Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Charm of Chiptunes

Written by Heather Hale

I can't count the number of times I have kicked back on my subway ride to work or school and listen to old videogame music (namely the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, but I digress...). Listening to the soundtracks of our favorite games brings us back to the fun and adventure we experienced while playing, bringing the same kind of nostalgia to those songs as the first song you slow danced to, or other songs that marked a memorable event in your life. Although simplistic, 8-bit musicians back in the day used their limited means to create unforgettable songs packed with character where today's videogame music cannot match.
             The first time I ever heard Nintendo sounds being used in a song was Beck's song Girl back in the day, and rumors of an entire Nintendo music album circulated, that I don't think ever came to fruition. Then, a few years back, my sister introduced me to the emerging chiptunes music scene. This was particularly exciting for me because I was about to move to New York, where many of the events take place. The first show I ever attended was the Babycastles/Showpaper Gallery in Midtown and it was one of the coolest events I have ever been to. Watching throngs of nerds gathered around homemade arcade cabinets to the sound of reinvented Nintendo anthems I felt as if I'd finally found a good niche in the big city. A generally laid back and friendly crowd, I felt comfortable enough to dance the night away on the small dance floor as I saw Knife City perform for the first time.
            The thing about the Chiptunes music scene is that it's one of those super specific, probably wouldn't have happened any other time than now sort of things. It's a great way for every kid who once held a Gameboy as if it were their most cherished possession, to relive their childhood gaming fun through music as an adult (+ alcohol which is always good). The idea of legitimate musicians taking the same challenge as the videogame designers of Yore, and limiting their scope to try to create the most inventive music possible, using a plastic hand-held device once home to their old Pok√©mon game is an admirable mission in my mind. The result is a surprising wide scope of genres and sounds, from the addictively dancey Bit Shifter to the weirdly trancey sounds of Starscream; the Chiptunes movement has produced a thriving fanbase that feeds off their need for nostalgia with a new twist.

The holy Mecca event for Chiptunes Fans is being held next weekend at the Gramercy Theater in NYC. Check out the website for more details:  Blip Festival.

Video GameGirlfriend (aka Heather) is a freelance video game writer and gamer. Check out more of Heather's article at

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