Electronic music has long been a driving force in the video game world. Recently, a wave of producers and DJs have taken this music out of the arcades and into clubs and concert halls. Chiptune is influenced not only by the 8-bit sounds found in early ’90s platforms but by the gaming culture as well. In fact, rather than relying on decks, laptops, and MIDI controllers, many 8-bit practitioners will take the stage wielding little more than a hacked gameboy. Once an underground phenomenon, this new music scene has since blown up, exemplified by 2010′s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film that celebrates the culture surrounding video games as well as the music.
Anamanaguchi, a four-piece outfit from New York, is perhaps the biggest name to emerge from chiptune’s initial popularity. They were chosen to compose the soundtrack for the Scott Pilgrim video game (made in conjunction with the film), bringing their work to a whole new audience. Their video for “MEOW” is chiptune in a nutshell: tongue-in-cheek references to cats and lasers coupled with a distinctly 8-bit soundtrack (typified by square and triangle waves and dry, crisp drums).
A new wave of chiptune artists are evolving the sound, though, incorporating elements of other EDM genres (such as future bass and dubstep) to keep the genre fresh. These five artists are poised to take the 8-bit sound to a new level, creating fresh tracks that can appeal to gamers and ravers alike.
Widely considered a tastemaker in the chiptune community, Henry Homesweet has long had his finger on the pulse of the 8-bit movement. His yearly “Essential Chip Mix” consistently redefines the evolutionary curve of the genre. Furthermore, these mixes show off his formidable DJ chops.
His own productions, meanwhile, prove Homesweet capable of carving out his own sound. While often staying true to the roots of chiptune, he also brings in elements of electro house, as can be seen on 2012′s “Flex Out.” He’s been featured in both volumes of the visionary Da Chip compilations, which bring together various 8-bit remixes of Daft Punk‘s brilliant catalog.
Still have your doubts about this producer’s talent? Check out the live hardware set above for a peek at the musical brilliance contained in the mind (and fingers) of Henry Homesweet.
Staten Island-based producer Rich Vreeland, AKA Disasterpeace, is one of the most innovative artists making 8-bit beats today. His futuristic work has been featured in various video games, such as Fez, which was widely hailed as having one of the best game soundtracks of 2012, maybe of all time.
Disasterpeace’s work has earned him praise in the EDM world as well. His remix of Morusques “A Ruby Kindles in the Vine” is a brilliant, gentle electronic meditation. “Glitch,” composed of bits and pieces of the Fez soundtrack, exemplifies Disasterpeace’s ability to combine 8-bit aesthetics with a more approachable elect framework.
At the more aggressive end of the 8-bit spectrum is Sabrepulse (AKA Ash Charles), a globally-touring DJ/producer from the UK. Sabrepulse is exemplative of chiptune producers who have embraced some of EDM’s harder edges, incorporating some mid-range nastiness into his tunes the likes of which are reminiscent of tracks from Skrillex and Flux Pavilion.
Likewise, Charles is a champion of the blistering tempos and hard beats associated with drum and bass. His “Live @ Burnout Festival” mix highlights some of the best DnB that’s come out since the genre took a backseat to 2-step- and house-inspired beatmaking. Check out “Make U Wanna” for a glimpse at the huge power of a Sabrepulse banger.
Bit Shifter, based out of NYC, focuses his 8-bit brilliance on the electro house world. His club-worthy beats have earned him the opportunity to play hundreds of jam-packed shows around the world. Not only is Bit Shifter a production pioneer, he’s also been instrumental to the growth of the chiptune scene. His participation in the 8bitpeoples label and collective has been a major boon to the movement, and he’s one of the co-founders of the Blip Festival concert series.
Combining electro beats with classic 8-bit samples, Bit Shifter is pushing chiptune toward a progressive sound, leaving the more retro elements behind. “Easy Prey” typifies his visionary new take on the genre.
A relatively fresh face on the scene, Ultrasyd is an up-and-comer with huge staying potential. He brings a distinctly French flavor to chiptune and has established himself as the 8-bit answer to electro artists like Justice and Sebastian.
With tours of Europe and North America in store for 2013, expect to see and hear a lot more out of this fresh producer. Check out “Campylobacter’s Groove,” a distinctly funky introduction to the brilliant composition style of Ultrasyd.
The DJZ/10 is a collection of ten DJs that we think you should know about now. Some of them are already familiar to you, others you may have never heard of. The list is not based on (1) a secret computer algorithm, (2) social media popularity, or (3) payola. Every month or so we get together to decide if somebody from the broader A…Z directory is about to break out and should be included in the DJZ/10, or if somebody already on the list, for that matter, is “phoning it in” and deserved to be replaced by another DJ who is more worthy.×