Cover from Pterodactyl Squad website
Attention GenXers: there’s a new way to tickle your nostalgia bone that doesn’t involve watching VH1 I Love The ‘90s reruns. Enter Weezer – The 8-bit Album, a free covers compilation released by netlabel Pterodactyl Squad, which features songs by yesteryear’s favourite nerd-chic rockers recast using the same blips and bleeps your Game Boy used to make during all those sleepless Tetris sessions. Boasting a first-rate lineup of today’s brightest chiptunes maestros (including Toronto’s own PDF Format), the album’s been making big waves across the interwebs, banking mentions on numerous widely read blogs (including Weezer’s).
PDF Format, a.k.a. David Dineen-Porter, who chipped in a chirpy cover of the uber-rare track “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight,” believes the album’s mammoth success could stir a “seismic shift” within the 8-bit community. As chiptune music, which has already received a fair bit of (at times, controversy-laden) attention the last couple years, becomes more entrenched in the mainstream consciousness, some will raise a stink. These naysayers are the old guard; a hefty contingent of “old-school demo-sceners” who prefer to keep the scene as shrouded as its beginnings in the mid-’80s, when a clandestine cadre of programmers began cracking commercial computer game software to make complex, subversive-sounding arrangements.
“Chiptune has been such an insular community, like early punk,” says Dineen-Porter. “I bet when Blondie and Patti Smith saw that punk was starting to mean ‘what The Ramones and Sex Pistols did,’ they probably got annoyed and said ‘that’s not really fair, what about our styles?’ This strikes me as that. As the scene solidifies into a ‘sound,’ it’s leaving behind other people who had different intentions than what has, by accident, begun to catch on.”
Illustration by David-Dineen Porter.
Dineen-Porter would surely be clumped with The Ramones and Sex Pistols of the 8-bit world. As opposed to the old guard, he and many other new-school chiptuners welcome the growing public interest in their music (check out his New York Times nod). Dineen-Porter gushes that his amount of last.fm hits doubled overnight shortly after Weezer – The 8-bit Album was released. “I think everyone is privately in favor of breaking into the mainstream,” he remarks. “Needless to say, I would prefer to be rolling around in congratulatory onyx tablets and atop a mound of human females. But as Biggie said, the more you accumulate wealth, the greater the variety and intensity of your adversities become.”
Luckily, “mo’ money, mo’ problems” is an axiom Toronto’s chiptune market shan’t learn anytime soon. “The 8-bit music scene in Toronto is, sadly, virtually non-existent,” says Dineen-Porter, who still tries to cultivate the scene via social networking and blogging methods. “Despite heavyweight Touchboy being from here (his 8bitpeoples release is a classic) and Lutin being from London, really there isn’t much of a scene. This probably stems from there not being a monthly show like in other cities. And that stems from there being a bunch of lazy old men with Game Boys who are better at writing music than coordinating events.”
So can these lazy, old retro-game-fetishists really spearhead a new mainstream craze? Will chiptune transform into the giant commercial success veteran Pixelh8 last year promised CNN it would become?
Truthfully, Dineen-Porter doesn’t really see the 8-bit music scene raking in too many Benjamins. But he predicts the gaming-systems-turned-instruments that they use will be a big hit, essentially becoming the synthesizers of a new generation.
“I think you’ll hear a few chiptune artists cross over into the mainstream by not being so exclusively chiptune,” he explains. “The guys who use chiptune instruments and add sampled drums and heavy supersaw basslines and are, essentially, just like any other technopop group, but they have a Game Boy. They’ll succeed and people will marvel at the familiar Mario sounds. Then you’ll see the Game Boy included in more and more guitar based bands, more and more hip hop, etc. It will probably not survive in the ‘pure form’ of today, but become necessarily diluted by the mimetic nature of production fads.”
Check out PDF Format and other chiptune extraordinaries when they play Bowzer Attacks Toronto at Bread and Circus (299 Augusta) on August 21.