Here's some info about this kickass dude named Dan Behrens, master chipfucker.
For the past 3 years I’ve been heavily involved in the chiptune music scene. We make songs with old sound chips from gaming consoles (or emulating them), and it’s a vibrant scene of people writing their own music software, designing their own instruments, and taking minimalistic sounds to their maximum potential.
It’s pretty awesome.
There’s a ton of diversity in style, mixed media crossover, and it sounds cool! It’s still a little underground, but new fans are becoming enamored with it every day. I would say, for the most part, the scene is healthy and growing.
There’s an urge to label this kind of music with something simple and relatable. Most often, the word “8-bit” seems to crop up. It’s not really an accurate term, most music made in the chiptune is actually 4-bit, which is even more impressive! But it works for the general masses. Anything resembling pixel art, square waves, and a picture of Mario is considered 8-bit, and it works good enough.
At some point in the early Aughts, anything with cheap pixel art and a Mario or Zelda reference started flying off the shelves of Hot Topic. While there were hundreds of examples of amazing derivative art from these icons, it seemed that the lowest common denominator of these seemed to appear on shirts. This was the 8-bit cash-in.
(what does that even mean?!)
We “remembered our roots!” while donning a shirt with an NES controller on it. And that’s totally fine, it made a subculture of retro gaming, which has a lot of crossover with the chiptune music scene.
So how does this affect me as a musician, in my little scene? A few years ago, people realized that covers of songs in some niche musical styles get a lot of traffic, especially on YouTube. For example: You might find a song by Metallica in an 8-bit style, and a song from Super Mario in a metal style. So for some reason, the quality of these covers didn’t actually have to be remotely good.
90% of the 8-bit covers of popular music were TERRIBLE. Enough so, that if they had been presented in the chiptune scene, they would be lumped in with the worst beginners. Lazy techniques (GSXCC), MIDI rips (theft), and wrong notes everywhere. Now, this is not something exclusive to chiptune. Most “metal” covers on YouTube have awful programmed drums, a distorted guitar, and a superfluous 3rds harmony and call it a day. I’ve seen dozens of songs labeled and promoted as “dubstep” or “trap” that are just dance tracks that don’t even remotely resemble the genre.
This proved that it’s more important to label your track with some hot genre than to actually pay tribute to the song you’re covering. I’m not against covers, I cover songs all the time. But these cash-in songs are at best lazy, and at worst intellectual theft.
There is a distinct difference between “8-bit” covers and “metal” or “dubstep” covers though. Metal, and to a lesser extent dubstep, have some representation in the mainstream music world. The collective public will recognize a shitty metal track when they hear one, but they are barely aware of the chiptune scene. This is my music scene’s primary representation in the music world.
On April 19th, Daft Punk released “Get Lucky” from their highly anticipated new album. The hype was huge, I couldn’t get through 20 posts on my social media screens without seeing something about Daft Punk.
Highly anticipated track coming out? Surely some asshole is going to rush in to cover it as soon as possible, just to cash-in on the traffic. And sure enough, on April 20th, one day later, we have “Daft Punk - Get Lucky 8 Bit”. This is the musical equivalent to a “FIRST POST” on a popular thread. It’s shitbag behavior. But you know what? Holy shit, it’s got a ton of traffic. It’s not even a bad cover compared to all the shit out there! But the intentions are slimier than a used car salesman, and essentially this again is the primary mode of exposure for our artform. ”8-bit” is reduced to nothing more than a traffic driving tag.
(why don’t we see General MIDI covers?)
So this brings me to my main point. Because this is so effective, because it’s so prevalent, it severely dilutes the quality of the music scene in general. Why should I focus on developing the greatest chiptune techniques and laboring over composition, when I can just throw together a lazy cover of something topical and be far more successful? It’s gotten so bad that I can literally count on a metal/dubstep/8bit cover of anything trending within at least a week. A real artist doesn’t need to label his shit “8-bit” in the title, because then you’re putting the aesthetic before the actual music, and in my humble opinion, that is making music for the wrong reasons.
This is exactly the reason a lot of chip musicians in the scene don’t even use “8-bit” to describe their music. It’s just “chiptune” or “chipmusic” because it’s not about getting you to pay attention because you loved Super Mario and Dragon Warrior. It’s about getting you to pay attention because it’s a really fucking awesome sonic palette full of weird yet awesome musical techniques.