Tag Archives: Chiptune

10 Latin-American Artists Driving Chiptune’s Next Big Wave

chiptune-1244In today’s pop culture-obsessed world, most people are at least tangentially familiar with the nostalgic kitsch of chiptune, a colorful and whimsical universe of electronic music that has remained an underground niche throughout most of its brief history. Characterized by energetic, high-pitched melodies, chip music was born out of the Japanese video game boom of the 1970s, later becoming a DIY favorite at small demoscenes across Europe where hacking outdated tech evolved into a glitchy new art form. However, as chip music’s cultural significance has expanded globally, Latin America has remained largely omitted from the conversation, despite its chiptune scene’s wealth of perspectives and fusions. Continue reading

Chris Al3x’s “Sonicwave” is an Ode to Sega’s Iconic Video Game Mascot

Chris AI3x

For those who owned a Sega video game console in the ‘90s and early 2000s, there’s no more recognizable character than Sonic the Hedgehog. The speedy blue critter was something of a mascot for Sega at the time, and the popular series managed to capture gamers with its music as much as its gameplay. From the classic self-titled original to the Adventures series, each Sonic soundtrack pinpointed the essence of not only each character, but the different zones through which you played.

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Album of the Day: MASTER BOOT RECORD, “Direct Memory Access”

If Yngwie Malmsteen had grown up with computers instead of guitars, MASTER BOOT RECORD’s synthesis of chiptune and baroque metal might not be such a wonder. The mysterious solo Italian recording project—self-described as “100% Synthesized, 100% Dehumanized” on social media—shares the kind of chugging rhythms, blasting percussion, and precise arpeggios favored by the pioneering metal guitarist. But MASTER BOOT RECORD does all of that it minus guitars and plus a lot of 1s and 0s, adding a healthy diet of bleeps and bloops that will sound instantly familiar to students of 1970s and ‘80s arcade games. That combination—menacing metal and glittery game sounds—is something unique, similar to early Daft Punk’s marriage of vocoder, techno, and disco sounds. Continue reading

Colectivo Chipotle Brings the Mexican Chiptune Scene Together

Colectivo Chipotle

Chema64’s 2015 album Viziers is an unrelenting, video game-inspired assault of hyper-percussive blips, burps, explosions, and cheesy, retro, repetitive cranial misfirings. It’s like being trapped in Tron, if Tron were on fire. The opening track starts with a cascade of laser blasts before a jackhammer Atari march comes in. It keeps on like that for 35 minutes, without a break. It is brutal and ridiculous and glorious.

Chema64, aka Chema Padilla, is at the center of a small but inventive chiptune scene in Mexico. ‘Chiptune’ refers to music made through the manipulation of sound chips in early gaming systems—or, as Padilla puts it, “It’s like using a synthesizer, but instead of twiddling with knobs on a Korg, you use a Nintendo Game Boy from 1989.” It’s a time-intensive process. “Some songs flow very naturally in just, like, eight hours,” Padilla says, “and others take 16 hours to feel complete. And that’s counting only composing, not recording or mixing.”

Chiptune, in one form or another, has been around for decades. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s 1978 self-titled debut used video game samples extensively, and provided something of a sonic blueprint for the chiptune sound. Video game music has occasionally gone mainstream, as on Kesha’s 2009 hit “Tik Tok,”  and there are some relatively well-known indie artists who work in the genre, such as the Los Angeles-based 8 Bit Weapon. But for the most part, the scene has remained a niche interest, a secret language in electronic tones decipherable only by those with the inner software to hear its particular arpeggiated runs.

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Master Boot Record Forges Metal and Chiptune Together

Master Boot Record

The only personal detail I know about the musician behind Master Boot Record, a project that fuses the lo-fi sounds of chiptune with the intensity and instrumentation of metal, is that he’s Italian. He may or may not have also been involved in the European Demoscene—an internet subculture priding itself on bringing art and creativity to cracked and pirated software—and he definitely knows his old-school video games. This mystery man’s output as Master Boot Record relies on more than a few conceptual gimmicks (songs have titles like “CONFIG.SYS” and “FILES=666”) and something mysterious called spellware, but the musicianship is real. MBR’s songs pummel and soar, taking sonic hints from industrial artists from the ’80s, contemporary black metal, and console gaming’s most intense boss battles. The new EP, C:\>COPY *.* A: /V, is pretty glorious—doubling down on spiraling synths and neoclassical song construction. The man behind MBR explained it to us using references to various internet subcultures and Norse mythology, which is all part of the fun of decoding and decrypting MBR.

You have thus far kept your anonymity online. Is that something you’re having fun with, or is it a vital part of your approach for this project? Can you explain? 

That’s because MBR music is processed by a 486DX-33Mhz-64mb, hence any personal information is irrelevant. Only the music matters. I’m not hiding my identity, I’m just leaving it as a quest for those who are really interested to find out. I have many projects, and many people know who I am. Traces of my digital self have been scattered through the network since its very beginning, or even before, on Bulletin Board Systems.

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As “Mankind,” SciryL and !LLumiN@TE Rap About Wrestling, Religion and Video Games

Mankind, SciryL and !LLumiN@TE

“We’re using video games and religion to tell a love story,” says rapper SciryL, bouncing around the Harlem living room-turned-studio that belongs to his partner in rhyme, !LLumiN@TE. Together, SciryL and !LLumiN@TE record as the group Mankind. Their latest release, 8-Bit Genesis, is a concept album about the duo’s imagined search for the Black Lara Croft who, in this story, reveals herself to be God. This spiritual flight of fancy is set against beats provided by the eccentric hip-hop character Charles Hamilton, whose soulful, chiptune-style production boasts the oblique bloops of a ’90s video game.

!LLumiN@TE, relaxing in a corner by a mic stand, recalls how he first bonded with SciryL after their path’s crossed in New York City’s battle rap scene. “At first we weren’t even recording,” he says. “We’d get up, watch some battles, and talk shit about music that was out. We both cook, so we’d do dinner parties that were like chill sessions, and we’d invite people over. The Mankind recording sessions came out of that and we’ve been writing and recording for a year straight since then.”

In that short time, Mankind has racked up a sizable discography—proof of which is displayed on a wall opposite their recording nook, where six giant pieces of paper are taped. On each of them, the track listing for various projects is scrawled out in chunky green and orange marker. As the two rappers discuss their music, they often motion towards the display to illustrate key points, with SciryL frequently reaching over to touch specific song titles.

Having wrapped up the release of 8-Bit Genesis, Mankind spoke with us about the group’s collaborative song writing process, how they met Charles Hamilton, and the throwback wrestling references seeded throughout their music.

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The New Faces of Japanese Chiptune

Pixel art from Breezesquad‘s artworks

Pixel art from Breezesquad’s albums.

It’s not exactly shocking that Japan, the country where the modern video game industry truly took form, is home to a vibrant music community devoted to the creation of 8-bit sounds. Yet it is a bit of surprise to realize that this new generation of chiptune composers aren’t exactly influenced by the past.

“My generation, and the generation under me, didn’t really experience the Nintendo and Super Nintendo era,” says Toriena, one of the rising stars at the forefront of Japan’s chiptune music community.  “So we aren’t really familiar. But it is fascinating how there are generations now who are more interested in these retro-game scenes than when I started.” A subgenre of electronic music, chiptune has long centered around the pixelated sounds generated by sound chips from older video game consoles, which are widely available in the game-centric shopping districts of Tokyo’s Akihabara or Osaka’s Den Den Town. In addition to creating frantic music using a repurposed Game Boy and the popular software Little Sound DJ, Toriena also co-runs the label Madmilky Records, which she co-founded; she also handles all the artwork for her releases, and still finds time to team up with various national chain stores and to sing on other artists tracks.

Toriena. Photo by Jeriaska.

Toriena. Photo by Jeriaska.

Toriena. Photos by Jeriaska.

Many early video games, such as Space Invaders (1978), were developed in Japan, as were their soundtracks. The now ubiquitous Super Mario Bros. soundtrack was composed by Koji Kondo for Nintendo in 1985. Pioneering Japanese electronic outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra included 8-bit bloops on their eponymous debut album in 1978, while that trio’s Haruomi Hosono would go on to release an album entitled Video Game Music, featuring various game themes reworked into proper songs. At the same time, the actual soundtracks to titles were becoming more complex, with composers making the most of available technology to create looping, enthralling songs that were jackhammered into the brains of thousands of kids.

Gradually, a devoted cluster of artists who were using these vintage sounds to create music began emerge, led by the pop outfit YMCK and Soichi Terada’s Omodaka project. Live shows and festivals devoted to chiptune began popping up all over the country. And even though the music itself is drawn from a very specific set of sounds, its style and format is constantly changing. “I think the Japanese chiptune scene is moving on to its next phase,” says Breezesquad, a chiptune maker from the western city of Fukuoka, a locale that has long housed a bustling 8-bit music scene.

“There’s already many Japanese chiptune youngsters, like Toriena and Gigandect, and some internet labels like Trekkie Trax and Maltine Records are really remarkable at connecting chiptune with other musical and cultural fields.”

Right now, Japan’s chiptune scene is an interesting mix of veterans and young guns, pushing the sound in all sorts of new directions. Here’s a list of some of the most notable names in the Japanese chiptune scene, artists who are molding the sound of what’s to come.

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