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").
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"