Meet Good Kid, the Programmers-Turned-Indie Rock Band Defining Twitch’s SoundPhoto courtesy of Good Kid Games Features Good Kid
Years ago a friend put me onto this band I’d never heard of. They queued up a song called “Nomu” from a band named Good Kid, who seemed relatively new still and only had two other songs on their Bandcamp, “Atlas” and “Witches.” I clung to them like I’ve clung to very few acts, falling immediately for their upbeat riffs and the balance between Two Door Cinema Club and Panic! At the Disco that the melodies and vocalist Nick Frosst struck. What also stuck with me was their mascot, a kid the band and their fans affectionately dubbed “Nomu Kid,” who comes off like a videogame protagonist. He’s always exuding this pure and infectious sense of joy and is almost always in motion.
Much like their mascot, Good Kid is a band that’s constantly on the move. They’re young, meaning they’re not only in tune with what’s going on around them but also quick-witted enough to be able to respond to it promptly. They develop moves out of thin air where others could not. There’s a kinetic energy behind not just Good Kid’s music, but the choices the band has and continues to make about their direction and where to focus their excitement. That energy has taken them to many places, not the least of which include their own videogame, a fight for the right to stream music on Twitch and being included on an in-game radio station in the biggest game in the world. Would it be a surprise then if the band admitted a lot of these moves were improvisational?
“You might gather this from the conversation, but we’re very all over the place. We jump around from idea to idea. We get bored quickly, we move around, we pitch things, we bring things back. We debate. Like it’s just a constant chaotic state,” Jacob Tsafatinos, a guitarist for the band, tells me. The question I asked pertained to a potential concept album (“I would love to do a concept album, but I think we have to be in the right place for that”), but really so many parts of Good Kid’s approach to music and growth have come together from a frenetic, but constantly creative approach. Their latest song, “Orbit,” Is a great example of this.
Written at least in part three years ago in 2018, “Orbit” was originally a song that, according to the band’s bassist Michael Kozakov, “became very obvious [it was] never gonna be a Good Kid song” when Frosst introduced it to the band. It felt too “spooky” and featured chords too strange for the tone of the band, and while they’re no strangers to “massaging” a song into a Good Kid track, “Orbit” wound up on the cutting room floor for years. Kozakov, from out of nowhere, stripped the chords from that song years later, kept the hook and layed down a bassline and “within one practice” they had a demo that became their latest single, and potentially even the first song off an upcoming EP or album. “Pox,” a mellower song of theirs that’s become a personal favorite, was the first song their vocalist Frosst showed Kozakov when he was a “measly teenager” in university, and actually wrote it even further back in high school. That’s a decade long journey and they just released it last year.
It’s all a part of a process that stresses excitement and iteration more than procedural work. “Early on we realized that the band is a great avenue to explore things that we’re excited about,” said Michael Kozakov, the band’s bassist. Down to even their mascot, everything Good Kid has touched or released has worked as some affirmation of the band’s collective creative energy and interests. They never do a thing they don’t want to do, and only do things the way they want to. Tsafatinos shared that in the time after the release of their second EP, for example, when folks were clamoring for more from the band, an idea came together “ad hoc” to give them exactly that. For about a year, Tsafatinos had been developing a game called Ghost King’s Revenge on his weekends (the whole band is made up of programmers who love games) out of the assets of an earlier 8-bit style music video the band figured they could reuse. He not only built the game, but tied it into “Nomu Kid’’ and used it to build out his lore, revealing he was an AI the band built at college that became sentient, turning him into the proper videogame hero he always appeared to be. All of this was done to coincide with the release of an 8-bit Good Kid album, and to top it all off, they rolled it out by launching an ARG where “Nomu Kid’’ disappeared from the band’s social pages. In the band’s Discord, they released puzzles their fans could solve to piece together where he had disappeared to. It all feeds back into this “burning” desire Kozakov mentioned to develop the character of “Nomu Kid” through artwork, their music and, really, whichever avenues feel creatively potent for them.
Since the band is made up of gamers, it probably comes as little surprise that games, and nerd culture, have constantly found their way into Good Kid and been a constant creative outlet for the band. “Down with the King,” the opening track on their second EP, is a reference to Donkey Kong and literally features a line claiming to be “stuck on 1-1,” the designation for the first level of the first world of a game. These lines have made it in because, according to Kozakov, writing lyrics is “you weaving your personal experiences into [the music].” He continued, “So yeah, you’ll hear music that is like about Donkey Kong, but really it’s about Nick [Frosst] reliving his childhood memories, getting stuck on levels and having that feeling that at any point, it was cool to just call your friend and be like, ‘I’m stuck on a level. Can you come over and help me?”
This personalization feels present in a lot of their songs, but also led to a lot of work which early on held up the release of new music. “At first. what we did was we just would write a song, do the best we possibly can on the production side and then just release it and see how it goes,” Kozakov shared about their intensive songwriting process, which early on meant that releases were far and few between. Some songs, like “Drifting” off their second EP, came together rather quickly; that EP was recorded and released in a relatively shorter span than the first. As recently as their latest single “Orbit,” though, the process can still be a lengthy and sporadic one, but always creatively fulfilling.
A fun thing about being a Good Kid fan for a few years now has been watching the band grow, in particular because it’s been adjacent to things I’m also interested in. A while ago, Good Kid started growing in popularity in part due to Fortnite, of all things. On Twitch and YouTube, players who discovered the band were playing their music while streaming the game to hundreds and even thousands of watchers. The band, all self-admitted gamers who watch Twitch a lot, caught on and participated in the chats of these players, including members of FaZe Clan and the inaugural Fortnite World Champion, Bugha. They retweeted montages people made to their songs and interacted with anyone and everyone who reached out about their music or used it while playing something. As large streamers played more Good Kid music, more people discovered them, streamed or bought their music on Bandcamp, and became fans of the burgeoning indie band. This culminated in a “grassroots” campaign that was also completely unplanned, where Fortnite players started demanding that Epic add Good Kid to their in-game radio earlier this year. In June, as part of an update to the game, Epic proved they were listening and added Good Kid’s song “Witches” to Fortnite Radio.
— Good Kid (@goodkidband) June 16, 2021
To Epic’s credit, it was a bit more than that. They had seen the fan campaign and liked Good Kid’s music, so they asked the band to submit two songs, eventually going with “Witches.” While the band was told Epic would get in touch by mid-June, Good Kid did not end up hearing from them and assumed they got passed over. Kozakov shared, “And then it was June 15th, we were walking home from practice. We hadn’t heard from Epic Games…and then somebody tweets at us being like, ‘Yo, Good Kid is in Fortnite.’ We’re like, ‘Wait, what?’ And then we ran home and we’re like, ‘We gotta check this out.” The above tweet and video is Kozakov actually reacting to hearing the band in Fortnite, which he assures me they’re all bad at, for the first time.
Kozakov excitedly relayed to me, “I start screaming, ‘Oh my God, this is it. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life. I’m in a videogame.”
The band’s relationship with Fortnite, which continued with the inclusion of “Orbit” this past week, was in part due to the fact that these streamers had popularized their music on Twitch and YouTube and spread the good word about Good Kid. Where they’ve landed now feels like a tiny miracle when you consider that a year ago, a shakeup in the online streaming space threatened their growing popularity and relationship to games.
“The DMCA stuff started happening and like that they just stopped using [our music],” Tsafatinos said.
The incident Tsafatinos refers to, which was Twitch’s harshest mandate against playing copyrighted music, had a profound chilling effect on the streaming website’s creators that is still being felt today. A DMCA (Digitial Millenium Copyright Act) strike is issued in violation of the DMCA, which stipulates, in so many words, that the internet is granted a sort of “safe harbor” to use copyrighted material, which allowed user-generated content with said material to grow on sites like YouTube and Twitch. However, recent pressure from the music industry, seeking to protect artist’s music from being misused and assure they get paid their dues, has forced the hand of countless of these sites of late, and the lengths to which they’ve clamped down on copyrighted music has threatened the livelihood of many creators on them. This all inspired a “reaction” from Good Kid, as Tsafatinos put it: all of Good Kid’s music would be made available to stream or use in whatever content in perpetuity. No DMCA strikes, no fear of losing your livelihood for wanting to play their music while you were gaming or just using it in videos you put online. As Kozakov put it, “We started noticing that people started avoiding using songs altogether, and we made a decision, like a conscious decision that, ‘Hey, we should make sure that people can use our music whenever they want to.”
While the call was a simple one for the band to make, the hoops they had to jump through proved to be an arduous task. Kozakov quite humorously pitched the struggle as, “So all the systems [the music industry has] in place is to make sure that the artists are protected and here we are coming to them and saying, ‘No, disable all protection systems.”
What also helped motivate the call was that, for the most part, a lot of the people streaming Good Kid songs who were impacted by these DMCA strikes were ultimately just kids.“It’s not that we don’t believe that [artists shouldn’t have their work protected] but I think what we really noticed is that like most of the kids who are like massive on Twitch and a lot of them are like kids, they’re like ages 15 to like early twenties, they don’t know anything about copyright law or DMCA. They also don’t really care, not that they should have to, they just wanna play the music that they like on stream,” Tsafatinos said.
They don’t plan on ever going back on that choice either. “No, never,” Tsafatinos said when asked if they’d roll back the policy. Kozakov doubled down immediately after, saying that, “I think [for] many of us in the band, the way we got into music in the first place is through videogames. Like for me, the first song I was ever excited about was probably like Blur’s ‘Song 2,’ which was in FIFA. And to think that other people are getting excited about our music through videogames and through streams is amazing.”
They assured me that their relationship with games is far from a cynical one, and I’m inclined to believe them. “I don’t wanna say, like, we don’t talk about this stuff or think about it, but it’s a lot less strategic than I think people would think…Like no one talked about building a game before we just decided to build it, you know? And that’s kind of how we’ve always treated Good Kid as a project in general. We prioritize what we’re interested in and what we love doing and, and it kind of seeps into the content.”
“I’m a pretty firm believer in just kind of being, it sounds like cliche, but like being true to yourself or just kind of being authentic to yourself and doing the things you enjoy. And if you do the things you love and you explore those paths, good things will come,” Tsafatinos shared about his and Good Kid’s guiding ethos. Given the wins they’ve racked up the last few years, they just might be onto something there.
Moises Taveras is a former intern for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.