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VIDEO + SLIDESHOW: Nintendo Music Thursday at Felt


Bright Primate performing "Get Back @ Me"

 

Last Thursday at Felt was the night that two became one: Boston and chiptunes.

If chiptunes ever take over the world, the audience at Boston8bit's "Nintendo Music Thursday" will brag and preen. They were there; you weren't. Far more likely, however, chiptunes will go down in limited history as another form of arcane computer performance art. Music, nostalgia, and groovin' out, all mixed in with the one thing machines can't give us: love.

But before you love chiptune music, you must know it. Chip music is produced by sound chips from old video game machines, i.e., using Nintendos to create songs. This music is made by people whose introduction to existential dread was Mario's knowledge that the Princess was in another castle. They know how many bits are in a byte, and they know that the optimal number of bits is 8.

The show opened with duo Bright Primate. James Therrien, who studied composition at the Boston Conservatory, looked like Milhouse Van Houten come to life and warped into adulthood as he jammed on Gameboys. Lydia Marsala dressed like a girl in a Buggles video and sang not like a diminutive white girl but a fat black woman. They performed their own songs (a fusion of chiptunes and rock) and covers (Outkast's "Hey Ya").

Oxygenstar was the pro, and as such, he played the longest set. I don't remember the names of any of his songs, because they were too good. There were so many of them -- covers, megamixes, theme songs, all mashed up together in a glorious symbiosis that the guy from Adventure Island would happily trade many eggs for. He swayed and jumped with the music as it moved him. I danced like my shame depended on it.

One of the essential philosophies of chiptune music is the fourth wall being broken down and its bricks being used to make new rooms. So if we do that, and look at Boston's chiptune community (as represented in this show) as a mirror image of a sitcom universe, then Bright Primate are the heteronormative couple, Oxygenstar is the guru, and Active Knowledge is comic relief.

It's not that Active Knowledge's music was bad. He played songs that were exclusively about World of Warcraft, Halo, and being depressed and/or on mushrooms. He wore a plastic space helmet and complained about how it cost him forty dollars. He covered Madonna and George Michael, but without the panache that makes these ironic covers worthwhile. And his voice -- Allah save us from his voice. There are knife-demons I'd rather face in Jahannam than listen to Active Knowledge do the high part of "Careless Whisper."

If you don't know chiptune music, this is probably a good time to discover it. It's like if the BBS people from the '90s met in posh clubs instead of basements. The music is obscure and insidery and mostly really enjoyable. As Bright Primate's James Therrien told me that night: "Nobody knows, nobody cares. But the people that wear this T-shirt," he said, pointing at his "CHIP TUNE MUSIC" shirt, "they love it. And that's good enough."



--Arafat Kazi, Bangladeshi rock star and BU grad student


Slideshow from "Nintendo Music Thursday"

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