Chiptune as a genre is growing in popularity, with artists like I Fight Dragons having songs featured on WWE, Anamanaguchi crowdfunding nearly $280,000 on Kickstarter, and many modern electronic artists incorporating the signature bleeps and bloops of Gameboy Classics and Commodore 64s into their tracks. Hell, even ArcadeCon itself had the fantastic Chipzel as a guest for our 2013 event, and the positive reaction to her set proved just how big chiptune is becoming as a movement. However, there’s a few acts out there doing some interesting stuff in the genre who I thought I’d take a little time to highlight.
By far the most “out there” act on this list, they’re a power metal band from Sweden who use C64 SID chips extensively in their compositions, leading the band to describe their genre as “SID-metal”. You can tell that they’re a band made up of huge geeks, with song titles like “SID Icarus”, Nova Prospekt” and “Republic of Gamers” in their catalogue. They’re also notable for fully embracing digital piracy, offering a refreshing counterpoint to the current idea that piracy is evil. They’ve made full albums available for free download, they premiered an album on The Pirate Bay, have directly encouraged people to pirate their music if they can’t pay for it for whatever reason (because they “care more about people hearing our music than paying for it”) and songs like “Rise of a Digital Nation” and “Force Feedback” are direct f-you’s to the record companies and governments trying to enforce laws like SOPA and PIPA on the Internet. Some people I know find the lead singer’s vocals to be grating, which is a fair enough point, as they are indeed rather nasally. I don’t mind, but it may be off-putting to some.
Luckily, they’ve made quite a few instrumental tracks, including the soundtracks to the games Jets ‘n’ Guns and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, and the excellent “Cryosleep”, a pounding industrial chiptune metal song with thunderous drums and shredding guitars that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rammstein song. They’re currently crowdfunding a world tour, and have unlocked seven countries so far simply on the strength of the community they’ve built up. If you like metal, they’re a very interesting band, doing things in the genre no-one else is doing, and very much worth your time (and, literally as I was writing this article, they released a video for “All of my Angels” filled with Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. Nerds to the core, truly).
she is a music project by Polish musician Lain Trzaska, combining chip sounds with modern equipment and vocal samples, often using glitch sounds to add another layer into the mix, resulting in a sound which can only be described as equal parts chiptune and Jet Set Radio (the game’s soundtrack, not the band). Lain has recently announced that she is on hiatus as a project, and that he’s splitting the project into two separate elements – she will continue on as the electro/house/chiptune side of the project, while the newly formed Imagery By Sound will focus on the ambient-acoustic side of the project, and he’s retroactively added the albums Insomnia, Days, and Digital Ambient Designs to the Imagery By Sound name. Despite being on hiatus, there’s an extensive back catalogue of music to listen to, with some fantastic tracks in the form of “Atomic”, “Electric Girl” and “Chiptune Superstar”. I personally like to put she on in the background while I’m playing League of Legends, since it’s upbeat music with a good beat without many lyrics to distract you from the game. I can totally see this being played in nightclubs as well (and I really hope I do get to go to one where it does get played, that’d be freaking sweet). Very different to your usual chip-music, and worth your time if you like house or electronic music at all.
Big Giant Circles
Jimmy “Big Giant Circles” Hinson is actually quite a prolific and well-known composer in the chip scene, although he never seems to get talked about as much as Anamanaguchi, Bit Shifter, Nullsleep or any of the other big names. In reality, if you’ve played Mass Effect 2 you’ve almost certainly heard his compositions somewhere, as he was one of the four members of Jack Wall’s “Wall of Sound” team who composed the music for that game. Granted, it was non-chip music he contributed, but that just serves to prove how well he can handle composing in any style (his mix, “Shepard of the Galaxy”, is a gorgeous piece of work that mashes together the best tracks from all three games and is bound to leave anyone who played the games in awe). He’s also contributed music to Black Ops II (the multiplayer menu music, which is apparently the most popular song on the soundtrack according to iTunes – and that’s a soundtrack that has Trent Reznor on it). I’d also urge you to check out his OC Remix profile, as he’s done numerous remixes of games including Final Fantasy VII, Unreal Tournament, Super Metroid, and Deus Ex (even collaborating with the game’s original composer to create two remixes for that game), and all are fantastic. Of course, that’s not why we’re here; we’re here for the blippity-bloops.
His album, Impostor Nostalgia, is a 20-track epic containing collaborations with big names in the chip and game music scene: C418, the composer of a little-known game called Minecraft; Disasterpeace, the man behind Fez’s wonderful soundscapes; and Souleye, the creator of VVVVVV’s excellent C64-esque OST. Personally my favourite track on the album is “You Can Have Mine” because it’s just so damn relaxing, which is refreshing in the world of chiptunes (it’s helped me get through so many 4AM writing or studying assignments!). Big Giant Circles also recently successfully Kickstarted another album, The Glory Days (with over 1200% funding), hitting all stretch goals and promising a wide range of guest artists, including the aforementioned C418 and Disasterpeace, and also the likes of chipzel, Danny Baranowksy (Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac), virt (Contra 4, Retro City Rampage and the upcoming Shovel Knight) and Austin Wintory (Monaco and Journey). Big Giant Circles is a fantastic chip artist and frankly just an amazing composer in general; he comes highly recommended if you’re looking for something new.
(^ The Glory Days video)
Bonus Track: “Rare Candy” by TeamRKT
I’m not so fond of their other songs, personally (try them out anyway – you never know, you might like them!) but this is a catchy little bit-pop tune by a UK-based band. The vocals are pretty good, the chiptune melody is simple but effective and the restrained use of traditional instruments sets the band apart from other acts which combine chip with traditional music. The music video’s got a certain low-budget cheesy charm to it as well.