Mohammed Taher, Brave Wave & In Flux

Post by Patrick

Brave Wave

Mohammed Taher is the President and Creative Director behind the music label Brave Wave (formally known as Koopa Soundworks). My brother  previously wrote about Mohammed Taher when his label had released World 1-2, a  chip-tune album that featured renowned game composers and remixers. Since then Brave Wave have gone on to release World 1-2: Encore, World 1-2: the Complete Collection, a free EP called Year One. And early in March Brave Wave released In Flux, an album that features talented musicians from Japan working with talent from the West. Every track on it is pretty solid blending retro inspired video game chip tunes with more modern sounds.

Taher was recently at Bit Summit, an indie game festival held annually in Kyoto, Japan. He was invited to give a talk at the festival and to also promote his label and In Flux. I got in touch with him through Twitter and we were able to have an interesting conversation through email about how his business all started, discussed the music, and some future plans.

In Flux Brave Wave

Lets start at the beginning with how it all began. How did you meet your business partner and friend Alexander Aniel. 

I knew Alex from the NeoGAF forums, and started following him on Twitter years ago. I got in touch with Alex back in September 2011 when I first found Keiji Yamagishi on Facebook. He’s one of my favorite composers, and one whom I was always searching for — and so I wanted to chat with him and know what he was doing at the time, whether he’s working on new music and so on. I asked Alex to translate all my questions to Keiji (which resulted in an interview) and, slowly after the interview, Keiji began composing a track for World 1-2.

I needed Alex again when I found Manami Matsumae on Soundcloud, a social network of some sorts for musicians. I asked her to make one track for World 1-2 and she agreed, and also asked her to do an interview (similar to what I did with Keiji) and she kindly accepted, even though it took us two months of back-and-forth emails. And through this time, we bonded. I don’t remember exactly how, but we clicked and started doing more than one track. I ended up hooking her up with the game Shovel Knight, which landed her the Mighty No. 9 gig later on. All of this made her trust me and put her faith in me, which is what propelled me forward to continue what I’m doing and, ultimately, create an actual music label. She and Keiji are advisors on the label, overseeing everything I do and making sure it’s up to our standards.

Lets start discussing World 1-2; how did you get in touch with some of the  musicians. In your short talk at BitSummit you mentioned that you just sent out a lot of emails, was that the extent of it?

I found Eirik Suhrke’s Bandcamp page when he published the Spelunky soundtrack there, and he was the first composer I contacted. World 1-2 is named after my personal gaming blog, World1-2.net, and the idea was to create a small album (or EP) to celebrate the site’s anniversary. I thought, even if I end up not making money from it, then it’s fine — one yearly EP won’t drain my resources. But it then slowly expanded as I contacted more composers, and when I got Akira Yamaoka on board I knew I had to do something with it. Framing it as “an album to celebrate an obscure Arabic blog” was a bad idea, so I made a net-label called Koopa Soundworks and the rest is history.

I’m just a guy with a blog who wanted to make music with his favorite composers. Not the most grandiose image, but it helps to make people (especially here in Kuwait) realize that I’m just another guy who acted on his ideas. I have zero connections with the industry and its writers — I built this myself, brick by brick, through my love for music and its performers.

Brave Wave Group

How was it working with renowned composers like Keiji Yamagishi, Akira Yamaoka, Matsumae and all the others; did you give them ideas, a direction or did you give them free reign? (maybe a mix of direction and free reign?)

It depends from one musician to another, but I always have a general direction in mind. With Manami’s One Shot, One Kill I asked her to make something Mega Man-ish and catchy, and with her new track Blue Star I was interested in her piano skills — so instead of making more catchy chiptunes, I asked her to portray her pianist persona to the listener, which led, later on, to her collaboration with Stemage on Putting the Beacons to Bed (again, as a pianist). That’s basically my job: guiding the musicians when it comes to collaboration albums (like World 1-2 and In Flux) and trying to find a good basis to work on, a specific style to follow. They all come up with their own melodies and do their own production, but I’m there to direct and assist. With solo albums it’s a bit different but the general idea is the same.

So did the idea of making In Flux come naturally after World 1-2 or were you not sure if you wanted to make another album after your initial release?

World 1-2 was my first album as a director, so I went through a number of ideas: EP, mega-LP, full-length LP, and a bunch of others. But at one point I had the idea of this mega-album — 40~50 tracks. Crazy, but the idea was in my head for a month or two and so I worked on many tracks, until I realized that it’s not a fine idea and dialed down to the final album you see now. So when World 1-2 was done, I was already working on two follow ups: Encore (because I had a lot of remixes done) and an all-originals album, which evolved slowly to become In Flux.

In Flux didn’t have a theme in the beginning, but, slowly, I decided that I wanted it to be an independent release and not a World 1-2 Part 3. Seeing how the label grew from this small net-label to a real company—backed with the industry’s best composers—made me want to build on the momentum and reputation of World 1-2 and make something amazing again, without copying any of that album’s shine. That’s what In Flux means, basically: ever in constant movement. Collaborations between Eastern and Western musicians are a novel (and uncharted) idea in the gaming scene and we made that happen on 6 tracks — even bringing a real rockstar to work with Manami Matsumae, Evanescence’s Tim McCord, who is a beauty to work with. In my mind, In Flux is a logical evolution from World 1-2. I hope people see the effort and new techniques implemented in the album. It’s new and different, but it’s a lot of fun to listen to.

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Tim McCord is primarily known for his work with Evanescence, so how did he react when you approached him to work on In Flux? What was his contribution like, did he help produce and compose Blue Star with Matsumae?

We had already finished a piano piece by Manami Matsumae, and we both agreed for it to remain this Enya-like track, with its soothing melody and relaxed progression. But one day I had the idea of transforming it to an Evanescence-like track, where we merge Manami’s piano with violins and a rocking band behind her. I then contacted Tim about the idea (we are Twitter friends) and we carried the conversation to email. Tim is a fan of Manami’s compositions on Mega Man, so the idea alone was enticing enough for him. To have a good thought of what Tim contributed, listen to Track 12 (Manami’s original piano track) and then Track 3. Everything new in Track 3 is Tim’s doing — the electronic programming, bass, guitars, drums. It’s a substantial addition to the original piano track, which what made us ultimately decide to include them both in the album.

Tim comments, “In working with Mohammed and Brave Wave, I’ve been given full reign to do whatever I see fit, which I like. Sometimes labels want a certain sound or certain niche from an artist and that can be tedious to someone who wants to work out of their normal typecast, and that’s another reason taking on this project was so exciting for me. I really like what we accomplished together.”

Brave Wave bit summit

How was In Flux received at Bit Summit, was there a lot of support? Was there a specific track (or tracks) that the people favored?

I think the best thing that we did at Bit Summit is bringing our CD players (yes, CD players! They still exist!) as well as our own headphones and let people experience the music by themselves. Whenever someone stops by, I let them know that we have headphones and almost all of them went on to listen to some songs. The most popular track was Manta Ray, followed closely by Bounty Hunters. Both of them are chiptunes and have a catchy melody, so I’m not surprised. Japanese people in particular love chiptunes and everything related to the Famicom era.

What was your favorite part of Bit Summit?

There’s a lot to love, but to me, the most important thing was the feeling of being in a brotherhood. Every single person in there is someone who loves videogames — you don’t see PR or marketing people manning booths, but the developers themselves who programmed and designed the games. Our booth had a revolving cast of people, from Manami Matsumae (of Mega Man) and Keiji Yamagishi (of Captain Tsubasa) to Ippo Yamada (of Mega Man 9) and Eirik Suhrke (of Spelunky). It was a lot of fun, and the reason I want to be there at every Bit Summit.

What are some future plans you have with Brave Wave that you can share with us?

We already announced two albums at Bit Summit, Project Light and Saori Kobayashi’s first solo album. I’m also working on Keiji Yamagishi’s first solo album (under development for a year now), two videogames (one by a Japan-based indie and the other by a major publisher), and a few more unannounced projects.

I’m currently planning what could be called the successor to In Flux. I can’t share much, but it’ll have at least one Middle-Eastern instrument employed by a well known Japanese composer.

What are some of your favorite things that you bought while you were in Japan?

Well, I’m a nerd, so it’s mostly videogames and music. One rare addition to my Mega Man collection is Mega Man: Wily Wars (Mega Drive). So happy that I finally found it!

I bought a portable Famicom console which looks like a huge Famicom controller. You insert a Famicom cartridge in its back and that’s it — a portable Famicom. I know, you can play Famicom games on the PSP and such, but where’s the fun in that?

Another favorite item is Katsuya Terada’s 10 Years Retrospective. It’s a 300-plus book with thousands of his artworks. Terada is one of my favorite artists, so I’m enjoying the book a lot.

What was your favorite place that you visited while you were in Japan?

Kyoto was amazing. Mountains are everywhere, so it’s surreal and inspiring to walk in the city and see yourself surrounded with nature everywhere. There’s not much light pollution there actually, so we were able to gaze at the stars at night.

I also enjoyed Ueno Park’s museums and Harajuku Park.

What games are you playing at the moment?

Currently playing Bravely Default (great, great music) and about to start Dark Souls 2. I have Shin Megami Tensei IV and DKCR 2 for whenever my schedule opens up again!

If you were to recommend three music albums right now, what would they be?

If you never heard of Yellow Magic Orchestra, go and buy their 2nd album Solid State Survivor right now. YMO inspired all our favorite videogame composers and pioneered a lot of genres and movements, most notably chiptunes. To quote my friend Eirik Suhrke, “YMO is videogame music before videogame music existed.”

Jim Guthrie’s Takes Time is one of my favorite recent albums. Jim’s voice could be described as emotional, understated, personal — and it’s all that and more. Takes Time took Guthrie many years to complete, and you can see why once you give it a few spins. Every song is beautiful.

Chipzel’s Spectra is one of the best chiptunes music I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’m a chiptunes maniac. She composed all of Spectra on a Gameboy, which is insane in and of itself, and every bit of the album just blows my mind. I can’t recommend it enough.

Brave Wave

If you had one piece of advice to give to the youth of Kuwait, or Kuwaiti’s in general, what would it be?

Well, uh, what can I say except fuck the system? It’s not built for people like us, so don’t stop if you couldn’t get validation in Kuwait. I originally intended for Brave Wave to be a Kuwaiti company, but you can’t start a company in Kuwait without having an actual place — this meant I would have to rent a place (300 KD or so) and then hire someone to man it (100 KD or so). But what would the guy run, exactly? Nothing. Everything we sell is on the internet, so there’s nothing to do in the shop. And that’s all formalities built some tens of years ago and never got updated. Why would I spend 400 KD, monthly, on nothing, if I could spend that money for paying people to make good music? No one answered me here in Kuwait, so I went to Japan.

I’m one guy who started something from his bedroom. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that I was born with some magical artist talents because that would devalue the amount of work that I actually do. It’s hard work, and with enough practice and experience, you can do it too. Everyone’s an artist. Start with this idea, then go and find what you want to spend your whole life doing.


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3 comments, add your own...


  1. aaa says:

    Amazing story! I’ve been following this guy since the first album came out and I’m always amazed that a guy in Kuwait with no connections to the industry at all managed to do all this.

  2. aaa says:

    Ooh also slightly unrelated to this specific article, but at the end when he talks about the atmosphere being unfriendly for local businesses – that’s why all of Kuwait has an “instagram/whatsapp business”. You don’t need to get licenses because you don’t have a storefront, there’s no tax or whatever to file for so the government doesn’t really care it seems like. Half of the vendors at places like Qout Market are not actual licensed businesses because the license system in Kuwait is 100% broken.

  3. […] Flickr; preparing a press-friendly page about us; doing various interviews in Kuwait (recently on 248AM and Marina FM). I’m still overseeing the numerous projects we’re working on, but none […]


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