both (especially the tune) seemed too generic to me. Not every d'n'b track has to sound just the same. Sauli commented on the demo "It looked like Astu got psychotic, thought he was Niko [uncle-x] and coded it". I also didn't fancy the visuals in Traction's demo. Adapt's dynamic demo would have been a lot better with less coder design elements.

There were two joke entries, Fist of Power 2000, which was quite a traditional jokeprod on the Amiga, and BLOODLUST by Jumalauta, which was very short and very bloody. Someone commented that at least it ended soon. Funnily enough it was shown right after the putridly pink 4k Hemoglobin. And fortunately there was one great entry too, Inward & TPOLM's beautiful Speccy demo. You don't often see a compo where it feels like the only 8-bit entry has by far the best design!

Takomo (a famous d'n'b duo consisting of rjv and beezee) was going to start playing at 1 and DJ Jindi at 2. I would have really liked to catch both of the gigs, but due to my migraine I was still feeling off and was very tired. Looking at the public transport timetables we had the option of leaving at 00:45 or staying until past 3 AM, so we decided to head off.

I was an early bird on Sunday and already arrived at 12 despite still being a bit migraine-ish. The partyplace was quiet as could be expected, though the first thing I heard was an Indian music video being played on the big screen, as well as some pumping hardtrance from the back table. Some demos were also shown, including things like Candytron and as a request of mine, one of my favorites, Rand by Fuzzion. There was a proper demoshow too, which was written in the schedule and all. Kraku was having a pizza for breakfast and we discussed photography - we had identical camera setups, Canon EOS 400D with Sigma 30 mm f1.4 lenses. Something I can really recommend for photographing demoparties!

The prize ceremony was ages late, as they always tend to be, even at Assembly. This time the delay was blamed on a slow printer. Luckily we were being entertained by various things. First there were demos and other videos from YouTube, including a bunch of Digimon episodes which are craptastically dubbed in Finnish, then demos from the ISO DVD (with Saamelaisnuoret of course, and all played with the subtitles so that the foreign visitors would get the important message as well).

When the prizes still weren't ready there was an auction held by thoron and Truck which was one of the most hilarious things ever. Text doesn't do it much justice, but believe me, we laughed our asses off. First they auctioned off one Altparty mousemat for a bid of three mousemats (err...) but in the end the guy didn't have to "pay". Then there was another auction for three mousemats, which end up with DDT overbidding himself until the price was 10 euros. He paid it and later gave the mousemats to the Russian couple Elph and Natasha. In the end the mousemats were sold for any price at all. I grabbed one for 20 cents even though I had already bought two earlier.

The prizegiving finally started a little past 3, I think. There was a record number of sponsors, over 20(!) from Epson to Xbox 360 - "Centre culturel francais" must have been the weirdest one - so the prize selection was quite impressive. The winners got eg. Star Wreck apparel, Xbox games, books about programming, IRC-galleria stuff, tickets to several different demoparties, candy and soft drinks, even some cash and a server computer. Al Lowe had even signed some original copies of sourcecode from a few of his games.

Most of the first place winners were quite expectable, though some smelled of namevoting (all the authors of the entries were visible on the voting system), yet some of the second and third places went to folks I wouldn't have guessed at all. Sauli won propaganda graphics (I disagreed with just about the whole results of the compo, and nosfe sure placed criminally low). Sylph was the well-deserved karaoke champion though he was nowhere to be found.

Little Bitchard won Rebirth music while Better Nation was voted the best obscure song. I was a bit surprised that tejeez's obscure programming entry tune placed third in obscure music. In fact he won the largest number of prizes - three - as he also got the award for the most obscure computer, a Rockwell something, some kind of a typewriter or a calculator or something. He tried to describe the contents of the machine while on the stage, but shyness got the best of him and I couldn't hear much but "thermal printer". Elph was delighted to pick up the first prize in the demo compo, which was physically massive as it featured the server computer and a whole case of soft drinks.

At the end we watched slides thanking all the contributors, à la Assembly. All the 40 or so organizers stood on the stage and we applauded. Then the lights were flicked on and it was time to go home. Overall I was quite satisfied with the party, just two things bothered me. One was that all the best music acts were set to play at a late hour so I missed them all, and the second was that all the compos (except for the karaoke one) had to do with computers. While this could be expected at a demoparty, I quite miss the weirdest Altparty compos of the past, like sewing, plasticine, poem recital, short story, analogue ASCII and 30 second/30 minute drawing - compos most anyone could participate in and even if they didn't have any talent they could have a lot of fun. Not that I didn't have fun, but I believe the next Altparty can be even better.

Links related to this article

Official party website

Al Lowe interview