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Interview with (Ulf Harnhammar) Unifier (ex-Flash Inc, ex-Spirit etc.)

What is your alias? If you find the story interesting, then let us know how you came up with it?

My alias was Unifier. I wanted to change my handle from Beastian to something else, back in 1989, so I looked through an English dictionary for cool-sounding words. I found the verb "unify", which I quickly transformed to the handle "Unifier". I still kind of like it, except for the fact that people with bad English skills can't spell it (they always write "Unifer" or "Unifire" or something). It is also a little bit embarrassing to have a handle that starts with the same letter as your real name (Unifier, Ulf). Not very cool, but other people have made that mistake too (Omega Supreme, Olav for instance). (Jan Csernoch -Jean :-) -ed.)

Have you changed handles? If so, give us the reason(s) and your previous nickname(s)!

Very early on, I used the handle ZaqI, and then I changed it to The Future Brain. The stuff I did during that time was very bad, and I hope no-one still has it. Then I changed my handle to Beastian in 1988, and I got a little bit better as a coder. Then I changed it to Unifier in 1989.

The reason for changing handles was (a) to leave the bad work of that period behind me, and (b) 'cause the old handles sounded lame.

When and where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born on the 30th of May in 1971, in a town called Örebro in Sweden. I currently live in Stockholm, Sweden.

When did you get your first computer and which computers do/did you own? When did you get your C64?

My dad was the head teacher of the chemistry department in a college in Örebro, and as a kid I followed him to his work sometimes to see what it was like. They had computers there, and I started playing around with them. They had some old single-user machines from HP and Luxor (ABC 80!!) and a multi-user mainframe called NORD 100. I started learning BASIC, FORTRAN etc. So unlike most people in the scene, I didn't actually start out by getting a home computer for playing games.

Some time later, I got very fascinated with the arcade games in a local mall, and to avoid feeding them all my money, I tried to code some small games of my own on the ABC80's at my father's job. I got to know some people who owned VIC20 computers, and I bought one aswell in 1984 I think. I got some illegally copied games for it, and started programming it aswell. For Christmas 1985, I got my Commodore 128 which I used for all my C64 scene work. After a while, I sold my VIC20. In 1991, I bought an Amiga 500 that I never did any serious work on. Finally in 1994, I sold the Amiga and bought my PC, which I'm using to answer this interview right now.

How did you get to know the scene? Who was your first contact (person you knew) on the scene?

The local Örebro people I knew with VIC20 computers (1010 The Cracking Hero, 1535 The Cracking Boy) bought C64 computers or C128 computers around the same time as I did. Pretty soon, we started a cracking group called 1096 Crackware. We were very bad! I still remember some ugly intros and unpacked releases etc. I'm pretty sure that no-one has those releases, 'cause we only sent them to a few people who weren't really in the scene at all. (I'm not sure if we were in the scene either. I suppose it depends on how you define it. We had a small cracking group, but we didn't really swap or know any other groups or didn't even take it 100% seriously.) We were very impressed by the demos and cracks that we got from other people, but I guess the reason why we didn't try harder with that group was that we thought we weren't talented enough to ever get to join a real group..

Everyone quickly lost interest in 1096 Crackware. In 1987, I got a 300 baud modem and started calling some Swedish boards to communicate with people and to download the h0tTeSt 0-dAy wArEzZzZ (eh, not really!). In early 1988, I coded my own BBS program (mostly in BASIC) and put up my own BBS called "Old Street BBS" after the street where I and my family lived. Through my own BBS and other boards that I called, I got to know some people that were in the scene somehow, like Zeldin of TPF, and others who were interested in demos and cracks and who would join some group later (B.C, Prizma). I started swapping with them, and soon got some other contacts that I could swap with aswell.

Describe your scene career, including all groups you have been a member of! Keep chronological order please!

Shit, this will go on for a while.

As I already stated above, we started the group 1096 Crackware in the year 1986 I think. I put up my BBS "Old Street BBS" with a BBS program coded by myself, in 1988. I joined TPF (The Paranormal Federation) for a few months in 1988. Then I formed SFA (ShadowFire Association) with Prizma and made some demos and arranged a small copy-party in 1988. Both members of SFA joined Sector 90 late in 1988, as Prizma lived in Kalmar - the same town as Copkiller and some of the other members. Sector 90 had a copy party in December 1988, a party where FairLight had their own room and where we (Sector 90) released the infamous demo "Snutslakt". I met the guys in Gemini there, who would stay in the scene for a while (Big Swede, Blazer, Morpheus). The people who later would become Zone45 were there too, but their group was still called Digital Dreams back then. The Spy was there too, as he was a Sector 90 member around this time.

The rest of the scene had started to notice that Sector 90 was not as good as it had been earlier on (lots of the original members had left, and then some lamers like me had joined). The leader Exterminator had ripped a scroller from some other group and used it in the "Snutslakt" demo. Consequently, almost the same people that had been in Sector 90 started the new group Hostages. It only lived for a very short period of time, and then we started up Eltronic. It was more successful, and we released lots of demos etc. Morpheus was a member of Eltronic for parts of the group's life, and Slaygon (later in Censor Design) joined Eltronic as he lived in Örebro just like me.

Eltronic was the first group, where I released something that wasn't utter crap. I did a sample mix of the Swedish radio news, called "2 PM News", that is kind of cute. I also did some demos with the other members, like "A Lot Of Coke" (released at the Horizon/Equinoxe party in Eskilstuna in 1989), "Distinction" and "Grovsnus".

"A Lot Of Coke", that I mentioned earlier, was actually not released under the name Eltronic but under the name Shine. Everyone got tired of the name Eltronic, so we changed it. We still had some Eltronic logos in the demo, though, so some people thought it was a co-op demo between Shine and Eltronic..

Soon, all the members of Shine got tired of eachother aswell, and split up the group. Still, that group was an important part of the Swedish scene, as some people who later would join better groups were a part of Eltronic/Shine during its life: Squelch/Space Ace, Morpheus, Slaygon, me, Prizma etc.

I and Prizma joined Zone45 for a short while after this. I released "4 PM News" for them, another mix collage of samples from the Swedish radio news.

Then I joined the newly restarted Weird Science 2662 with some other Swedish guy. There I released the first version of my wellknown utility "Contactdealer", still under my handle of Beastian.

Weird Science 2662 died, 'cause the old members didn't like us using the name. It was now time to visit the demoparty in Balsta, where I and Slaygon and some members of Oneway did a cool demo called "Balstasleppet/THE LEFTOVERS" with a cool wormgame demo part by me. By now, I had changed my handle to Unifier, so "Balstasleppet" was the first thing I did as Unifier.

After this, I joined the d00dz in Censor Design. They had a party in Arboga, where I released "Contactdealer v2". Later, I coded my tetris demo part which was included in the demo "Wonderland 6". However, FairLight was in war with Censor at the time, so they had already downloaded my tetris game from a hidden directory in the Censor BBS "Testure", and released it as "Censor Tetris 2/CEN" or something. I'm not sure why - perhaps they thought that I wanted to sell that game to some company, so that they could ruin those chances by releasing it to the scene?

In the summer of 1990, I + Slaygon + Codex of Censor Design went to a demo party in Bergen, Norway, in our new nice Censor sweatshirts. I released "Contactdealer v3" there, and got to meet Zodiac and Crept of Flash Inc for the first time. (Flash Inc released "Summer Code 4" at that party.)

During this period, I also made some small part for the "All Against Aaron" hate demo, and after buying a 1200 baud modem from Shark, I became the co-sysop for Censor's BBS "Attraction".

Later in that summer, I was kicked out of Censor!! I didn't get along with any of the other members very well, 'cause they were into being loud rebels who liked to shout and drink and destroy things, and I was still some quiet nervous computer nerd kid. I had talked to someone about perhaps wanting to leave the group, and someone apparently spread the rumour. So as far as I know, I was kicked only for social reasons, and nothing that had anything to do with my coding or my swapping.

I joined Flash Inc, as I liked their latest demo "Summer Code 4" very much. I already knew some people who were Flash Inc members, like Morpheus and Epsilon. I did a lot of work for Flash Inc in the next couple of years:

  • Demo parts for the last big Flash Inc demos: "Channel 64", "The Legacy", "Legacy Part 2" and "Prometheus Unbound"
  • I released two solo demos for Flash Inc, "Uxorious" with the first sideborder zoom routine, and "Uxorious 2" with a fractal routine
  • I released two versions of my packer Unipacker (v1 and v2, they both have interesting intros - especially the intro of "Unipacker v2" is cool, with a fractal zoomer and a picture by Creeper), and a final version (v3.1) of my Contactdealer
  • I coded the hate demo "We Love Olav" against Panoramic Designs
  • I coded some music collections for Flash Inc's musicians, namely "Shade Music Collection 2" with a very cool CD player outfit, and "Moon Music Collection 3" which is more like a normal music collection
  • I was the co-editor of Flash Inc's diskmag HotShot
  • I called the Swedish boards, and I was the co-sysop of "Warez Station" for a while
  • I did some swapping
(For more information about Flash Inc, check out the Flash Inc group history which should be included somewhere on Hall Of Fame.)

In April 1993, Flash Inc had gotten very slow, so I joined Spirit instead. We made the cool demo "Tales Of Mystery" together. Then I left Spirit, late in 1994. The only C64 release I've made since then is "Unipacker v3" early in 1995, and that was done without being a member of any group.

Which scene do/did you consider best and why? If you have been only on the C64, then give us the reason(s)!

I did some bad demos on the PC for Subsystem, Bonzai and Noice. I didn't like that scene very much, so I left it soon enough. The C64 scene is much better. Especially it was in the 80's when people got their stuff by mail swapping. It's much more personal to get some new warez on a disk that some contact has sent to you by mail, than by downloading those warez from some BBS. Besides, I've always thought that the building of that mail network that spread all the releases throughout the whole of Europe (at the very least) was very exciting.

The C64 scene is better than the PC scene, 'cause everyone has (almost) the same hardware. You only have 1MHz and 64K RAM to work with, and that's it. On a PC, it's easy to upgrade to a faster processor, so everyone's system is different. Demos are partially about breaking limits, and on the C64 the limits are the same for everyone but on the PC the limits change and float around 'cause it's easy to upgrade the hardware.

What do you think you gained by being a member of the scene?

I think I got to know how to learn things by yourself and how to finish projects. Normally, people don't get to do any real work in their lives until they've left school somewhere between the age of 19-25 (depending on whether they want to go to university or not), and the scene was a way to do something creative long before that, and to get it published.

What do you consider lost, wasted or meaningless during the years you have spent on the scene?

It DID take lots of spare time that could have been used for lots of other things in life, and perhaps we all were a bit fanatic about the scene, but .. there's no point in trying to regret anything. Instead of complaining about what you didn't do when you were 18 years old, do those things now instead and try to remember the scene days as a cool period of your life.

What is/are/was/were your main interest(s)/function(s)?

I was mainly a coder for the groups that I joined. I did 4 SID tunes aswell, but only 2 are released. One of them, my tune for the "Unipacker v1" intro that I did in Slaygon's music routine, is even included in the High Voltage SID Collection these days, in their directory /DEMOS. That's kind of cool.

I was mainly a coder for the groups that I joined. I did 4 SID tunes aswell, but only 2 are released. One of them, my tune for the "Unipacker v1" intro that I did in Slaygon's music routine, is even included in the High Voltage SID Collection these days, in their directory /DEMOS. That's kind of cool.

Apart from coding and some limited composing, I was the co-editor of Flash Inc's diskmag HotShot, and I also did some limited swapping and modem trading.

I tried to do some graphics early on, but I don't have any talent for it. Still, I have released a 1x1 font that I've done all by myself, in the AFLI part of "Legacy part 2". (But any moron can draw a 1x1 font.)

I was the co-sysop for the BBS:es "Attraction" and "Warez Station", and the sysop for the (not very scene related) BBS "Old Street BBS".

I also cracked a game or two for some early groups, but it didn't excite me very much.

What made you start doing graphics/composing/swapping/coding/modem trading organising or whatever you did?

Eh, dunno, 'cause I liked doing it I guess. King Fisher of Triad once compared the kicks that young computer nerd kids get out of coding demos in assembler to the kicks that young girls get out of learning their horses how to perform advanced tricks.. Perhaps there might be some wisdom in that comparison, I dunno.

I've done lots of other creative things aswell, like writing articles and short stories for different magazines, and taking summer courses in film making, and making local radio programs, and making weird mix collages on my double decked ghettoblaster or whatever. To me, the scene thing was a part of that, just trying to create things that no-one had done before.

What are/were your greatest successes/fiascos?

Successes: people really seemed to like my tetris demo part for Censor and most of my work for Flash Inc and Spirit, plus my tools Unipacker and Contactdealer.

Fiascos: I hope I didn't have any huge fiascos. I definitely coded some demo parts that could have been better, but I hope that they still were not the biggest fiascos ever. The one thing that I'm thinking about here is not about computers, but about the social life that surrounds them. I guess throughout this whole period, I had a tendency to be too critical of all scene work and find small details to complain about, and I guess this pissed some people off.

Was there any special connection between you/your group and some other people/groups on the scene (co-operation, war, friendship etc.)? If so, what made it start and stop?

Censor Design and FairLight had some war going on. Flash Inc were in war with (a) Light and (b) Panoramic Designs and their disciples in the rest of the Norwegian C64 scene. The Panoramic thing started mostly 'cause Wisch of Flash Inc complained at some party, that their demos didn't have any hard coded routines. They didn't like to hear that.

Have you attended parties? Tell us about your favourite conferences? You can even mention some fiascos.

The Horizon/Equinoxe party in Eskilstuna in the spring of 1989 was very nice. Everyone was still young and eager to do cool demos, and the whole thing still felt pretty new and exciting. This was before the days of the big screens, by the way. Everyone had to watch the demos on their own computer instead, by grabbing all the disks with the new releases from someone..

The other Horizon parties (1990, 1991) come to mind aswell, as something particularly exciting. The Horizon party in Stockholm in 1990 saw the release of probably about 40-50 new C64 demos..

I've attended lots of other parties: The Party 1-3 + 5, Sector 90 party in Kalmar in 1988, SFA's own small party, the Balsta party in autumn 1989, Censor/Phenomena's party in Arboga etc.

If you are not a C64 scener anymore, when and why did you leave the scene?

I haven't been a member of any group or released anything since 1995.

Why? Eh, dunno, 'cause I no longer liked doing it I guess. It's hard to understand your feelings. Perhaps if I took some therapy for a couple of years, I would understand why I want or feel things, but currently it just happens.

What were your favourite groups/artists/coders/productions? Why do/did you like their work/these programs?

I liked lots of people's work. The early days (1985-1987) were very cool, with all those Compunet teams (Psy + Matt + Demon, Meanteam, Ash + Dave, Stoat + Tim, Ratt + Benn etc etc) and the other people from that same period of time (The Judges, 1001 Crew, Dutch USA Team, Xess, TMC etc etc).

Later on, I liked Panoramic Designs, Pretzel Logic and Spirit very much. Any group that has their own feeling in their productions and their own style is cool by me.

I remember that I used to be very inspired by technical groups like Horizon, Upfront, Bones, Finnish Gold etc, back when I was active. I guess that's why most of my own demo parts are technically oriented.

When it comes to SID music, I prefer old music from the 80's. I'm not a big fan of the kind of slick and professional-sounding music that people like Vibrants made. But of course, some great SID music have been released in the 90's, too. I really love Richard Nygaard of Panoramic Designs and his two tunes "Resonic" and "That's The Wave It is". DOS of ADSR/Spirit also made lots of great tunes.

When it comes to the old 80's SID heroes, I guess I like the same things as everyone else: Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Tim Follin, Ben Daglish, Demon, MC of Dutch USA Team, Fred Gray, "R1D1" by Antony Crowther, "Tetris" by Wally Beben, "Trail Mix" from the great demo by Soedesoft, Adam Gilmore, The Dungeon Master, Rock, Red, Future Freak, Mike Alsop...

What is your profession? What do you do for a living? Does it have to do anything with computers? Is there anything you do in real-life that is similar to what you have been doing on the scene?

Right now (November 1997), I'm a student of Theoretical Philosophy, at the University of Uppsala. I did study some computer related courses for a while, but that felt very wrong, so I turned over to Humanities instead. I've been studying English a lot, for instance (I wrote my C-essay, about Margaret Atwood's novel "Lady Oracle", in the spring term of 1997). I'm not really planning on any computer related career ever, simply 'cause I liked the freedom and give-away spirit of the scene, and that freedom doesn't exist in the business world. The demo sceners code things that they have a passion for, and then they give them away for free. Micro$lut and all other software companies are simply trying to make lots of money, and don't give a shit about if you feel any passion for what you do.

I've written a bunch of articles about hacker culture, for some Scandinavian magazines like Tekno and Internet World. Some of them dealt with today's demo scene, and some of them with related topics like network hackers (I went to the Hacking In Progress festival in Holland and wrote about that for Internet World), e-zines on the Internet and things like that. I even wrote an article about SID music for the magazine Tekno, so if you meet lots of SID freaks from Sweden, I guess that's partially 'cause of my article.

I've written other things, apart from computer articles. I worked for a music fanzine called Popoga, for one and a half years, and reviewed new CD's and did interviews with cool artists / bands.

What do you like doing in your spare-time when not computing? What is/are your hobby(ies)?

Most kinds of culture and media, the night life of big cities like Stockholm, philosophy, travelling, politics, drug culture (another good reason to go to Holland...) etc. I go to a lot of art galleries and record stores and book stores and movie shows and techno clubs, things like that.

Are there moments when you feel nostalgic thinking back to the past years of the scene? If so what do you do when it happens?

When I feel nostalgic, I try to get rid of those feelings by putting on the VR helmet and connecting my nerve system to the Internet and by shooting up metamphetamine into my veins. NOW! SPEED! TECHNO! FUTURE! CYBER! HACKERS ARE THE 'RAF' OF THE 90'S!

Sorry, that was not a very serious answer. Yes, I do feel nostalgic sometimes, and quite often I listen to old SID music in SIDPLAY on my PC. I don't have my C128 and all my disks here, so I don't watch the old productions very often, but I sure do remember them and the times when they were produced.

Have you ever thought of making a comeback on the C64 demo scene?

Yes, I have. Actually, I came up with a cool idea for a C64 demo part this week, and I spent some time drawing some strange looking screen dumps on a piece of paper to document my idea.

I feel like I spent way too much time with computers during a few years of my life, so it feels great to do lots of other things right now. But I feel like I want to make at least one final C64 demo, before I quit completely. But I'm in no hurry. Maybe it will happen in the year of 1999, at The Party 9 or something? Hang around in the scene, and I guess you'll find out.

What are your plans for the near/far future?

My current plans are to go on studying Theoretical Philosophy for a couple of years, and to go on writing articles for different magazines (maybe about hacker culture, maybe about other things). Basically, I want to express my creativity in all different ways that I can come up with.

What is your goal in life? What would you like to achieve?

God, that's deep maaan.. I've no idea. I guess all people's achievements will be forgotten as time passes. The plays of William Shakespeare are still very much remembered around the world, but will they still be remembered in 2000 years from now? In 10000 years from now? Life sucks, and then you die.

My greatest ambition is probably to avoid getting stuck in Suburbia with a nice comfortable middle-class life and a nice job as a civil servant and wife and kids and Dire Straits records. That sucks! The song "Frustration" on Soft Cell's first album "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret" sums up my feelings about this type of life very well.

Any final messages to the readers out there?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank ALL of you, for making the C64 scene so incredibly cool. It was a GREAT experience to be part of it!!

Special thanks to all people involved in making this Hall Of Fame CD and to all people involved in the High Voltage SID Collection, for their great efforts for the C64 scene.

If anyone wants to write to me, to tell me that the zoom routine in "Channel 64" is really lame, or that the tetris game in "Wonderland 6" is really cool, or that they want me to code a part for their new "Demo Of The Year" project, or whatever, my address is:

Ulf Harnhammar
Skontorpsvagen 69
120 53 Arsta
(No swapping!)

I will live here for at least a couple of years from now (November 1997), so you can mail me at this address, even if you're reading this in the year 2000. I would be more than glad to hear from you. Take care, Ulf

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