I’m sure by now that most of you are somewhat familiar with the concept of the chip music (aka chiptune) genre. It’s growing in popularity and has been making a comeback in modern gaming as well as branching into both film and TV. We covered the basics of what it is and how it’s generated in Chip Music Appreciation Part 1. Now it’s time to pay tribute to the musicians who are keeping this genre alive and kicking.
We’re a real band
I’m sure the first band everyone thinks of right away when talking about chip music is Anamanaguchi. They’re a 4 piece indie chiptune band from New York who gets its fat sound from a hacked NES box and a Gameboy. It started in 2004, and what sets Anamanaguchi apart from most chiptune bands is the fact that it pairs these retro sounds with live guitar, bass, and drums. One thing that strikes me a little strange is the fact that lead songwriter Peter Berkman claims that the band doesn’t actually get its inspiration from video games. He’s inspired mostly by “simple pop stuff like Weezer and the Beach Boys.” You could’ve fooled me guys. I’ve never heard the Beach Boys rocking an NES powered synthesizer.
Anamanaguchi’s popularity grew after appearances at the Penny Arcade Expo and when it composed the music for the XBLA title Scott Pilgrim vs The Word: The Game. The soundtrack was released on Amazon and iTunes by ABCKO Records on August 24, 2010 and debuted #3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart (AKA Soundscan’s New Artist Chart). Its music has also made appearances in other games, podcasts and was even used as the title theme for the first season of the Penny Arcade online TV show.
Can we get a record deal?
So, you’re probably wondering, where you can find more of these bands? I discovered many of the bands I know through 8bitpeoples. Its a DIY record label/arts collective centered in New York City that focuses around bitpop and chiptune that is heavily influenced by vintage video games. Its been around since ‘99 and offer most of its music compilations free through its website. Current members of the collective are Bit Shifter, minusbaby, NO CARRIER, Nullsleep, openBack, Otro, Random, Trash80, Twilight Electric, and x|k. It also has many guest artists which include I, Cactus, Anamanaguchi, Binärpilot, Firebrand Boy, Gordon Strombola, Goto80, Paza, Psilodump, Role Model, Rugar, Sabrepulse, Xinon, David Sugar, Coleco Music, and The Depreciation Guild, just to name a few.
We’re gonna need some roadies
8bitpeoples is also responsible for the international Blip Festival where you can go to hear many of these bands perform live. That’s right, Live! Sure, at first it might sound like a complete nerdfest, but really…it probably is. However, no one ever said nerds can’t be entertaining. Blip started in 2006 and has been held annually in New York City every year since. It has even branched out to both Europe and Tokyo and is an ever growing music festival featuring more and more chiptune bands each year. 2 Player Productions even created a feature length documentary film titled Reformat the Planet about the festival and the growth of this underground music scene which premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival.
Lights, Camera, Action
Reformat the Planet was started in 2005 as a means to document the influence of video game culture on a diverse range of modern art. They began filming a few live performances and, after being invited to the first Blip Festival, discovered that they were standing before this huge untapped culture which needed to be shared. Unfortunately, after its premiere at SXSW, tragedy struck the project during preparation for the DVD release. A hard drive failure wiped out nearly the entire film. By the time they rebuilt the project from the source tapes the NYC chip scene had completely evolved. The growth was so drastic that it ended up inspiring their followup documentary RTP 1.5 which was released together with Reformat the Planet as a 2 disc set.
Chip music has been around for years and as it grows in popularity I can only imagine where it’s going to go next. I highly recommend checking some of these guys out just to see what people are doing in the music scene with your favorite gaming consoles. The bands are getting better and better and it’s just impressive to me that it’s all created with the same hardware I used to play Double Dribble on. Man those dunking cutscenes were sweet.