Chiptune, also known as chip music or 8-bit music, uses sound cards from vintage computers, consoles and arcade machines. With technology moving forward faster than the speed of light, personal computers have become less expensive and more accessible than ever before, leading to a huge supply of outdated computers that started to pop up in yard sales and on eBay. In the early 1990s a few nimble nerds transformed the computers into a new method of creating sound art and sparked an underground genre that resurfaced in LA in the 2000s.
Among the most famous performers are Saskrotch, Sabrepulse, 8-bitLA, Neil Voss and Azureflux, who even use their gaming machines on stage. The genre even had its own festival until 2012, Blip festival, which has introduced subgenres such as chipbreak and chipcore.
Anton Gustafsson, better known as Anton Maiden, became one of the first chiptune and DIY internet legends. The Swedish teen composed a computerized cover of Iron Maiden’s “Can I Play With Madness” in 1999. Unfortunately, Gustafsson passed away at the age of 23, but left behind an awesome collection of chiptuned covers, which continue to fascinate headbangers and gamers to this day.
But beware, it would be too easy to stereotype chiptune music as the chosen poison of basement nerds twiddling gameboys. Chiptune has gradually shifted to the LA scene, creating a sound that is more punk. In the City of Angels, chiptune has fewer rules, the music is darker and almost intimidating. Yet although chiptune has existed for two decades it has never gained mainstream traction and that’s what makes it fascinating – it’s DIY and will most likely stay it. The audiences are generally a mix of goth kids and gamers and, more globally, people disillusioned by vapid cash-cow music. It’s disciples are diverse, young, talented and commonly adhere to sense of community and tolerance away from the glaring lights and pressures of mainstream culture.
Today, in most hipster neighbourhoods, you’ll likely run into some chiptune fanatics or musicians, recording gameboys and Nes sounds in their apartments and today multiple festivals exist around the world. Chiptune proves that humans can really make music out of pretty much everything and it’s just how underground music should be.
note: Thanks to Saskrotch, who called us out on a few mistakes and glitches in our article. We’ve made the changes and will go to bed smarter than when we woke up 😉