HEXAWE (which is brilliantly abbreviated from Hexadecimal Awesome!), is an international net label featuring artists and tracks created with LGPT, also known as Piggy Tracker (which is programmed by Marc Nostromo). Managed and run by several bosses who created a ‘low-level chaos wiki’ website, this label has released several compilation albums which include the HEXAWE catalog, casio relapse compo, and the very compilation this review will cover, ‘TURNTNES‘. This 17-track compilation — released on July 16, 2015 — features submissions from an eclectic mix of artists including Peter Swimm, PaK-Zer0, and overnrake (to name a few), and celebrates the 10-year birthday of this beloved program. The hitch? Submissions include a sample pack recorded by Doomcloud (an artist that boasts having traveled around the world 31 times by the ripe age of 14) straight out of his Nintendo Entertainment System with a MIDINES, and were only allocated up to 500k worth of the artists’ ‘own’ vocal samples.
Sup y’all? =) President Hoodie here, excited to introduce our multi-writer, full track-by-track breakdown of our latest compilation, “CheapBeats = WIN“, a fantastic collaborative release between CheapBeats & ChipWIN!
Yes, it’s another all-in-one review featuring multiple writers from the blog, much likewe did for TWG’s ACC release. In other words, time to review ALL OF THE THINGS. 8-)
My silly little introduction completed, let’s move onward to the first 5 track reviews by the decidedly dashing DjjD!Enjoy!
You know, it’s not every day that the kindness of friends can take you on unforgettable journeys filled with laughter and memories to last a lifetime, but when those times come, you relish the moment and cherish all that’s given to you. This especially rings true to my latest adventure with my dear friend Bertrand Guérin-Williams (also known as their pseudonym Russellian) to BRKFest 2014, which took place from July 25-27 in Cincinnati, OH.
Starting as a casual idea thrown around our Facebook pages, Bertrand and I both expressed interest in attending this third annual chipmusic festival, an event conceived by Curtis Ware in 2012. Quickly striking the idea down as physically impossible (due to a number of monetary constraints and traveling distance), Bertrand and I took to the idea of a fundraiser as a way to raise funds to get one another to this up and coming Midwest event.With an equally silly fundraiser campaign over on Kickstarter to make potato salad being wildly successful (and still raising money), we swallowed our fears and crossed our fingers.
And it happened.
Bertrand and I received half of our funding goal within two days, and then two-thirds several days later. Within a week, we were fully funded.
Unable to comprehend the generosity of the donors, the tweeters, and the ‘likers’, our once casual and thrown-around interest became reality. Through the help of 18 people (YES! only 18!), our donations were ranging around $20, and the highest being $250 (which was donated by Ken Gould, Andrew Gould [event co-host]’s father). Through the help of some great friends, anonymous donors, and complete strangers, Bertrand and I began solidifying our travel plans and booked my flight.
Flash forward to July 24, 2014.
This was happening. I don’t think I’ve felt that much excitement for an event since MAGFest, because in 7 hours, I was going to be touching down in Lexington, KY with my good friends Curtis Ware and Alex Wimmer welcoming me at the gate. With the cost of the trip paid for through the fundraiser, and free lodging at their house (with Max Dolensky and Tri Angles also crashing there), I knew this was a weekend I would never forget.
Without any doubt, all three days of BRK had solid lineups. With the visualists bountiful, and talent strategically dispersed, each day of BRK paved the way for my chip dreams slowly becoming a reality. With performers new and old, and two days of open mics, BRKfest kicked off with Chris ‘Storm Blooper’ De Pew with accompanying visuals from ohhainaifu. With his performance packing a powerful punch, De Pew spent the entire night beforehand writing new songs and finishing up others. His set didn’t suffer, however—he opened up BRKFest with much needed energy and a sappy cover of ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry; his performance was surely a great way to start off an even better weekend. Other acts of notable mention that performed the first night include Radiograffiti’s Illinois Amigacore artist CCDM (who, after conversation with him, mentioned he participated in an Amiga battle with Stagediver during the Shadowtravel tour in Chicago), the rockin’ Virginia bitpop/punk duo Square Therapy, Solarbear (accompanied by crowd surfing in a red button up dress shirt), and Tri Angles, a ‘wandering artist, dreamer, and storyteller’ whose music is a soulful, galactic, and out of body experience. With the first night coming to a close, BRKFest day one concluded with an official after party about three miles out. With DJ sets by Diode Milliampere (who was on the bill for the third night) and Max Dolensky, and LSDJ sets from Defiant Systems (also playing day three) and my cohort in this fundraiser, Russellian, this was surely the icing on the cake to close out such an eventful first day.
SKGB performs live at BRKFest 2014 on Saturday, July 26.
Day two rolls around, and it’s even better than the first. Despite some technical set backs that presented themselves early in the evening, performers and the crowd pushed through. Day two was by far the most intense, gear-heavy nights, with set ups being noticeably more intricate. With a surprise back-to-back in tandem performance from Sean ‘Awesome Force’ Baker and Bryan ‘Auxcide’ Dobbins (who used a DMX ‘X Gon’ Give It To Ya’ vocal sample and covered ‘Where My Niggas At?’ by Cassidy during their sets respectively), a live read of a meditation guide for spiritual travels to the anti-material planets during SKGB’s performance, slamming Game Boy Advance jams from Detroit’s boaconstructor, and a Trey Frey reactive light installation, day two was by far my favorite night. Muscles sore and body dehydrated, Curtis, Alex and I headed back to Lexington to prep for the third evening.
With the weekend coming to a close, the dawn of day three began. My cohort Bertrand (who again was staying closer to Cincinnati) enjoyed all that the city had to offer Sunday morning—with a group of chip musicians and friends (including ChipWIN’s own Hoodie and Chip Mom, Awesome Force and Auxcide), the group of them went to the Cincinnati Museum Center where they explored a fake cave system (and reenacted the Matrix Reloaded’s Zion dance scene), learned about evolution, extinction, and optical and microwave telescopes and the stars and galaxies of which astronomers have found. While I did not partake in this adventure, I’m going to make a wild guess that those folks had a wonderful time based on the information passed down to me. As for me, I make it to the venue, and the sadness started to set in. I could already feel it—I’ve come down with the BRKFest depression bug WELL BEFORE BRK was even over. It is always the hardest feeling having to cope with spending an incredible weekend making memories with friends, and then having to jump on a plane to go back to real life the day after. However, mopiness aside, I made every minute count. Hugs exchanged, laughs reciprocated, and outside patio relax sessions imminent, I spent most of the evening taking it all in (where as I raged the first two days).
Defiant Systems performs live at BRKFest 2014 on July 27. Visuals by Formidable Witch
Popping inside for Shitbird’s chipthrash set, Defiant System‘s lo-fi, dark FM jive (with INCREDIBLE visuals by Formidable Witch using NES hardware), and glomag, who emerged in the community at the dawn of the 21st century, day three concluded on an incredibly high note, an ending that any music festival could ask for.
All in all, this festival was surely unforgettable, and it was quite an adventure to experience this as an event attendee rather than behind the scenes (like I did for Frequency 3.0 with my cohorts in 8bitLA). Artists, albeit visualists or performers, put their heart and soul into their work, making for an incredibly exciting weekend getaway. The vibe was great—the friends magnificent. Thanks for a stellar time, all, and thank you from the bottom of Bertrand and I’s heart, for donating/sharing the fundraiser around.
crashfaster. You know them as that rockin’ Bay Area quartet with unforgettable stage presence, and you know that pseudonym through association of high quality releases that do anything but disappoint. Every. Single. Time.
If you recall my last crashfaster album review, which you can read HERE, ‘further’ was an album that emerged from ‘the ashes of discarded technology’ in a thoughtfully composed narrative arc. As a whole, ‘further’ is a metaphor for the never-fleeting feelings of isolation, numbness, and emptiness that one may encounter throughout their life, and is largely an autobiographical commentary by Morgan Tucker, crashfaster, 8bitSF and monobomb records’ frontman. Envisioning an explorer, Tucker remarks that the entirety of ‘further’ is a metaphor of the contemplation of his life and eventual journey to find the truth by ‘casting aside his former life and shedding each layer of his humanity.’
Transpiring from the personal anecdote alluded to throughout the course of ‘further’ is ‘superchroma’, an EP whose energetic presence and masterful evolution from the album prior is one that can’t go far from unnoticed. Released fresh on Bandcamp on July 22, 2014, ‘superchroma’ pays homage to what crashfaster had been, but also sets the stage to what the band WILL become. Despite what such a busy man he is, Morgan was very gracious to answer a couple of questions that I had about the evolution of the band, the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’, influences, and the future of crashfaster—because I love all of you, read on for the interview with the man himself!
Professor Oakes: Hey Morgan! Thanks again for being able to do this!
Morgan Tucker: No, thank YOU! I really appreciate you interviewing me!
PO: Psh, I do all the easy lifting ;) But seriously, thanks again for taking the time. I know how busy you are with being a father, frontman of crashfaster, 8bitSF and co-founder of monobomb records! You certainly sound like you never take a breather.
Can you tell me a little bit about crashfaster and the significance in the pseudonym?
llustrations courtesy of Phylissa Li, 2014
MT: crashfaster is meant to infer to both technology (ephemerality) and physicality. I’m fascinated by how much we rely upon technology to feed our souls. I believe we must strip away distractions and excess in both the physical and spiritual realms in order to discover our true nature. crashfaster is a call to action – destroy both your digital and physical selves to reveal the truth that lurks beneath the surface.
PO: I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and I was very excited to see you evolve from a single-person band into a quartet. Can you tell me how the transition from a single act to a full-man band means to you? Are you happy with the sound now that you have extra hands (and friends) on the team? How did you meet one another, anyways?
MT: There are two aspects of working with a band that have had a significant impact on crashfaster. In the studio, songwriting possibilities multiply exponentially. Each one of us has distinct and disparate musical tastes and influences. This has made our sound more rich and varied. In a live setting, there’s a lot more energy on stage to play with and off of. It’s hard to be one guy behind a Gameboy and keep the crowd’s attention. There’s a lot more for people to connect with when there’s four of us thrashing away. crashfaster was always intended to be on the dancey side of things, but something interesting happened when we began writing as a band.
On “further” we each naturally fell into a rock mentality, and the music became more aggressive and a little less beat-oriented. On “superchroma” we’ve pulled the sound back towards something that will make you move. I think we’ve found the right balance in our new material.
As for how crashfaster formed into a four-person band, it happened by chance, mostly. A few years ago I wanted to start stepping up the impact of my live performance, and I thought the single best way to do that was to introduce live percussion. I met Devin through a mutual friend of ours (The Glowing Stars’ Lizzie Cuevas), and we had an instant bond. We both saw eye to eye on where the project could go and shared the determination and work ethic that could make it a reality. A little while later, we got a shot to open for Anamanaguchi, and I wanted the band to sound even bigger.
The man, the myth… the Ryan Case. Photo by Lester Barrows
I asked Ryan (who was a coworker at the time) if he thought he could learn our songs in a week. He said yes, and he did! We met Keiko at the farewell show for our old singer. The rest is history.
PO: Wow! What a history and inspiring happenstance. While I certainly love the sound of old crashfaster, I love the direction you all have been going in now that there’s four of you. However, I especially LOVE the direction you went in this EP, and it has to be one of my favorite crashfaster releases. With that said, can you tell me a little about the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’ as a whole?
MT: “Superchroma” was meant to be more of an evolution than a departure. We wanted to both pay homage to what crashfaster had been, but at the same time set the stage for everything that we could become. Our musical influences are deep and varied, and I want the band to reflect that moving forward.
Working at Different Fur with Patrick Brown and Sean Paulson opened our eyes to new workflows and songwriting possibilities. As soon as we finished up “further”, I was ready to get back in there and do it all over again, but this time we’d be armed with new ideas that the studio experience had spurred. “Further” was very much a protracted labor of love…from concept to completion, the project was in development for more than two years. While this allowed us time to refine lyrics, hidden meanings and aesthetic synchronicity, it didn’t let us experiment much while recording. The album was more or less what we came into the studio with. It was only afterward that we realized how much this held us back.
On “superchroma”, we decided to come in sans preconceived notions. We had about 20 rough sketches of songs that Patrick immediately whittled down to 10. From there, we started messing around with each of them until we found the voice the track. We knew we had 10 days from start to finish, and the goal was to get as much done as possible, while reserving the right to chuck things out that just weren’t working. This process was incredibly freeing, and allowed for many happy accidents, serendipitous guest appearances and just more…fun. I think that really comes through in the recording.
PO: Now that we’re talking about production and the gift of group collaboration, what hardware and software do you use?
MT: crashfaster uses a Gameboy loaded with LSDJ, a Gameboy mGB (midi), a NES with midiNES, a SIDstation, sammichSID, a Commodore64 with MSSIAH, Plogue Chipsounds 707, 808, 909, VP330, a Juno 106 & Ableton Live.
PO: Such sweet, sweet tunes for my ears. This hard and software you use—do you have any formal training as a musician? The rest of the band?
MT: I don’t have any formal training as a musician. However, I went to art school for Audio Production. I worked on Foley/SFX/Sound design for several indie films before I started crashfaster. Devin is classically trained and the most experienced musician in the group. The rest of us are pretty much self-taught.
PO: If you could categorize crashfaster’s genre and place a finger on what the band sounds like, what would it be?
MT: Electronic/Industrial/Synth/Rock. Or something.
PO: I’d say that’s pretty accurate! No reason to have to straddle one genre! What would you say influences you all? Music? Movies?
crashfaster performing ‘GO!’ live at the DNA Lounge, 6/22/14. Photo courtesy of Lester Barrows
PO: Oh, definitely! I feel like “GO!” is straight out of an actual anime—IT’S PERFECT and incredibly energizing! Would you say you have a favorite track on ‘superchroma’?
MT: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a single favorite, because I’m really happy with how the entire thing came out. But if I had to pick, it’d probably be “lost”, because I think we were able to pull off the emotional intent of the lyrics in a way that hits me every time.
PO: I’m curious of the conception of the album name. Does it signify anything in particular?
MT: We were playing with these visual concepts that were heavily inspired by early 90’s rave/cyberpunk culture and anime, and we wanted the music to *feel* colorful. When we were coming up with names for the album, we tried to find something that felt as hyper-kinetic as what was in our heads. Thusly…superchroma!
PO: This colorful and kinetic mood… it’s totally off the spectrum than that of its precursor ‘further’. Would you say the birth of your child had any affect on this newest album and your artistic vision as a whole?
MT: Yes! The idea for “further” was something that preceded my child, and I had been suffering from a loss of purpose and feeling in my every day life, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to find happiness. The construct allowed me to explore the concepts of duty, destiny, assimilation, isolation and self-destruction both lyrically and sonically. Once my daughter was born, I was overcome by a new feeling…not one of numbness, but a crushing awareness of time. I feel, now more than ever, that time escapes me at a pace that I find…unsettling. After all, my biggest fear in life is that I will have regrets (would’ve, should’ve, could’ve), and now I am extremely conscious of the fact that I don’t have forever to do all of the things I want to do while I’m here.
PO: Would you say there’s an overall theme of ‘superchroma’?
MT: Looseness. Ultimately, I wanted this album to act as a “mix cd that you’d have on in your car as you drove around at night in San Francisco.” This lighter construct allowed me to explore more varied types of music…things that I’ve been a fan of but never really found a way to make work within the context of crashfaster.
On this EP, we’ve got everything from a funky synth-pop tune to a faux anime theme song to an industrial club banger. Though the styles are seemingly unrelated, with the help of Patrick Brown, we were able to tie them together aurally in a way that works surprisingly well.
‘superchroma’ by crashfaster. Album artwork by Phylissa Li, 2014.
PO: Now that your album is wrapped and now live, what does the future hold for crashfaster? Tour? What does it mean to you since you were the founding vision?
MT: More music, and more shows! Through crashfaster and 8bitSF, we’ve built up the community in the Bay Area to the point that I believe it’s one of the most vibrant and diverse scenes in the US. We recently joined forces with LA artists who formed 8bitLA, and we’re working together as sister organizations to bridge the physical divide in California chipmusic.
As far as crashfaster, we’re going on tour with Everything Goes Cold in late August, which will take us from San Francisco to Chicago. After that, we’re hitting the East Coast to play 8static Festival in Philly in October.
PO: I’m looking forward to your Los Angeles stop. You never disappoint! Just thinking about touring the country and doing what you love sounds so incredible. With that said, before we depart, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
MT: Oh, absolutely! Be humble. Be persistent. If you’re in it for the music, you’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. Destroy all excuses. Stop talking about why you can’t do things…make do with what you have.
PO: Excellent! Thank you so much for providing those nuggets of advice—I’m sure our readers can relate. Anyways, that just about wraps it up for our interview. Again, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon!
MT: Absolutely! Take care.
That’s all for this (special) edition of Chip Treatment with Professor Oakes! Don’t forget to check out crashfaster’s music, and follow 8bitSF on ALL THE THINGS SOCIAL MEDIA for future events. Also, if you have some time, be sure to check out the series of music videos for ‘GO!’, ‘goodbye‘, ‘hi‘, ‘lost‘, ‘photograph’, and ‘tonight‘ created by Gabriel Roland, 8bitSF’s resident visualist and mastermind behind Noukon Films.
Sup y’all! It’s your homeboy Kuma comin’ at ya with something a little different this time around! Quick Shots is my new review column that focuses primarily on lesser-known and up & coming talent, a handful at a time! Here’s how it works: each album listed is given a paragraph or two of breakdown, emphasizing their strengths and weaknesses. These paragraphs are then followed up with a couple stats, such as cost, replay value, and an overall grade that reflects the thoughts expressed in the breakdown. All that info is designed to help you determine if an album is worth your time and your money, because while all the artists I’ll review deserve some recognition, I know damn well that #thestruggleisreal and #timeismoney! So let’s not waste any more time! Come join me as I review work by Tommy TSW, Toni Leys, Jonocade, MissingN0 and Yerzmyey!
Tommy TSW’s ‘TSW’
TSW’s self-titled debut album is a surprisingly enjoyable ride. An LP composed of 17 songs, most of which are 2 minutes long, the album comes across as Tommy’s attempts to catch fireflies in a mason jar and share the nostalgia-inducing luminescence with everyone, and he succeeds in doing so! Many of the songs on the album mimic that special magic lightning bugs have: their glow enchanting those who witness them briefly, only to fade away, leaving you in awe. Similarly, each melody triggers its intended emotional response successfully, but all these moments pass quickly, so as not to be overwhelming. This allows TSW to use the album as a sort of portfolio, allowing him to showcase his various talents so that he can pursue his dream of making a game soundtrack. From the playful opening track ‘Back Again’ to the very Adult Swim sounding ‘Pop Pop Game Start!’, TSW is an astoundingly diverse producer who’s definitely worth a listen, even if he himself feels that he has a lot more hurdles to overcome.
Fave song/s: Pop Pop Game Start!, Xvenus, Moving on
Price: $2 AU ($1.85 USA)
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor: 4/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
What’s presented as a concept album about an ancient and powerful ship via a dramatic intro track is actually a deceptive cover for Toni and his numerous friends featured on the album (a solid two thirds of the album feature guest artists!) to have fun making the kind of chiptune I’m a sucker for: chiptune you can fucking party to! The album does this by blending traditional fare many of us grew up with in our vgm, such as r&b and new jack swing, with more modern offerings such as trap, electro and trance. The result is an EP that’s highly reminiscent of releases like Joshua Morse’s Lunch Bug and Ben Briggs’ Mystery Gift. You can just as easily groove to this awesome album on the dancefloor as you can just chill and bob your head to it on the train ride back home from work! That said, this album purposefully (to my chagrin) suffers the shortcoming of brevity, mirroring the tragic, mysterious fate of The Thunder Launcher! It’s a shame too, because there’s clearly an awesome world looking to be more fleshed out via Toni’s music, but you won’t be getting any more of it from the last remaining artifact of that legendary ship: the mysterious AI known as Thiele.
Fave song/s: Seventh Town
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Factor: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
Jonocade is an artist who, by his own admission, has only been producing chiptune for about a year. While I don’t know if he has any prior musical experience, what is apparent is that Jonocade has talent. Building on his first EP of the same name, this LP features strong melodies that are complimented by very solid, basic bass lines, subdued rhythms and stunningly restrained drums. The result is an album that shows off Jonocade’s versatility, but also reveals that his talents lend themselves to crafting pop rock chiptune that’s reminiscent of Square Therapy’s work: a truly pleasant revelation that helps separate the album from other recent offerings the scene has produced! That said, with the exception of the final track on the album (a remix of Eagle Flyer), production value isn’t very high on this release. The sound is grainy, and while not disturbingly so, it is noticeable enough that it may turn some people away. Despite that complaint, this album is a very fun ride, and I would encourage fans of Square Therapy to give ‘Our Last Trip’ a listen. Jonocade has clearly put a lot of sweat into making it, and I look forward to hearing more from him.
Fave song/s: Let’s Find a World, Punch It
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay factor: 3.5/5
Overall Grade: 3.8/5
I first heard of MissingN0 after a member of the band named Bailley responded enthusiastically to an encouragement thread I started in the ChipWIN facebook group. Having been inspired and surprised by Bailley’s energy and some solo work he shared, I sought out more from him, eager to see what his band had put out thus far. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with what I heard. ‘Fallen DMG’ shows that MissingN0 has potential, and it’s obvious throughout the course of the EP how much they’ve grown. However, while there are some tasty offerings, the songs of note are too brief to truly enjoy. This is primarily because, conversely to TSW’s short ditties, these brief tunes suffer from a lack of refinement, variety and polish. Furthermore, while TSW feels like it’s meant to be a musical smorgasbord, ‘Fallen DMG’ feels like it is trying to be a solid, definitive statement about what the band is and what they’re about, but it can’t be what it wants to be as it was released prematurely. MissingN0 has a great deal of spunk, and it makes me happy to see such young upstarts helping the scene thrive, but they need to be patient and nurture their babies more before letting them into the wild if they want to make a mark in the scene. If they can do that, I’m almost certain they’ll be able to be part of a large scale chip festival within the next year or two. Keep your chin up, MissingN0, Kuma believes in you.
Fave Song/s: Pluto Frost, Echo Off, Unfinished Date
Price: £4 ($6.75)
Bang for Buck: 2/5
Replay factor: 3/5
Overall Grade: 2.5/5
Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Yerzmyey prior to hearing this album, but when I saw Vince Kaichan say he’s been waiting for this album for a long time, I knew I had to check it out, and God am I glad I did, ’cause jeebus freaking dickbutts made out of ice cream cones is it amazing! Combining foot work, heavy bass, cheesy fun synths, and orchestra hits (OMG SO MANY ORCHESTRA HITS!), over a constant theme of simple piano chords reminiscent of stage 1-1 of Streets of Rage 2, this snappy EP is an example of brevity done right! Each song flows into one another seamlessly allowing for all 20 minutes of the release to be full of party! I’m honestly kicking myself for not being familiar with Yerzmyey sooner, because if this EP is any indication, he alone is worth a trip to see Europe’s chiptune/demoscene crews in action on stage. I just hope he cranks out something more like this soon, because I am in dire need of this 90s style goodness, which honestly may be the album’s only shortcoming: it’s so classically 90s and early 00s in its approach to music that it may alienate some younger audiences who aren’t familiar or comfortable with the EDM scene of yesteryear. But even if you are a youngin who’s used to wubs and electro over heavy DnB, breakbeat, and chillout, I implore you to give this album a listen. It’s just that amazing and refreshing. (note: Yerzmyey has only put a sample song–the one listed above– of the album on soundcloud. If you wanna listen to the full thing, you can download the zip at the link listed in his soundcloud).
Fave Song/s: I honestly can’t pick
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor. 4.5/5
Overall grade: Misfit Chris/5
And just like that, Quick Shots is done as quickly as it started! If you liked what you read and are looking forward to more, check back next month as I review several other albums! I also encourage you to read my other column, Raw Cuts, in which I interview artists in the scene and get inside their heads and comfort zones! Or you can just as easily follow my colleagues here on the blog! Prof. Oakes, Viridian Forge, Pixel Recall, bAby f@ce, and all the others are pretty awesome too, and if you not showing them love, you’re doing it wrong!
Thanks again for tuning in to Quick Shots, and remember: Kuma Loves You!
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.