Build beats with Big Spaceship

An interview on hackdays with Nick Dandakis

Recently, we saw a fun client-side sequencer called Crew Cuts that Nick Dandakis, a technologist at Big Spaceship, put together. After we built up some songs using samples from some of their team, we decided to ask Nick about working at Big Spaceship, tips for being part of a hackday, and publishing using Surge.


We’re sure most days aren’t like hackdays at Big Spaceship! What does your usual work day look like?

Most days at the ’ship are definitely not like hackdays, but I always try to be hacking on one side project at all times. My usual work day consists of coding (of course), but also the occasional foosball and Super Smash Bros games.

Tell us a little about the hackday you were apart of.

Big Spaceship is moving to a new office soon and we want the new space to be a reflection of us. So the theme of this hackday was “Hack the Ship,” where the goal was to digitize the new space and make it more reflective of our unique culture here at Big Spaceship.

We had eleven teams participate and after 24-hour working on their projects, each team presented their ‘hacks’ to a panel of judges that then decided on a winning team. The winning team was awarded allocated time and money to make their hack a reality, along with a paid night out and championship rings. We also had a People’s Choice Award where the winners received championship rings and a paid lunch.

How did you come up with the project idea?

Big Spaceship is well known for its interdisciplinary work environment, which facilitates a lot of organic ideation. I came up with the concept for Beats by Crew after Chris Petrillo (a designer at the ’ship) showed me designs and sounds for a soundboard concept that had been created but eventually died a few months back. I thought we could resurrect the concept and take it a step further by creating a music sequencer. Chris sent over the assets he had and a few hours later, I had a proof-of-concept.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to further develop Beats by Crew and thought that Hackday would be the perfect opportunity to do so. So, I pitched the idea and several others joined the team. Beats by Crew then turned into CrewCuts, after multiple rapid iterations during Hackday.

Special thanks to Sam Sally Cha, Amanda Krueger, Alex Krutchkoff, Kiri Coles, Nathan Peters, Will Chang, Joey Manin, Heather McTavish, Lauren Parkos and Chris Petrillo for making CrewCuts possible in such a short amount of time.

What made you decide to build the project as a client-side application?

I’ve participated in a couple of hackdays before and learned from my mistakes. Hackathons are not the right place for clean and DRY code. Hackathons might be the place to try new things, but chances are you won’t get an impressive demo. Ditch all of that and focus on going as fast as you can to create the prototype your team wants for demo day.

I’ve done a lot of front-end development recently, so it was all very fresh in my mind, which meant I’d be able to maximize my performance by keeping it strictly front-end.

What front-end development tools did you use? Were you already using them at Big Spaceship, or did you take it as an opportunity to try out something new?

I kept the stack barebones; I used vanilla HTML, CSS and JS (+ jQuery). I think avoiding a framework, task runners and builders was something new and surprisingly refreshing. The only tool I used apart from my text editor (Atom) and git was Surge.

focus on going as fast as you can to create the prototype your team wants for demo day.

So, the night before I looked into simple static (or front-end only) website deployment services and found Heroku, Surge, and some other options.

In order for you to deploy a front-end only application with Heroku, you have to include an index.php file that just includes your actual index.html. Which works fine, but seems unnecessary.

Surge was exactly what I was looking for. I tried another option, but it let me down on the day of the event by dropping my connection whilst deploying over 300 assets. Surge pulled through, so I ran with that for the remainder of the (very long) day.

Any particularly funny or challenging moments from the event?

Our project involved recording audiovisual samples of different crew members. We managed to record over 60 sounds and pretty much half of our agency. Having everyone make ridiculous sounds and faces was hilarious. Check out the blooper reel:

Curating, editing and processing all of the AV samples however, was not so fun.


Thanks so much, Nick! We always like hearing about other front-end developer’s processes, especially within such a short timeline. Make some beats with the Big Spaceship team at crewcuts.surge.sh, and follow Nick on Twitter here.

If you’ve used Surge to publish your front-end project recently — for a hackday or otherwise — we’d love to hear about it. Send @surge_sh a message.