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A Rare Interview With The Reclusive Inventor of FruityLoops

Jun 6, 2019

by CalHx @CalHx by Jacques Morel Jr. @JacquesMorelJr by Jer Paulin @JerRobertPaulin by Tia Hill @tortiachips

Didier “Gol” Dambin got on Skype with Genius for his first ever on-camera interview.

A couple weeks ago we published an in depth look at the history of FruityLoops and it’s reclusive inventor, Didier “Gol” Dambin. Since publishing the piece, Genius was able to reach the mysterious Belgian-French coder, after a serendipitous discovery of his personal YouTube page. We even managed to get him on camera (for the first time ever) to discuss FruityLoops and his role in its development.

Gol was kind enough to answer some of the questions that arose from our piece, helping shed a little more light on his own background and how it informed his work on FruityLoops. He also explained why he named it FruityLoops in the first place, whether or not he deserves credit for being an innovator in music, and he gave us an update on what he’s been doing since leaving Image-Line in 2015.

Interview by Cal Hickox & Jacques Morel

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What kind of background, if any, did you have in music before making FL?

Pretty much none, really. My brothers and sisters had music classes I believe, but I didn’t. That might be one of the reasons FL took off, it wasn’t designed for musicians. Music is pretty logical and mathematical, I don’t think it’s taught the right way. But I may be wrong, I’m not a musician after all. I was also not that much into music, I was mainly interested in synthesizer sounds and music in video games.

You mentioned that FruityLoops was a project that you started in your spare time, before you brought it to Image-Line. How did you start working on it full time for them?

I was working for Image-Line on video games. First, porn ones, then a “normal” one. But it’s safe to say that they weren’t selling well. We hadn’t come back to 2D games yet, every game had to be 3D at that time. And since we had no specific project next and because I didn’t have enough spare time to keep working on Fruity, I continued working on it for them. FruityLoops was just a silly name and that’s the reason I picked it. In French, it sounds very stupid.

Actually, the first years were dedicated to making money from spinoff apps, which were pretty much FruityLoops under different skins. Like Domus Music Machine and Radio 538 Music Machine. We also made “FruityTracks,” a pretty lame sequencer that was written from scratch but didn’t go very far.

That time is also when Frederic VanMol (aka Reflex) joined Image-Line to assist me. Reflex was a key element to FL’s development, especially in the domain of interfacing FL with the existing protocols, whether it’s VST plugins or audio APIs.

The first version was not well known because it was MIDI-only. When people talk about FruityLoops, they talk about version 2 from 1999, because it had sampling. The first version was easier to make because it just needed to send MIDI commands to anything.

Early spinoffs of FruityLoops licensed by Image-Line.

Why the name FruityLoops in the first place?

For me, it was just a silly name and that’s the reason I picked it. In French, it sounds very stupid. And the program was for making loops. I remember in school, we saw the first Fruit Loops commercials on TV and they were pretty funny for kids. I just remembered that and I thought it was a good name. I think silly names are good for products because they stay in your mind.

Were you aware of how widely FruityLoops was adopted by the hip-hop community?

Yes, we all knew that it was popular in the hip-hop community. But frankly, I’ve never been that much into hip-hop, I can enjoy it but it’s certainly not my favorite genre. But yes, I understand why, it’s because of sampling. Back then you could get an MPC, or you could get Fruity—which was easier and cheaper, for those who even paid for it, that is.

Do you ever feel like you’re a music pioneer who doesn’t get the credit he deserves?

What is success to start with and how do you measure that? I don’t even remember much of it. I didn’t even see the numbers and how many times it was downloaded. It was more from the user feedback that I knew it was popular—I think it really grew over time.

The success in America was mainly because of hip-hop, but my interest was in electronic music. I didn’t do anything to sculpt FL for hip-hop. So if I didn’t do anything for that, should I be credited for its success? I don’t know.

To me it was a success in electronic music too, and I think I have more to be credited for that side. I remember for hip-hop, it started to be popular because big names started using it. In that way it’s like sports shoes. Does the maker of the shoes need to get the full credit for their shoes, or do they get popular because of the big names wearing them? I don’t know.

What factors do you think made FL stand out from its competitors?

I would go for the user interface. I think it’s what Rebirth 338 and HammerHead got right, and what the “dinosaur” sequencers understood too late. It’d better be fun to use. Then again, it’s also what music trackers got right years earlier. After all, trackers come from the demo scene, they were tools, but already all about fun. We all knew that it was popular in the hip-hop community. But frankly, I’ve never been that much into hip-hop.

How did your work designing video games influence the design and feel of FL studio?

It influenced the graphics. Even though the first versions of FL were really ugly, but the 2000’s were ugly anyway. Also, smoothness and fun. Perhaps it’s something unique to music apps, because CGI/3D apps are not fun and are very daunting to approach and everyone is fine with that. I don’t know, perhaps musicians are more artists than technicians.

Why did you leave Image-Line in 2012? What do you think about the progress that’s been made on FL since you left?

I left, in 2015 right after the release of version 12, for a combination of reasons. While it’s true that I and other people at Image-Line were always fighting about things, that went for 20 years so that was certainly not the main reason.

I was mainly exhausted I guess, because I did that for 20 years. I also wanted to design a video game, like when I started programming.

That probably explains why I still haven’t, over three years later, touched programming again, nor even really tried the version of FL after 12. I just moved to something else. Perhaps I’ll get back to music stuff in the future. I didn’t regret the decision, by the way.

What have you been working on now that you’ve left Image-Line?

While I was supposed to have left partly to make a video game. I haven’t started yet and I’ve been focusing on being lazy, watching series, and doing Lego stuff. I enjoyed being free and oddly enough, I didn’t regret the decision to leave.

I have a Flickr filled with my Lego creations. That’s something I was doing 30 years ago, when I was a kid, it’s fun to get back to that. When I was doing FL, I kept an eye on Lego user creations, which are generally a lot more impressive than Lego’s own stuff. I wanted to get back to Legos but never had the time. When I stopped working, I got back into it and started doing custom stuff. You should get back into Legos too. The quality of the creations has changed a lot.

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