Cityfires’ latest release is fire.That pun is too easy not to make, but I really mean it. With buoyant emotional synthpop, some of the most magnetic sound design I’ve heard all year, and fascinating lyrics – this album’s spirit is most deserving of the title “adventure” out of all that I’ve written about. It’s full of surprises and seriously fine-tuned, with tracks like ‘The Tangle’ trimmed down to interesting ideas, while others such as the titular song take the time they need for a core feeling to hit home.
Full to the brim with electric melody lines, immersive sound design, and creative mixing decisions, this fifteen-track masterpiece never sacrifices quality for quantity. Tight vocal tracks are infused with textured electronica, and organic instrumentation as well. Instrumentals are just as diverse: ‘Daybreak Apparatus’ echoes the peppy videogame joy of earlier ChipWIN comps, while ‘Dreamshifting’ feels like some more recent chiptune which draws from mathrock. Alternatively, ‘Mothfold’ defies description. The whole album is kinetic, and really integrated, a trip through clear landscapes and sights to behold.
For those unaware, LGBTune was founded by Amber Marnell in late 2013 on the idea that the chiptune and VGM communities have a very high concentration of LGBT+ people. Warranting support from individuals over at the Chiptunes = WIN Facebook group (the idea was in fact birthed in a thread there! #TheMoreYouKnow), Amber began receiving an overwhelming response of comments from individuals that identify within the LGBT+ umbrella. Soon after that, she sought social media accounts to build a community, which now has the support of Bertrand Guérin-Williams (LGBTune Mid-Atlantic Director), Maddie Ryan (Merch Pixie), Ren Prince (Staff Artist), and Kevin Martinez/Wizwars (LGBTune West Coast Director of Artist Relations). It was Wizwars who coordinated the show at The Smell – Amber said in a quick interview that “Kevin has always been a strong supportive friend to me, and a few days [after I mentioned wanting to make the group] I had a show with my name on it and Virt as the headliner. Kevin works wonders.”
This past weekend in Los Angeles, California, the very first LGBTune Live show happened at The Smell. It just so happens that ChipWIN’s very own Professor Oakes lives but a stone’s throw from The Smell, and in the strangest of coincidences, the ChipWIN-tern had been in Arizona for their dad’s graduation, so they popped on over to California for the occasion! By their powers combined, here’s the lowdown on the first of what will hopefully be a continuing series of concerts celebrating super rad LGBT+ musicians.
The night of the concert felt like stepping backwards in time to some 80’s indie punk show. The Smell itself looks like it’s seen a lifetime of them – most of the seats had their actual sitting-bits ripped out, and counted among the sit-able places were a recliner, a sofa, and a chair that looked like it was straight out of a psych ward, one you might strap someone to to get them to a lobotomy.
The Smell in downtown Los Angeles
Past the foyer with the strange seats, the venue opened up: there was a demo of Rhythm Core Alpha 2, which Tina Belmont had brought with her. A tiny stage was brought out and set in front of the big stage so that the large screen in front of the stage could be used for visuals. Aside from those two pieces of furniture, The Smell’s concert area was completely open. Wizwars donated the use of his laptop to use to broadcast the show on Clipstream, and after a quick soundcheck to make sure everything was going to record correctly, the show was afoot.
Rockin’ his newly bleached blonde hair and his sexy new Fender Jaguar guitar, Wizwars kicked off the show, and was sure to inform everyone that the motto of the show was “No Fucks Given.” Performing tracks such as ‘Blue Line’, ‘Trash City’, and ‘Sputnik’, which Wizwars comments as not having been performed since April 2011, Wizwars’ classic, rhythmic vibe went far from unnoticed – mix some hardcore chipthrash, his reminiscing about his old punk rock days, and healthy interaction with the crowd and you’ve got a classic Wizwars set. As a closer, he whipped out a cover of ‘My Name is Jonas’ by Weezer in honor of the album’s 20th birthday the day prior, which was not only a hell of a way to end a set, it was proof that the show was in full swing.
Tina Belmont, donning a white baby doll dress and Nintendo 3DS in hand, kicked off her performance with ‘Very Becoming’, a track she finished at 3 a.m. about a good friend of hers who “decided to change a letter on their driver’s license.” Accompanied by retro visuals by VJ Osamu Suzuki (who filled-in for 8BitLA’s Tim Abad), Belmont’s synthy performance, accompanied by a 1980’s new wave set list, sets her sound apart from any other Los Angeles-based chiptune performer. Tina’s music was definitely a cool changeup from the punky thrashyness of Wizwars – in fact, every band brought something vastly different to the table, which is much to the credit of the performers and the show itself.
Cats On Mars
Cats on Mars’ setlist came completely out of nowhere, leading off with a cover of Kyary’s ‘PONPONPON’ and jamming on the hypetrain from there on out. Cats on Mars is like the chiptune equivalent of Slipknot – not because of ridiculous costumes (though their bassist was dressed as Cammy, from Street Fighter, which was less ridiculous and more amazing), but because of the sheer number of bodies and instruments on stage. For reference, 3/4 of the acts at the show were one-man (or lady)- bands, but Cats on Mars shows up with two synths, two keytars, a bass, a drum kit, and another guitar – plus a person per instrument, give or take. Tommy Pedrini, the singer, took the cake for the snappiest dressed, sporting a sparkly silver American Apparel jacket. These cats (no pun intended) know how to rock, let me tell you, and their performance was out of this world.
Virt closed out the show, and boy did he close it out. That set had everything you could want – stripping, extreme remixes from upcoming games that Virt’s been doing music for (Shovel Knight’s remixed theme was particularly great), and past soundtracks including tracks from Mighty Switch Force. The thing that makes Virt so great in live performances aside from his music – which is, by the way, great, duh – is the fact that he’s a hell of a keyboard player. While he’d have some of the song running in the background, he’d solo on top of it so hard his hands actually started to disappear in some songs. Add in the fact that he quick-changed into rainbow shorts mid-set (he did warn us “Be careful what you ask for!” when he started changing onstage), his set was the best high-energy closer a show could ask for.
All in all, this show rocked. Everyone who went up there brought their A-game, and didn’t let anything stop them from trying to melt everyone’s faces. Which they did, as it happens – we didn’t take any pictures, but the crowd’s faces were rocked so hard we all had to go get reconstructive surgery afterwards, so thanks for that. The thing about the show was, despite only one person actually sounding punk, the show was a punk show in spirit. You had a handful of people come out to listen to a niche style of music in a hole-in-the-wall venue (albeit a venue that has succeeded for 16 years as being a hole-in-the-wall), rock hard and then leave almost as quickly as the show began. What we’re saying is, the vibe was great, the people were great, the acts were great. No fucks given.