This Month in The Overworld: Kenobit

- Posted October 24th, 2019 by

Is there something like a Chiptune Maestro? This month’s artist, Kenobit, a.k.a Fabio Bortolotti, could definitely be defined as one. Self proclaimed Game Boy addict, he has been working on his masterful and dynamic tracks for over 9 years, and has certainly become an integral figure of the chipmusic community in Milan, Italy.

Kenobit performing live with his Gameboy.
Kenobit performing live with his Game Boy.

Fabio was born in Italy, in the year 1982. After playing drums in a few punk bands in his teens, he discovered chiptune at a show in a small club. He instantly fell in love, bought an LSDJ cart, and never stopped producing chiptune.

Milan is certainly a very interesting city: it has its ups and downs, but it always had an underground that supported weird and experimental music like chiptune (they called it “micromusic” at the time). It also has a rich squat scene. For those who may not be familiar about this concept, in Italy, squatting has no legal basis, but there are many squats used as social centres. This counter-cultural foundation enables such rich alternative culture, and allows those in Milan to organize cool shows without breaking the bank. This is where chiptune started mixing with other underground scenes (mostly techno and punk).

The idea that this movement could rise from appropriation sounds fit for a scene that rises from old hardware’s ashes, and certainly Kenobit has witnessed its awakening.

Along with his friends (Arottenbit, Tonylight and Pablito el Drito), Kenobit worked really hard to keep chiptune alive in Italy. Starting out small, with shows for about 30 people, they got to a point where now they can throw some big parties. But most importantly, the partners of this chip music collective are actively mentoring a new wave of Italian chiptune artists.

I love that Milan’s scene supports experimental music! If you don’t mind, could you delve deeper into how the scene is and feels like from a musician’s point of view?

When I started, it was mainly shows in “circoli Arci” (small clubs, usually not very fancy) and in squats. Later, when chip got more popular, we started playing all kinds of different shows.

The interesting thing is that 90% of the shows I play in Italy are NOT chiptune shows or at least are not 100% chip.

But squat shows never stopped happening, and they still are the best. My favourite venue is Macao. It’s a very big squat that has become THE place for underground electronic music in Milan. I love it because the collectives have consistently delivered interesting artists and great parties, so people are inclined to come for all kinds of stuff. It’s a place where you can attend a noise show on a Thursday and see 200 people in the crowd. Or where a chiptune show (Milano Chiptune Underground) can draw more than 1000 people and invite artists from all over the world.

Live performance at a Milano Chiptune Underground event.
Live performance at a Milano Chiptune Underground event.

I actually like it best: I think chiptune sometimes has the unhealthy tendency to just feed on other chiptune. We need external inputs and contamination to do great stuff.

What is it that you don’t like about the local or global chiptune scene?

There is actually a lot that I don’t like about the global chiptune scene. Don’t get me wrong, I love chiptune, I love the sound and I love the people (most of them), but sometimes, I see some narrow mindedness: chiptune thrives on contaminations and many composers seem to only be consuming chip.

Also, I think chiptune is LIVE music, and that too many people don’t go to many live shows. My advice: Go to shows! It’ll make your music better! It doesn’t matter if it’s not a chip show.

Kenobit performing live.
Kenobit performing live.

I also don’t like compilations. The thing is that, when I started, there were less active people in the scene, and compilations were a good way to discover artists.

Today there’s a lot of chiptune artists, at several many different levels, and I don’t think compilations are a good way for them to get noticed. And surely they are not a very good way for me to discover new chip music I like, because the styles are of course very different, and the listening experience is weird. I personally like EPs much more than compilations.

When was the first time you heard chipmusic played live?

I’ll never forget the day. It was a late summer gig in a small Arci club, very close to my place, in a sketchy neighborhood (now heavily gentrified).

The Lineup was: Arottenbit, Chrono Triggers from France, Pablito el Drito, Tonylight. Tony and Pablito were the originators of the MicroMilano Micromusic HQ and they put up the first shows I played on. Arottenbit was incredible: I remember seeing him perform and thinking “I need to do this shit”.

That same night, while chatting with Pablito, I found a very welcoming scene. He invited me to play at a show that was going to happen three months later. “But I haven’t done any chip music,” I told him. “Then do some,” he answered. I did. I performed. I never looked back.

Photograph of a live show by Kenobit.
Kenobit performing live.

On your Bandcamp, you mention your love for video games, did any video game soundtrack had a particular influence in your music?

I owned a Sega Master System and I think the tunes from Space Harrier changed my life. Videogames are part of my life and certainly influenced my early stuff, but I always say that I don’t want chiptune to be “videogame music”. Actually, I try very hard not to send the message “I do videogame music”. It’s just lazy to communicate all of the nuances of chiptune with just videogames.

For you, what do you think is the most challenging aspect of playing chipmusic live and how do you manage to work around it?

Honestly? Nothing. Being on stage with my Game Boys is the best feeling in the world. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right moment. I see people dancing and I feel happy and privileged. I savor the moment, head-bang and shout stuff through the mic.

Kenobit at a live performance.
Kenobit at a live performance.

What is the most groundbreaking thing you have seen artists do with chipmusic or with any other experimental music?

I think Goto80 is always doing incredibly innovative and thought provoking stuff. His recent generative/robot arm C64 ambient stuff is incredible.

What is your favorite chipmusic artist/band of all time and why? And your favorite album?

This is very difficult, but I think I’ll say Arottenbit: their last formation (GB + drummer) is insane. They are easily the most underrated act in chiptune.

Runner ups: STu, DJ Scotch Egg, Henry Homesweet.

Favourite album: Diamond by A.M.U.

What do you feel it’s the future of chiptune music?

I see chiptune as a movement, more than a style, so the future lies in what we’ll do as a scene. I feel like the chiptune scene is kinda stagnating, at the moment, and that we don’t have enough new voices.

Or maybe we have new voices, but we’re not listening or giving them space for proper growth? I think this is a great moment to create a more diverse scene, in terms of people and styles.

Kenobit cheering in the middle of a live performance.

I feel like we’ve been stuck in a “banger culture” that marginalized some great talent just because it doesn’t blow your subwoofers up (and to be clear, as an organizer I’m also guilty of this).

The best future I see, is a scene that will be able to become more inclusive and diverse, incorporating different styles and sensibilities. I think we can have it, but there’s work to be done. The worst future I see is a scene that will start clinging to its “classics”, effectively stopping to grow.

Do you feel that your day job influences you, creatively speaking?

I’m a videogame translator and a Twitch streamer, but weirdly enough I don’t think it’s an influence on my music. :D

Do you use social media? If so, on what social media platforms are you most active and how do you engage with your audience over there?

I use social media way too much. I’d honestly like to stop, but the fact is that so many interesting contacts and show bookings come from my presence in Facebook. I’m also active on Twitter and Instagram.

Lately I prefer chatting on Discord, it reminds me of mIRC (I’m old).

As a final note, I’d like to invite all our readers to check out his amazing initiative from Kenobit: “Chips” – a live, Micromusic Twitch Festival! Showcasing amazing artists from all over the world and with one live show per month, October kickstarted this online festival with a performance by Wiklund, from Sweden.

"Chips" Online Micromusic Festival's poster.
“Chips” Online Micromusic Festival’s poster.

On Kenobit‘s channel, they have a saying that goes: “Real hardware, real problems, real feelings”. Even though this first edition had to withstand some bumps on the road in the form of minor technical issues, the show persevered and the artist rocked a mixture of two Game Boys and a Commodore 64 in his live performance that can be seen recorded on the twitch channel.

Kenobit’s Overworld Map

Kenobit's Overworld Map by Pixel Syndrome.
Kenobit’s Overworld Map by Pixel Syndrome.
  1. “Neuromancer”, a novel by William Gibson.
  2. Punk Rock music.
  3. Outer space.
  4. Floppy disks.
  5. “Rendezvous with Rama”, a novel by Arthur C. Clarke.
  6. Skateboarding.
  7. Cathode-ray tube monitors (CRT’s).

Fabio a.k.a. Kenobit
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