In each article of this three-part series, we present three chip tune artists from Datathrash Recordings and their music setups, with all the nitty gritty details of their Game Boys, vintage computers, keyboards, and more. For part two: godinpants, Graffiti Monsters, and Nestrogen.
Last week, we showed you the first three of nine producers on the Datathrash roster, guys who create their music-making setups by getting into the guts of “obsolete” gaming devices and computers and turning them into machine clusters of sound. This week we bring you three more, and we start to see why 8-bit setups are more interesting than studios assembled with off-the-shelf equipment.
An incredibly remarkable thing about the 8-bit scene is the level of customization these artists employ. The way production hardware and software are going, every week there’s a new piece of gear on the market that makes it easier to produce professional sounding stuff without going through the rigorous exercise of sound processing it would have required 20 years ago. Though lots more people are producing “high quality” music, you could easily argue that less people actually understand how sound is created, and have the nuanced skill it requires to make really good stuff. Today, the lowest common denominator of music production is more a matter of putting together premade pieces than actually composing something entirely new.
That’s where 8-bit musicians like the Datathrash crew differ. Each of these guys has a deep understanding of the circuitry their dealing with, what components are actually producing sound, and how they’re doing it. Presets don’t often come into play in this particular frontier of electronic music, and their methodology is a beacon of hope for those of us who value the human brain’s comprehension of the technology that augments our lives. And for those who don’t, the music still sounds pretty damn cool.
Let’s meet a few more of these cowboys.
With deep creativity comes a touch of madness, and that’s why it’s probably best if godinpants tells his story in his own words.
“godinpants lives in Australia. Due to the large amount of poisonous and otherwise deadly animals around, godinpants took to creating aggressive music in an attempt preserve his own life. Along the way, his daughter/whale Peaches decided to help out, because she was really good at drumming. godinpants was fine with this and said he would play the bass because it was probably what he was better at anyway. Together they made music and it was a great bonding experience. Along the way they found out other people liked it too, so they kept doing it. godinpants is not really angry, and neither is Peaches, but they pretend because they heard somewhere that people like it when musicians are moody, isn’t that why Radiohead is popular? Peaches never really liked Radiohead, and neither did godinpants, but they thought it was a good idea because lots of people seemed to like Radiohead.”
Peaches: Peaches the Whale is the drummer for the band. She is also the mascot and the cute member of the band. She really does all the work while I thrash about with my bass.
Game Boy: Basically used as a sampling drum machine. I generally stick to the 707 kit for high hats and the 909 kit for kick and snare.
Bass: I used a Rickenbacker because it sounds incredible. Plus I can use the stereo output to run it through two distortion pedals at once.
Amiga: The Amiga music I do is almost a separate strand of the whole godinpants experience. I rarely play the Amiga tracks live because they don’t have bass lines and it’s much easier to bring a Game Boy to a gig.
Distortion: I use two distortion pedals. The Sovtek Big Muff is something I found incredibly cheap. It is the size of a house brick, sounds amazing, and retains a large amount of the bass signal while making the bass sound huge. Part of the reason I keep things minimal is because this pedal makes the bass occupy so much room soundwise. The WÄLECORE FUZZWAR pedal is a recent addition, made for me by Rude Mechtronics. I asked for a pedal with no switches or knobs. It’s a clone of the Big Muff maxed out.
If you picture most chiptune artists as mildly deranged geniuses trapped somewhere in between reality and a fantasy world of their own design (see godinpants above), then you’re generalizing, and Graffiti Monsters demand you stop. This is an honest to goodness band of three talented, socially capable men that incorporate the Game Boy as one of their pieces. It’s not far off from having a synth player in your band, except it brings in a distinct sound that finds its balance somewhere between the drums, bass, and guitar. Vocalist Mark DeNardo switches between Game Boy and Guitar, with Jon Flores on drums, and James Clark on bass.
Drums: Frankenstein kit with 1/4" jacks to internal contact mics. 22" ride, 18" floor tom, all the labels are ripped off. No idea what is what.
BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner: This is the best guitar tuner. Beat this thing up, pour beer on it, and it still works.
80s BOSS DF-2 Super Feedbacker & Distortion: The distortion is very average but works well with my high gain Fender amp, and it’s also indestructible. When you hold down the pedal it plays the last note you played on guitar with this shitty synth feedback sound. The best for the price.
1983 Fender Concert w Vox Bulldog Speaker: This is only tube amp I’ve ever owned. With the circuit/speaker mod it ends up sounding like a poor man’s Marshall.
1994 Nintendo “Play it Loud” series Red Game Boy: Modded by Nonfinite. It has an underclocked chip which makes it half as smart and an octave lower. Backlight mod, Prosound mod [w/ RCA out], Underclock mod. I use Little Sound DJ tracking software for this and all of my Game Boy consoles.
1989 Nintendo Game Boy: Modded by Nonfinite. Backlight mod and prosound mod. Bread and butter.
Known in real life as Michael Raisner, Nestrogen started out playing punk, hardcore, grind, and metal in various bands before he delved into the world of the chiptune. Something you notice in this world of music is that the artists’ backgrounds vary greatly, some coming from electronic music, others from heavy music backgrounds, and others still from hip-hop (thought I don’t know if the 8-bit community sees Dibia$e as a true chiptune producer). What essentially makes it fit into the genre is the incorporation of Game Boy sounds, music that was never meant to stand along and now comprises an entire genre. How cool is that?
(Front to back)
Yamaha PSR-310 Keyboard: Used as a MIDI controller
Alesis Q25 Small Keyboard: Used as a sampler
Laptop: Sending FamiTracker and DAW information to controllers
Check out more producers in Part One of this series and stay tuned for more Datathrash madness in Part Three.