Underground music has changed a lot in recent years. Like, a lot. Hip-hop music used to be underground by its very nature, rather than the absurdly bloated cash cow it is now, when rap slang has become the language de jour for advertising copy and management appraisals. Poor old hip-hop. The advent of the internet and the ability to make music being made available to more people than ever, has meant that for unsigned hype you no longer need to read columns or traipse around Chicago (too cold) or Bow Street, London (too stabby) to pick up the latest white label dance craze, House or Grime respectively in above examples. You can now do it from the comfort of your own Multimediamouth themed mansion like I do (He’s the only one who gets one too! Darn small print in the contract- Chris). Giving music away free is the new selling it, get with it!
This evening I’ll be on a date with Chiptune, or Chip Music. The basic idea of which is to make cool, exciting electronica using only the internal workings of games consoles and computer systems from the 80’s and early 90’s. Confused? Don’t be. Back in the old days, before games came on shiny DVDs, they used to arrive on magical devices such as Cartridges. These were 6-8 feet in length, featuring beautiful game artwork scratched like cave paintings into them. They were a religious item, and only worked by following the sacred ritual of insert, remove, insert, remove, blow, insert, play. This ritual is what we had instead of sex, it works in a similar way but less sweaty. These stone tablets would be placed reverently inside a games console that produced all it’s cool noises, not from playing a CD, but from chips inside the console that mimicked sounds and could be programmed to make the in-game music you know and love.
Skip forward a decade and a bit and we now have programs like Little Sound DJ that has been written by, well, nerds and you can pop it into your game boy and use it to transfer your Mario-machine into a musical instrument. You make your crazy rave noise from old computer sound-chips, dance your little socks off, then share it with the world. Kittenrock.co.uk is the online home of some of Europe’s leading Chiptune artists.
What do you wear for such an event? Well, I’ve figured on a little throwback fashion, with my Soundwave T-shirt and jeans with Doc Marten boots. Based on the cover artwork I’ve previously seen, and the last Chip artist I met, I’m going with a hot pink thong with a ladies manicured hand on the front and no cologne at all. Don’t ask.
Part of the beauty of chip music is its accessibility, so a venue isn’t important. In keeping with the ease and convenience with which kittenrock offers its music to us, I’ve invited them all to my house for home cooked food and a little wine. The first thing that you’ll notice about the rabble filling my living room is that they are not GQ models. I’m lucky in this respect because my music dates do not all have to be glitz and shine, but musically this is not the most accessible thing you’ve ever heard. It is however, catchy.
The website itself is sparse and businesslike, letting the albums on display do the talking. As I serve the soup I check out the attractive retro banner below which begins the list of recent releases on the website. A quick click into the releases button reveals…oh good grief Dot.AY has spilled his soup all over his lap. He reassures me it’s not a problem as he’s a palaeontologist. Erm..good. I think.
The album artwork is intriguing, from the deranged and amateurish to the original and downright clever, as a gamer of a certain age I found myself doing double takes as I scrolled down the listings.
One part of the date I find admittedly awkward is that I’m not sure if I’m dealing with deadpan humour, wry wit and off key jibes or a bunch of raving nutters. The chaps at kittenrock do enjoy their adjectives, and I never previously could have envisioned wanting to hear something described as “dystopian Gameboy techno.” There’s a very self-aware feeling of fun at kittenrock, but perhaps it’s a character flaw in myself (IMPOSSIBLE! – Chris) that I am a little concerned that some of the chaps may take it all a bit too seriously and….what? Josstintimberlake has done WHAT in my mashed potato?! Good grief.
Some of the Kittenrock tribe stand out more than others, and it’s probably a personal choice as to which of them you spend the most time with. KOOL SKULL seems to be shouting all the time and Jellica has an unhealthy interest in my pet cat. The whole troupe could be perhaps accused of having a funny attitude towards women, but until you’ve grooved your booty away to the Pornochip compilation you haven’t lived.
It’s difficult, because off-key high tempo deranged gameboy music with crunchy distorted drums wouldn’t be my cup of tea, generally speaking, or perhaps on paper anyone’s, but the more I listen to the more I begin to see the beauty and work that’s put into it. Even in the Locust-esque wall of sound compilations there’s a certain rhythm and melody that makes it hard to put down, you do want to see what’s next.
Having said that, the desert involves too much whipped cream, and you certainly do NOT want to see what happened next with that – Multimediamouth is a family site! After collecting a lot of new music, and doing some admittedly silly dancing, I finally get all the chaps out of my house and flop down exhausted and sweaty.
Just because this date was at home, doesn’t mean we can’t meet elsewhere. Chiptune has as much as a vibrant live following as any other underground dance music. You’ve possibly never seen anything like a room full of dancing people with a DJ at the front of the room rocking out, and on the table in front of him: no decks, no mixer but an old brick-style Gameboy, a Commodore 64 and an Amiga 500. And a mass of cables. On a man-to-man basis, you have to admire anyone who owns that many cables. Definitely up for a second date with the crazy kids from kittenrock.co.uk, and why wouldn’t you, it’s rewarding, it’s danceable and it’s a cheap date!
You can visit Kittenrock here.
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