The Inner Workings Of A Chiptune Empire: The Last Three 8-bit Setups Of Datathrash's Circuit Bending Game Boy Musicians
In each article of this three-part series, we present three chiptune artists from Datathrash Recordings and their music setups, with all the nitty gritty details of their Game Boy’s, vintage computers, keyboards, and more. For part three: SKGB, Optimus Chad, and Timeheater.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve met a handful of 8-bit producers from Datathrash, and today brings us to the final three. Having gone through the stat sheets of the entire team, it’s hard to ignore that everyone in the crew is at least slightly insane. Whether they’re wearing watermelons on their heads or personifying their equipment, it seems that tinkering with the insides of classic machinery makes you crazy, and thank heavens for it. It’s this kind of lunacy that has fueled so much great electronic music in the past, from the strange split personality of Cex to the deranged schizophrenic compositions of Bogdan Raczynski.
I recall a time when the term “electronic music” equated to “dance music” and saying that you listened to electronica could equally mean that you thoughtfully listen to Aphex Twin on headphones with your eyes shut, play Chemical Brothers on the tape-to-CD adaptor in your car, or that you spend the occasional weekend in a circus tent dancing like a lunatic to homogenous trance DJs. It’s crazy to think that terms like IDM have persisted for so long, when they often have absolutely nothing to do with dancing.
That said, chiptunes are rarely straight up dance music. In fact, a lot of 8-bit music is more akin to hardcore or metal (perhaps the inspiration for the name Datathrash). There’s something about the low-fi sounds of a Game Boy chip that are conducive to making chaotic, tense music, allowing for the higher pitches to carry a bleep bloop melody while the low end thrashes. If you ask me, chiptunes are headphone music all the way, but there are certainly those who favor hearing the tinny edges of 8-bit through a booming system. These last three heroes can be enjoyed in either of those settings, and no matter how you hear them, you’ll feel slightly crazier once it’s all over.
It’s interesting that SKGB creates music within such a young, DIY genre, considering that he’s got more of a traditional musical background, with classical training in violin, alto sax, clarinet, and keyboard, as well as years of vocal training. He entered the world of the chiptune by way of an obsession with manga. One link led to another, and before long his focus had shifted to circuit bending, an art in which he finds “the ease and accessibility of composing music for a four-piece band (albeit an 8-bit band) in the palm of my hand.” Though it can be heavy as hell at times, SKGB’s sound has an intricacy to it informed by his classical background, with all the complexity of really esoteric IDM translated into the simple tones of a Game Boy.
· Alethio & Alison: Twin pro-sound, backlit, and clock control modded original nintendo Game Boys
· Compy: Computer for running my Ableton Live and Deflemask tracks
· Animalz: Circuit-bent farm animals toy I’ve had forever, makes a great dub siren
· Main Bitch: Mixer for mixing (what a concept!) the Game Boys and the mistress
· Mistress: Mixer running feedback loops I play as an instrument (otherwise known as no-input mixing)
· Music Box: A music box you can write your own melodies for. It’s featured in my track “Phillip Glass Is a Power Bottom”
· Akai EIE Pro: An audio interface
· Mic: My extra crappy microphone I keep around for when the house doesn’t give me my own or the sound guy is being “difficult”
Timeheater began making chip music in 2001, stopped in 2006, and resumed this year. The reason for the hiatus? Undisclosed (just heating time, perhaps). He pioneered the ideology of True Chip Til Death, is inspired by Hap Water videos and dogs, and is a member of :| kREW with Starpause and Overthruster. This is how he rolls.
· Joe Meek channel strip: Mic preamp and compression. Korg on effect insert.
· Korg Ambience Processor: Used for vocal chain effects: pitch shift, modulation, delay.
· Flower Electronics Battery Powered Noise Generator: Very loud analog white noise.
Take it straight from Optimus Chad: “If you are looking to dance you are on the wrong page.” Hailing from Albany, NY, Chad (also known as Feedback Warrior) uses long forgotten hardware to write crushing tunes that channel an inordinate amount of anger. Chad is one of those chiptune artists who pushes the limits of the amount of noise you can squeeze out of a Game Boy, and he maxes those bad boys out relentlessly to achieve the aesthetic.
In this picture you can see my
· Presonus mixer which acts as a recording and live tool.
· My PG48 Shure mic
· One original Game Boy running LSDJ
· Also my computer runs Studio One for recording.