I didn’t realize it until now, but the fanbases of both the Rocky Horror Picture Show and chipmusic share more than a few similarities with each other. Both of them have a history that spans decades, over which time they’ve seen a steady growth in popularity, while remaining far from what I’d consider to be mainstream. Their respective fanbases, between which there is clear crossover or this album wouldn’t exist, both celebrate their art with a passionately creative DIY approach. ‘The Rocky Horror Chiptune Show’ is a collaborative achievement, which started as a live performance on 6/27, between Boston’s Rocky Horror shadowcast, The Full Body Cast, geekbeatradio, and a slew of talented chiptune artists and animators from the Boston 8-Bit collective. The album version was produced by my fellow writer on this blog, Jamie Billings (The Unicorn Princess). Everyone involved with this project, with their creative flair and style to spare, has really managed to capture lightning in a bottle here. This delightful reimagining of a classic has been released just in time to have it on loop at your Halloween party.
The best way to experience ‘The Rocky Horror Chiptune Show’ is to click the embedded youtube playlist, in which nearly every track has an accompanying video that brilliantly draws inspiration from classic video games. From gorgeous pixel art, to stop-motion animation, to live cosplay, the visual elements of this album elevate it far beyond a simple “8-bit version” of popular music. The talented artists involved have really gone the extra mile to make this a fully-realized concept as well as an unforgettable experience.
That said, allow me to breakdown this fantastic compilation track by track, giving each artist the due credit that they deserve!
Complete with a pixelated Fox fanfare, ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’ by Bifflecup sets the stage with a somewhat distorted, high-pitched chiptune rendition of the opening credits that’s reminiscent of the sounds emanating from an oldschool organ grinder’s box.
Midway through, the iconic lips assume the role of the spaceship from Asteroids as the credits continue to roll in the foreground. It’s a lighthearted and fun take on the original, which is a recurring theme that’s established here and continues throughout the entire album.
As is the case with all of his compilation contributions, Sam Mulligan absolutely kills it with his rendition of ‘Over at the Frankenstein Place’. With a thrashing guitar in tow, Sam Mulligan employs lovely, twinkling chiptune melodies and layered vocal harmonies to create a wonderful tribute to the original song.
The accompanying video uses stop-motion animation with a Mario theme to create an audiovisual experience that is 7 levels of adorable. Sam’s track is so good, that it threatens to supersede the original cast recording! You’ll find yourself singing along to this one in no time, and it’s my personal favorite from the album.
Ded Boyz brings a hip-hop flavor and a fresh new take on the instructional dance classic. The Ded Boyz spit original rap lyrics over noise channel percussion, sample work from the song’s chorus, and a basic chiptune framework which carries the track’s melodies.
The visuals for this track couldn’t be more perfect. Since ‘Time Warp’ is a song which teaches its dance to the audience, what better way to visualize it than as a Dance Dance Revolution track? While the track may not be what you were expecting to hear, I think it’s definitely a good thing to have a new interpretation, rather than a 1-to-1 remake, of what is arguably the most overplayed song from Rocky Horror over the years.
On the other hand, ‘Sweet Transvestite’ by Donut Shoes is a track in which I’m glad that it stayed close to the source material. Brilliantly executed, every note is accounted for in the chiptune style, from the rising chords to Tim Curry’s vocals.
What’s more, is that the scene is beautifully recreated using pixel art in a retro reenactment of the iconic scene from the film, which plays out just like a cutscene from Ninja Gaiden. It’s truly a joy to behold, and Tim Olech’s artwork combined with Donut Shoes’ chiptune nails the theme that this album is going for.
‘Sword of Damocles’ is a track that never really clicked with me from the original Rocky Horror. Robotsexmusic fixes that with his version of the song that brings it right in line with my tastes. It’s a quick track that bursts out of the gate with a gritty bassline and expressive chip leads that slide and shift in pitch among lots of glitched-out effects. One can still sing along to the “Sha-la-la-la that ain’t no crime” sections, but Robotsexmusic still makes this track his own in new and exciting ways.
The visuals take humorous inspiration from the Oregon Trail, playing out Rocky’s scene from the film through the game’s mechanics and graphical style. Props to Robotsexmusic, I really dig this song now!
‘Hot Patootie’ by Astro Logic takes Meatloaf’s rock number and brings it into LSDJ territory with a slightly slowed tempo. It’s a fun rendition with a hard-hitting bass beat and bubbling pulse wave channels. Hearing the chiptune-ified chorus of what was originally a rock n’ roll anthem is a delightful juxtaposition.
The video for this track plays out the events from the film on a single screen, and seems to draw inspiration from a few different video games including Mario, Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, and even a little Zelda II with Eddie’s death animation.
After her stop motion animations for Sam Mulligan’s track, Chip Bernadette flexes her multi-talented muscle with a great chiptune rendition of ‘Toucha Toucha Touch Me’. Keeping with the rambunctious and playful tone of the film, this track mixes chiptune arpeggios and multi-octave sweeps to create a high-energy atmosphere with a tender core.
It’s an alluring rendition, with visuals that make it all the more cute and endearing to the audience. It’s the attention to details that make the labor of love that this album is so apparent, from the statues in the background to the interspersed interplay between Columbia and Magenta.
The song from the dinner scene of Rocky Horror is made even more bizarre in ‘Eddie’s Teddy’ by (T-T)b. When combined with the accompanying video, it becomes even more of an acid trip than the original film! As for the music, it’s an excellent rendition of the original song that flows better than the original. The way in which the music gracefully launches into its uptempo chorus is phenomenal. I’ve come to appreciate this track much more, as (T-T)b’s arrangement allows the listener to focus on it more than the film version, which had you paying more attention to the lyrics about Eddie’s history, as well as Dr. Scott’s comedic delivery.
The animation is simply bonkers; mindblowing in the best of ways. As for its video game influences? Well, I saw a pair of TRON lightcycles, some Mario mushrooms, and I’m sure there are many more scattered throughout this rapid-fire masterpiece. The highly detailed faces of the pixel art reminds me of those rare instances when you would see something similar on the NES, such as the Three Stooges game.
‘Planet Schmanet Janet’ is one of the most entertaining tracks from Rocky Horror, and also one of the simplest. It’s mainly just a series of rising and falling guitar chords, but Chip Bernadette perfectly appropriates it into the chiprealm with a frantic lead square wave set against another that mirrors Tim Curry’s vocal track.
The essence of the chase as Dr. Frank-N-Furter pursues Janet is adeptly brought into the world of video games. First it’s a stage of Ms. Pac-Man (or Ms. Dr. Frank-Man), and then an exceedingly adorable homage to Sonic 2 and its bonus stage. There’s some very well-detailed and animated sprite work of Frank and Janet done by Alex Cobb. And all of this is squeezed into the space of just over one minute! Truly a blast to behold.
‘Rose Tint My World’ by Bifflecup opens with a blast of bass set against descending stacatto notes with a sci-fi flavor. It’s fitting, since this is the part of the film in which the science fiction aspect of the double feature begins to be revealed to the audience. When the track moves past the intro into the first verse however, it adopts a rather carnivalesque tone. The many chip voices change their texture and frequency without warning, sometimes drifting off-pitch to create a warbly, wurlitzer-like atmosphere to this track.
One of the original sparks of inspiration that led to the creation of this album is a project called the Rocky Horror Sims Show, whose YouTube channel enacts Rocky Horror within the Sims video game. The video for ‘Rose Tint My World’ was used here as an homage to a project that inspired the Rocky Horror Chiptune Show.
(T-T)b performs a beautifully languid and serene rendition of ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It’, one of my favorite songs from Rocky Horror. Its bassline ebbs and flows as an expressive chip lead performs the song’s unforgettable melody. (T-T)b details this track thoroughly with many soft glitches and noise channel flourishes that should be heard with headphones in order to fully appreciate their intricacies.
The video for this song is live action, and stars the lovely Harley Bean Cosplay in a spot-on cosplay of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The video spins a new tale of transformation for the beloved Dr. which reinterprets the song’s lyrics for the video game realm. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but let’s just say that Dr. Frank looks beautiful in blue.
Chip Bernadette returns to perform a minimalist chiptune take of ‘Wild and Untamed Thing’. In true chiptune fashion, this track boils down this boisterous dance number to its basic elements, giving the listener a new and decidedly lo-fi experience. It’s a fun jingle that works as an effective soundtrack to this song’s visuals.
Mr. Game and Watch replaces the original kick line cast, and charmingly recreates the scene from the film within his retro handheld environment.
Astro Logic blows it out of the water with his intense version of ‘Super Heroes’ from the final scene of Rocky Horror. What was once somewhat of a ballad with tinkling piano is now a thunderously wailing chiptune track, with a Pokemon-style battle as the backdrop. (The original Game Boy version, of course.) Both versions of ‘Super Heroes’ are gorgeous, but I truly love the climactic quality that Astro Logic has infused into this song. The chaotic clash of the noise channel against soaring arpeggios give an added emphasis to the deeply profound final lyrics of the song.
Everything comes full circle as Bifflecup rounds out the album with his dreamlike rendition of ‘Science Fiction Double Feature Reprise’. Soft chiptune tones with a healthy dose of reverb envelop the listener in their warm embrace. It’s these final quiet moments where the listener is able to reflect upon all that they have heard. As the credits roll, the original actors from Rocky Horror are credited, their likenesses now replaced with their respective sprites from the many talented artists and animators from this awe-inspiring project.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend a local performance of the Rocky Horror Picture show in my hometown of Lafayette, LA on Halloween night. If you would have told me then that next year, during the film’s 40th anniversary celebration, I’d be reviewing a fully chiptuned version of the soundtrack set within the world of video games, I would have never believed you. Yet here we are, and it’s absolutely amazing. The fanbases of Rocky Horror and chiptune have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not fuck around. ‘The Rocky Horror Chiptune Show’ is a remarkable achievement, and all of the passion and hard work that went into this project is fully apparent.
What’s even more incredible, is that this album is offered as a free download via Bandcamp, though I encourage you to support and reward the efforts of all of the artists and collectives involved in this production. Download the full album in order to catch two more tracks that aren’t featured on the youtube playlist, ‘Dammit Janet’ by Bifflecup and ‘I Can Make You a Man’ by MC Facepalm, both of them being truly excellent tracks that really tie the album together. Feel free to explore the links of the artists involved below and show them love. There are loads of quality chiptunes to be discovered among them.
Keep your hands and heart held high, and have a Happy Halloween!