Wyrd Question Daze: Steve Hadfield

Chess Music at Wharf Chambers from a recent Leeds Electronic Music Open Mic event (photo by Dave Walker)

I’m Steve Hadfield and I’m based in Leeds. I produce electronic music ranging from gentle ambience to frenetic drill & bass with releases on various labels including Disintegration State, which I co-run. I play live around the north of England – my current set-up is generative chess music where the moves of a live game of chess are converted into midi data which drives various virtual synths on my laptop.

Outside of music, I love getting out rock climbing around Yorkshire and have two wonderful daughters. I sampled our eldest extensively in the first 18 months of her life and used her ever-changing voice as the base for my Silly Baby LP album, which I dubbed to cassettes and packaged up in paintings she’d done. We’re currently adapting to life as a four with our now 8 week old baby and I’m wondering how to honour her equally in my music!

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Where did you come from and where are you going? 

Born and raised in Lincolnshire, I spent 8 years in London after university before moving up to Leeds for a change of pace and house prices. I dabbled in music production for a few years in London but rediscovered my love for it in a lovely attic space up in Leeds. I don’t have hopes of fame or fortune – what has been special about my musical journey has been the folks I’ve met in ‘the scene’ both locally and online. I guess my main ambition at the moment is to keep developing the chess music as a live project – it’s probably the thing I’ve done which has felt most unique and exciting rather than my putting my own twist on well trodden routes.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

Finding balance around parenting, being a good partner, climbing, music and, of course, work. We achieved that with one kid, and I’m sure we’ll get there with two, but it’s a huge shift again!

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell

Taste: Good coffee, preferably in the form of a flat white
Touch: The rough feel of a small, friction-dependent hand-hold on a Yorkshire gritstone boulder
Sound: Our 3 year old’s voice as she sings along to songs I love is magical. I’ve been to a few gigs recently where her favourites have been played live and it knocks me for six every time!
Sight: Windswept barren landscapes hold a real beauty for me, whether it’s the middle of nowhere in Iceland or the Yorkshire Dales. There’s something about it which takes me completely away from everyday life. Smell: Freshly ground coffee beans, to loop back to taste… I work for a company which processes tea and coffee and on roasting days the air is filled for miles around with this rich coffee aroma. Can’t beat it!

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

It’s such a cliche but I know I’m stressed when I have yet another unsettling dream about heading out to some event or other wearing nothing from the waist down again…

Cassettes and packaging for The Silly Baby LP

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Honestly, not that I can think of. My inclination is to rationalise anything vaguely odd – like there has to be some physical cause-and-effect explanation. I do remember when I was 10 one of my pals had a ouija board which three of us collectively made ourselves think was very real, asking questions only one of us knew the answer to and convincing ourselves it was sending us the answers from beyond.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself? 

I remember coming up to being 30 and having this sense of dread that I was never going to be as good as I could have been at climbing. I could still improve, but I was going to be battling against my body more with each passing year. It was kinda fine, and then I had that same sense around becoming a dad, not just with climbing but with music as well. In the end it recontextualised those passions in a way which has felt quite healthy – they’re something to share with my kids rather than being just for me. And now I’m working that all out again with our recent arrival – ultimately it’s a battle with my own ego… So I guess it’s less a sense of physical place and more a mental one.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?
Not really to do with music, and another instance of seeing life through my parenting lens, but watching our eldest embrace the upheaval of having a baby sister is hugely inspirational. Her resilience and adaptability is humbling.

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke

Just asked our 3 year old for a joke:

What do you call Mordoofus (Mordu from Disney’s ‘Brave’) when he’s on the toilet?


Ghosts & Goblins 3: WereGnome Records

Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins 3 PDF zine

The WereGnomes

Greetings my friend. The name I was given is Nicholas and I have been called a multitude of names, some of which shall remain unmentioned. You may refer to me however you prefer. I was born in the great wasteland that is Flint, Michigan. Where the winter snows soak up the industrial remnants and remind you that the opportunity shall never be there. A place that is known for its undrinkable water. More so a place that is known for nothing special. From an early age heavy metal and video games became an easy outlet and welcoming form of escapism. That path led to not only the creation of multiple musical projects (most of which have been lost to time) and WereGnome Records. Well enough rambling, let’s get to the questions.

What inspired you to start WereGnome Records?

It was born from a combination of restless creativity alongside the Covid shutdown. Like almost every other human on this Earth, we found ourselves sitting inside of our home and reflecting on what we were doing with our lives. The appeal of releasing on tape cassettes and making small little batches of the weirdo music I wanted to create was irresistible. Like a call to destiny, everything made sense and the pieces seemed to fall in perfectly.

What have you learned since first starting the label?

Oodles. I’ve learned how to properly ship things via USPS to other countries. I’ve learned that hand cutting j-cards is not only rewarding but also incredibly time consuming. In fact, running a label is all consuming. All free time is spent either preparing releases, packing orders or just promoting anything. Most of the time it’s a thankless venture. You find yourself locked away from the world and those you love as all available energy is focused primarily on it. Yet, as the hours and days mush together and time keeps it’s constant marching, I love it beyond words. Final note for American labels, sign up for Pirate Ship if you haven’t.

What is it about the DIY method that appeals to you?

Just having the ability to have complete control over a vision. From start to finish, you are in the captain’s chair. While resources and finances can be a weakness, you find how to make it work. Finding clever ways to make the rusted pile of trash you create shine and sparkle by using your hands and heart. The label itself can only take part in a limited amount of DIY things anymore, due to our volume and limited time, but when we can it’s rewarding beyond comprehension.

Tell us the story/themes/world building behind your project

Hermit Knight is simply an outlet for my bipolar. Having suffered from this from a young age, I’ve often found putting how it feels to words impossible. The music translates exactly how I feel in my ups and downs. With minor victories that really can just be getting out of bed in the morning or taking a shower. Just making it in general is a feat itself. As I envision the project this is the best I can give as an example:

The Hermit Knight wanders the wilds alone in the forests, forever dedicated to simply surviving in a harsh and lonely world. No giant epic quests, no tales sung at pubs in their honour. Just a person keeps pushing on against the battle that is life.

Hermit Knight

Art & design associated with my project

As it began, the first two EPs I went for a childish and simple design. Black and white with nothing spectacular. But as Hermit has been evolving, so has the aesthetics. The latest album I’m working on at the moment will continue that. With each step, it takes upon a new form and represents the mindset I am currently in. The latest will take a darker overall vibe, where I’ve been struggling in the depths of my depression for months, but not too dark. It’ll still have that lightness that is known with Hermit Knight.

What are my influences musical and otherwise?

In the synth realm, Hole Dweller & Fief dominate. Followed shortly after emotional projects such as Precious and Wych Elm. The music I love has a ton of heart and depth to it. Beyond that, I’m all across the spectrum. With a few examples here of my recent driving playlist: Belle & Sebastian, Orville Peck, White Ward, The Pogues & The Prowlers. So I really bounce about depending on the mood I’m in.

Tell us about your creative process:

Since the project reflects largely on the mental state I’m in, I tend to just try and transfer the feeling. Usually with myself playing on the Midi keyboards with various sounds and layering little riffs I find of interest. When it comes to writing, I just take my time with no worry to finishing an album. Just alone in the office, spending hours and layering drums and tweaking the smallest thing that no one will ever notice. I want it to be right. I want it to be true to myself and not hurry up and cut corners or rush the album.

A lot of the main writing is free association and letting the music create itself. The hours spent after is just cleaning it up and adding a bit of flavour to the whole song.

I also am a huge fan of layering melodies. If you sit and take apart the most epic points of my songs, there are usually at least 3-4 opposing leads that work against each other and somehow fit. Isolated they hold no substance but combined they form into something magical (at least to myself and honestly if you aren’t writing for yourself, you should be).

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

It depends completely on what project is being focused on, or even the label. Hermit Knight I tend to need a tidy and cleaned space, leaving all of my energy placed on the music itself. Other projects the chaos around really helps drive the music. Finally, WereGnome is run so chaotically as I am working on at least 17 things at once, it only makes sense to have so many things haphazardly tossed about. Always taking the time at the end to fully clean and organise the office and it feels so great after a job is done.

What does Dungeon Synth (and/or related genres) mean to you?

For myself, it’s the ultimate escapism. It’s a chance to dive head first into another’s story and find yourself on an adventure. My taste, for the most part, takes more root in the “fantasy ambient” fields. I found myself into Dungeon Synth and its perspective subgenres from finding DnD again. As I was seeking more music to play for the games I had planned, I found myself more often than not stumbling into this genre. So, the transformative nature and exploratory concepts found themselves deep in my brain. Simply put, I suppose, it is the freedom of imagination. It means I can dream again. Whether that dream is light with some comfy synth or a brooding dark set piece that can constitute a nightmare with the trve.

How would you describe the Dungeon Synth community?

In any microcosm of a community such as this, you would expect the gates to be held firm and the majority to be ultimately defensive against outside efforts and influences. While it can be found, my total experience has been a positive one. I have legit made friends with folks all across the world, meeting some in person (and look forward to hopefully more at the next dungeon siege). I have found a large group of like-minded adventurous folks who are just like myself. I love it here. I am not leaving anytime soon. There can be those who don’t agree with you, but you just find your little corner where your friends reside and many others. Whether it be specific FB groups, Discord chats or on other forms of social media.

But I would put that the community itself is a group of wondrous, highly talented and huge hearted creatures. They never stop creating nor do they ever stop dreaming.

Tell us about your gaming habits?

I have played video games as far back as I remember. I began my journey on the NES with such wonderful titles as: Zelda, Crystalis, Final Fantasy and Uninvited. Finding comfort in RPGs and their freedom to play how I want in a not so linear fashion. My real heart lies with the best console in my opinion, the SNES. With games like Secret of Mana, Link’s Awakening and the best game ever: Earthbound.

From the years spent gaming, I continued my journey and found myself loving either turn-based RPGs or world builders such as CIV. I had dabbled in MTG as a youth and recently just played it again for the first time in about 20 years. Finally, I love DnD. Now I just need to add more hours to the clock to make more time for these. Between the label, full time work and school, not often I get to play as much as I like.

If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy, what would it be?

This is a difficult thing to answer. For easily I would choose Middle-Earth, as I am just a little chubby Hobbit anyhow. Yet, it’s rife with danger for a halfling. I could choose Thra, but honestly it is only because I want a pet like Fizzdig. Lets just go with Discworld. Get weird and goofy with it all. Because much like Rincewind, I have no magic, no real skills nor need for heroics. Yet, the burden always falls upon those who want it least, correct?

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Ghosts & Goblins 3: Ithildin

Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins 3 PDF zine

Hello and thank you for granting me a few pages of your fantastic zine! My name is Guillaume and my dungeon synth project is called Ithildin (https://linktr.ee/ithildinmusic). I am a musician, graphic designer, illustrator, video editor, music fan (and collector), art enthusiast, catlover, nature lover, cinephile and most importantly, proud father of 2 little baby gnomes. I am also a French speaker, so please forgive if my answers seem a bit simplistic or sound weird.

To stay on topic, I started dungeon synth when I learned that was going to be a father for the second time and that I was going to have to leave my previous band, Perséide, where I occupied the drummer seat. Above all, my daughter had a lot of sleep problems, so I had to be awake most of the night. I bought a synth and started messing around with it, with just one of the two headphones on one ear, the other being available in case my daughter needed me. It was a way to make the night more pleasant. Now, she sleeps very well and I’m still awake at night to keep making music. Still no sleep.

Ithildin on Bandcamp

Tell us about the story / world building / themes behind your project/s

Within the dungeon synth community, Tolkien-themed music is very popular and not original at all, but where I come from, in the province of Quebec, it’s not so common, so I felt not too bad about going that way. Furthermore, I wanted to stay true and honest to myself and if I had a fantasy music theme choice to make, it was between The Legend of Zelda and The Lord of the Rings. Koji Kondo, composer of the soundtrack from Zelda, is one of my favourite composer and I found it intimidating to walk in those steps.

I chose to make a debut album that focuses on the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings. Both in the book and the Jackson movies, this chapter is of paramount importance to me. I will always remember this moment: I must have been 9 or 10 years old, I was at the cinema… the scene of the unveiling ofThe Shire with the arrival of Gandalf and the magnificent music of Howard Shore. Damn. It was still abstract inside me at that time, but I knew deep down that I had just opened a treasure chest.

Also, I believe that with my Arda’s Herbarium series which goes into the “forest synth” branch, I may have dug a less exploited vein of the Tolkien-themed music. I’m very happy about it.

But you know, in the end, the theme is only a lens by which we can perceive an album… and in the end, the only thing that matters is the feeling and the music. It doesn’t matter if I put a Hobbit theme on something. Does it makes you feel something or not? That’s the only point that matters.

It is not excluded that I leave the Tolkien universe to do something else, even though it could happen much faster than you think. Nevertheless, I will keep it under the name Ithildin because it suits me very well and I don’t have the strength and patience to manage multiple names and identities.

Tell us about the art & design associated with your project

The art part is very important to me, to the point where I wonder if I’m not releasing albums just to be able to design a layout for them. I draw and design the layouts for all of my releases, but I love having guest artists for the visuals. Sometimes, I feel it takes the personal touch of a specific artist to make the visual representative of the music.

Example, for my EP Amusettes pour hobbits, I felt it was better to have a nice coloured and textured Hobbit, but nothing flashy. Something beautiful, sweet, dreamy. So I asked Loomie Adams, an artist and author from the province of Quebec whom I respect a lot and who is, by the best of luck, a fan of Tolkien. The fit was perfect.

For my Arda’s Herbarium series, something totally unpredictable happened. One morning, while having my coffee, I decided to write to the artist who inspired my series and got me into forest synth, Ellis Green and his project Sunken Grove. Both in terms of his music and his illustrations, he is one of my favourite artists. The most crazy part is that he agreed to do it. And the result is there, I couldn’t be more proud of the Herbarium visuals.

For an album not yet announced (or will it be when this interview comes out?), I have also worked with a very talented artist from Trois-Rivières, Camille Limoges, who works in the comic book and illustrative style. I CAN’T wait to share this artwork with everyone:

What are some of your influences (musical and otherwise)?

I listen to a lot of music from all walks of life, so the list of my influences could be endless. I will try to be concise and stay to the basics.

Having been a rock and pop drummer for ten years, I can’t deny that classic stuff like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Genesis or Neil Young will forever have a strong influence on me. The fact that I’m more of a drummer is also influencing my music a lot… Sometimes, I tap on my synth like it’s a drum set to create dynamic and percussive melodies and I put a lot of percussions in my music.

My passage inside the band Perséide, lead by my friend Louis-Philippe Cantin will also follow me forever. It’s a coincidence, but Louis-Philippe’s lyrical themes are really close to the dungeon synth themes : nature and magic. I don’t know if he knows it, but his vision and perception of things and life is influencing me a lot in what I do as an artist.

Also, I must admit that there are quite direct influences for each of my albums.

A Long-Expected Party has been influenced a little by Philip Glass, Robert Wyatt and dungeon synth composer Diplodocus. The Hidden Door to Dwarrowdelf was influenced by Fogweaver. As strange as it may seem, Amusettes pour hobbits was influenced by Frank Zappa.

But I think where I gathered the most influences is for my Arda’s Herbarium series. It is strongly influenced by Sunken Grove, Mort Garson, Vangelis, Trail Guide, Vale Of Pnath, Koji Kondo and Stevie Wonder (his Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants album). It’s also based on the book The Flora of Middle-Earth by Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd. The dedication of Walter S. Judd for the world of Middle-Earth is unbelievable. His book is the main guide of my series and his dedication gave me the will to do this project.

I said I would try to be concise. I failed.

Show/tell us about your creative space and process

For my way of working, I was a band musician for more than 10 years, so I rarely perform alone, even in the solitary universe of crafting dungeon synth. I worked a lot with my friend Louis-Philippe from Perséide. He mixed my first album, played a synth track on it. He is also the biggest LOTR geek in the world… He did an elven monologue on a track and also Black Speech on a still unreleased track. He helps me with a few liner notes on the tape releases.

Also, let me introduce you to a the hidden force behind Arda’s Herbarium : Pierre Brouillette Hamelin. He’s a fan of Mort Garson, gardening and of unusual ways of recording and exploring music – he has another way of perceiving it. I send him my finished but unmixed tracks and just let him record anything he feels on it. The funny thing is that he hates LOTR, but I think the “plant music” part convinced him.

I also never mix my music, I prefer to have the perspective and skills of someone else to do it. Once again, I surround myself with talented people for that like Louis-Philippe Cantin, Vincent Lepage or Tristan Feilla (known as Elyvilon in the DS community).

Another noteworthy collaborator is my cat Lucy. She forces me to record again and again by stepping on the keyboard while I play. She’s always around during every moments of creation, recording or drawing.

For my creative space, I have a shelf full of old synths and percussions on the left, a drum and a synth stand in the middle and a tape deck, a MIDI Controller and my computer on the right. Rather effective. Maybe I should decorate a bit more…

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

Seasons and weather do affect the way I express myself, but other than that, not really. I think I have a great sense of escape. I started recording Arda’s Herbarium in my previous apartment located in the middle of a city, in a little dark room without any windows. Everything was emerging from a book and my instrument, not by what was surrounding me. Boring like that.

When I’m in nature or in a place that I love, I try not to think too much about the creation and the music and just enjoy the moment. Not always easy, but I try.

What does dungeon synth (and/or related genres) mean to you?

This is a very good question that I had never thought about. For me, it doesn’t really mean the classic themes like medieval stuff, castles and the clichéd image of it.

It’s more a kind of music where I can be free to do what I want musically; with all my tastes that can be a little different than the average person’s… and then this music can go to other people who are as offbeat as me. And all without having to go through big studios or own expensive musical instruments, because DS fans focus on the artist, on the emotion felt or a theme they love and even appreciate the fact that it was recorded in a “DIY” way. It’s also good to be away from criticism and the social pressure generated by the shows or the fact that our music is successful or not.

Despite the fact that dungeon synth is practiced sporadically around the globe, it’s also a musical genre where there is a good proximity between the one who records and the one who listens. Something I really appreciate.

How would you describe the Dungeon Synth community?

Lovely. Seriously, I have known several scenes over the years and I have never been welcomed so quickly and warmly. I released my first album out of nowhere, without knowing anyone in the community before. 2 weeks later, people were writing me words of appreciation and were chatting with me on the web. After that, I met Paul from the label Voices of the Ainur and we quickly started working together. It felt so great diving into this world.

The most supportive and kind community ever. There is really a feeling of honest and palpable mutual support that you cannot find elsewhere. I also find the exchange of tapes and albums between people really great. The short-runs too. A nice answer to the commercial market of music and useless mass production.

Tell us about your gaming habits: video games, RPG, tabletop, other? Past & present.

Currently, I have 2 young kids, 2 cats, a job, responsibilities and I keep my little spare time for friends or recording or drawing, so… I play to like, 1 game a year? The last I did was The Legend of Zelda:  Breath Of The Wild, which I really enjoyed.

My favourite video game, the one that is most precious to me, is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, maybe the darkest of the Zelda’s series. I played it a lot when I was a kid and it stayed with me. It strongly marked my imagination.

A game where your worst enemy is time, people that act differently depending which mask you are wearing, an impending catastrophe that everyone denies in the middle of climate changes and pollution on many territories. The more I think of this game, the more I love it.

Another game I’m really in love with is Shadow of the Colossus. Very poetic, mysterious and solitary experience. No other game are like this one. Kow Otani did an amazing job with the music on that game.

I’m also a fan of real-time strategy/historic games like Age of Empires, Civilization, Empire Earth, Rise of Nations…

RPG? Runescape. Played it way too much when I was 11-12 years old.

I’m also a little bit of a retro gaming enthusiast. I have a NES, SNES and Nintendo 64 plugged in and always ready for a little game session, even if this happens rarely. With classic games like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, Zelda, Star Wars, Yoshi or less known games like Battle of Olympus or Joe N’ Mac.

If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy, where would it be?

Well, to stick with what I’ve said before, I should choose between Hyrule, Termina or Middle-Earth. Ok… Again, sorry for this clichéd and unoriginal answer, but I’ll have to go with The Shire. This is where the fantasy was born in my mind, you know. It’s almost home. My first move would be to visit the Mathom-house in Michel Delving to see if they need a new employee.


Ghosts & Goblins 3: Silvana Massa

Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins 3 PDF zine

My name is Silvana Massa, I am an illustrator focused on fantasy, paganism and mythology themes. From a very young age I felt an attraction to fantastic kingdoms. Warriors and magicians stole my attention, wanting to be part of those worlds that I found in books and movies. This is how I discovered that by drawing I could create characters and landscapes from my own imagination.

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‘The Kingdom of Wandering Souls’ by Spirithar