DZ Deathrays’ Simon Ridley talks ‘Dive Bar Superstars’, his new retro video game

DZ Deathrays are stalwarts of the Aussie punk scene, as famous for their wildly energetic live shows as their hook laden music. However, in a move few saw coming, they can now add video game stars to their resume. We caught up with drummer Simon Ridley to talk Dive Bar Superstars.

Dive Bar Superstars, available on iOS and Android as of Friday November 19th, is the new retro video game created by DZ Deathrays drummer Simon Ridley. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when games were rendered in fewer pixels and punk gigs were played at deafening volumes to fully packed-out clubs.

Dive Bar Superstars is a charming homage to the iconic beat ’em up genre that dominated the SNES era. Think Super Mutant Ninja Turtles with less gratuitous violence, almost as much pizza, and even more fantastic tunes.

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Image: Dive Bar Superstars

Speaking of which, the soundtrack is critical, as the game’s main objective is essentially to be DZ Deathrays. You guide the trio through a collection of venues, ranging from your mate’s backyard house party to classic dive bar settings.

During this journey you perform rockstar moves, win over new fans, dodge angry ones and, ultimately, become the titular Dive Bar Superstars.

We caught up with Simon to celebrate the release of Dive Bar Superstars, talk video games in general, and get the latest word on all things DZ Deathrays.

HAPPY: Dive Bar Superstars is all about conquering local dive bars and putting on a great show. So first things first, what are some of your favourite dive bars? To play and also just chill at.

SIMON: One of them I actually based a level of the game on. The Arcade level is based on this venue in Ottawa – House of Targ – which we played at a few years back. It’s got this reputation around Canada for being this wild video game bar and we had such a fun time there. Actually, the first time we went to Ottawa we were doing a festival, but ended up at an afterparty there. And then we ended up getting to play there the next time we were in town. 

As far as other dive bars go, Frankie’s in Sydney is pretty legendary and we’ve had some great times there. There’s this one in Berlin called 8mm that’s pretty legendary, Crow Bar in London, there are a couple around the world we always try and hit whenever we go to those cities. And of course Cherry Bar in Melbourne… that one’s notorious [laughs].       

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Image:  Dani Hansen

HAPPY: The first level in the game is a rehearsal space that turns into a house party. I was wondering if this level, like the arcade, has its roots in reality. Where was the first DZ Deathrays rehearsal space?

SIMON: Well our first actual gig was in our mate Dev’s backyard so it was pretty close to that sort of vibe. Shane and I used to live in a house together and we used to have a garage to jam in and that was kind of our first rehearsal space. Our neighbour was not too stoked about it though, he used to come over and like bash up against the walls and yell at us, so you really had to pick your moments to practice. So yeah, it’s pretty similar to how we started out: garage vibes.

HAPPY: So it really is about as autobiographical as an 8-bit game can be.  

SIMON: Yeah man, I wanted to throw that sort of stuff in there.

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Image: Dive Bar Superstars / Simon Ridley

HAPPY: Dive Bar Superstars seems like a bit of an ode to the video games of yesteryear, what old games did you grow up playing that have inspired you?

SIMON: I think you can probably tell, but stuff like Battle Toads – that was one of the first games that I remember playing. You know, beat ‘em up style 2D scrollers, Ninja Turtles, those classic SNES sort of games. They were rad. The first console that I actually owned though was a Nintendo 64, so then it was Mario Kart and stuff.

HAPPY: So team Mario over team Sonic right?

SIMON: Pretty much, yeah. I had some friends who were into Sega, but they were just so expensive back in the day, so unless you went to someone’s house who had one that was kinda it. 

HAPPY: Definitely, I remember being in the same situation trying to get my hands on my friend’s Mario games [laughs]. Can you tell us a little about why you wanted to make Dive Bar Superstars? Was it a lockdown task or something you’ve always wanted to try out?

SIMON: I always wanted to try my hand at it, and to keep learning about programming and that sort of thing. I started working on it before COVID but it was purely a side hobby situation, if I had some spare time. And then once COVID hit I ended up with a bunch of time on my hands, and I was like ‘wow, this would be the perfect time to release it’… and then classically, as far as DZ Deathrays goes, we release it when everyone comes out of lockdown.

But yeah, it was something to keep me sane. I’m sure if you talked to a psychologist or something, it would be obvious that I missed touring.

dive bar superstars
Image: Dive Bar Superstars

HAPPY: I love the pixel art and animations – I’ve never seen so few pixels slide across the stage with such energy. Did you have any help in this department? Any shout outs?  

SIMON: Totally, when I first started doing it I was doing the backgrounds myself and they just looked like trash. So I kept Google image searching for what kind of vibe I wanted and I ended up finding this same sort of art style coming through each time. And then I found the guy on Fiverr! This awesome dude, called Arvey, who runs under the tag archipics on Instagram, and he was so good to work with. I would send him like a really crappy design like ‘here is where I need the stage, this is where I need the bar, some stairs here’ and then a few weeks later he would get back to me with this amazing artwork and it just really… it was like ‘shit we might be able to actually release this game it looks so good’.

I did a bit of the art for the band members. Actually, that first happened when we were doing a US tour and I was making some promo art for us, so I had those figures and was like ‘we should make a pixel art game’. And so I saved those years ago and ended up redoing them a bit for the game.

Some of the other art work, like the boss level band, it’s from those websites you can go and buy artwork from other pixel artists. So SanctumPixel was this other artist who had this cool sort of vibe, so I bought a bit of art from him and that was that.

The style of the game is just a homage to growing up in the ‘90s and playing those early game consoles… plus it’s a lot easier to code with 2D pixel art.

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Image: Dive Bar Superstars

HAPPY: I imagine that’s probably true, but honestly it looks great. I got to play a bit of it yesterday and it was a really fun time.        

SIMON: Thanks man! 

HAPPY: Moving on from the ‘90s, are you still a bit of a gamer? And if so, what are you into these days?

SIMON: I really like all the Rockstar ones. So whenever we get our touring schedule and I see a bit of a gap – if we have like a month off – I’ll be like ‘what’s the big game I’ve missed out on?’ So Red Dead Redemption was a big one and I’m really looking forward to playing Cyberpunk 2077 – it looked awesome but I was busy building Dive Bar Superstars and I knew it would have been this blackhole for all my time.

So I might treat myself to that, and I hear they’ve fixed all the bugs now… hopefully.

cyberpunk 2077
Image: Cyberpunk 2077 / CD Projekt Red

HAPPY: It’s probably a blessing in disguise that you couldn’t play it when it came out, that one was really broken on release [laughs]. Speaking of broken things, some of the fans in your game, when you’re playing badly, get pretty gnarly – throwing bottles and stuff at you form the crowd. Have you experienced anything like that at a DZ Deathrays shows?

SIMON: That stuff does happen! Although usually it’s not as intense as glass bottles. There was this one gig we played for Splendour in the Grass, it was our first time in a huge tent, and there was tons of rain so everyone had to come into the tent and see us play, so we ended up getting to play to a crowd of a couple thousand people. So I go crowd surfing in it and then I just got demolished in the crowd, I got like wedgied to the point my underpants snapped.

And so I’m crawling back onto the stage and I see this thing go flying past my head and I look down and it was my wallet – someone had jacked all my cash! I was devastated. It was the start of the festival too, so that was all my money for the whole festival. 

As far as dive bars go, we did one in Boise a few years back. I was used to, at the end of a gig, throwing my drum sticks out to the people, but no one in the audience knew who we were. So I throw these drumsticks and turn around to walk off stage and someone threw them back at me [laughs]. I was like ‘oh yeah, no one knows us here… or likes us’.   

HAPPY: Fair enough! Going back to the theme of the game, who are the real life Dive Bar Superstars? What two bands would you pick to play with you for the ultimate dive bar gig?

SIMON: We’ve done so many dive bars with Dune Rats, those guys are legendary, so I’d have to get them onboard. And it was actually really fun making the boss level band in the game, so I’d love to see them in real life.  

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Image: Dive Bar Superstars / Simon Ridley

HAPPY: For sure. Before we finish up I wanted to ask you a little about your own music in the game. Dr. Dre reportedly has plans to release music through the Grand Theft Auto games, and I was wondering if you guys have any plans to release some new music of your own through Dive Bar Superstars?

SIMON: Yes, so there are two new songs in the game. Shane wrote the title track which you can unlock, and for the boss level band Lachy wrote this amazing death metal song. So both of those tracks are being released through the game. And then these little bits, like when you finish the game, there’s this little fanfare track. So there’s some new music there for the fans if they can get that far and unlock it.     

HAPPY: Awesome, one final question before we call it: what’s on the horizon for the band in general? Any new music in the works, tour plans?

SIMON: Yeah, so we just put out a new single last week, and during COVID we wrote a new record. But then the borders happened so I’ve still got three tracks I need to go down and finish percussion on. So hopefully that will be wrapped up in January.

And we’ve still got our Positive Rising tour which keeps getting pushed back. At the moment it’s scheduled for March, so fingers crossed that one can go ahead. So yeah, really looking forward to getting out there on the road, doing that one in March, and then we’re finishing it off supporting The Wiggles – which will be really funny. [Laughs] That’s something I never thought I’d say. 

HAPPY: No, but I mean they are kind of a wild bunch, they’ve been doing pub gigs for a while as the Wiggles and then you’ve got the whole Cockroaches thing. 

SIMON: Yeah, they’re all old rockdogs. They love that sort of stuff, so it will be really fun.    

HAPPY: Awesome, thanks so much for your time man. Anything else you wanted to share about Dive Bar Superstars

SIMON: Likewise, thanks man! Well it’s out Friday November 19th and I just hope people enjoy it. It’s just a bit of fun and a chance to explore our back catalogue and get reacquainted with our songs. 

Dive Bar Superstars is Friday 19 November on iOS and Android.

For more information on DZ Deathrays tours and releases, click here.