The Dudes – “Do The Right Thing”

I want to preface this article by saying I’m not much of a lyrics guy.

I get shit for it all the time with my friends but I have my reasons.

Far too often do I get people telling me “Check out this song, the lyrics are so good.” Usually in these cases I do, only to be less than impressed. Why? Because they don’t make any sense to me.

I know that a lot of times that’s half the point. Lyrics are supposed to be subtle or open to interpretation but I, for the most part, just can’t care. I might be inclined to dig a little deeper if the song is good, but writing is never my primary incentive to listen to a song. If you think that everyone’s going to listen to your song because you have some great lyrics, you’re an idiot. Or possibly Neil Young.

So what I really like to look for in a song is an emotion. I want the singer and the rest of the band to make me feel; to make me care enough to keep listening. The inflection of the words and the way they are sung definitely play into this, but bottom line is always the sound.

That being said, every once in a while a song will get through to me and blow my mind.

Even though it’s a bit of an older track, I got back into listening to “Do The Right Thing” by band called The Dudes. Four guys from Alberta who have a great summer rock ‘n’ roll sort of sound. Their stuff is easy to pick up and listen to and it’s no surprise I fell back into the habit during some of the nicer days this month.

This song in particular is especially great in the sense that it’s a quick and catchy. An upbeat sound with some crashing guitars, a little call and answer breakdown; a solid tune all around.

And so it remained in that sense to me, until just the other day when I was showering (ladies, calm yourselves).

I always bring my iPod dock into the shower with me so I can listen to some of my favourite songs while I suds up. Naturally, “Do The Right Thing” came on and, as I am wont to do, I started singing along. Maybe it was the echo of my tiny bathroom or maybe I was just a little more enlightened that day, but I started paying attention to the lyrics bit by bit.

My bedroom’s worse than the Catholic Church
I let anyone in

And I’ve made time for girls
From every walk of life and line of work
It’s nice I’m sure
There must be something more

And that’s when I started putting the pieces together. This song that sounded so upbeat really carries the message of a torn heart. A conflicted man between his carnal habits and what he really wants.

My heart’s wide open and I sure was hoping
You could close it down

It seems I’m finding out
That loving you girl can be so frightening

Suddenly the guitars didn’t have quite the same defiant crash as they did before. Sure they’re rocking, but there’s something else to it. It’s almost like a false sense of bravado over an insecure lick.

And by the time the call and answer part came around, it was no longer just a nice breakdown but almost a pleading voice from a drowning soul.

Say my name
And I will give you anything

Kiss my face
And I will kiss yours anywhere

Love don’t go
And watch me lose control

Now maybe I’m being a little over dramatic, but to effortlessly give a song such a unified feeling in sound and lyrics shows great skill from these boys.

And, most importantly, it doesn’t use lyrics as a crutch. It’s already an excellent track that becomes even greater when the meaning is accounted for.

If all songs function by that principle maybe I’ll come around to paying more attention to the work put into words.

Check out the Dudes Myspace here.

Manic Encounters with Musicians

With two of my favorite bands, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Mates of State concurrently touring this summer/fall in support of their most recent releases (Let it Sway and Crushes, respectively) its been challenging to refrain from re-living harrowing flashbacks of my fleeting encounters with both bands in the fall of 2006, while experiencing my first ever manic episode.

At the age of nineteen I moved out of the confines of my parents’ 1970s themed home/asylum and to Montreal to experience the closest Canada has to an Ivy League institution as well as to seek out the undiscovered talent of Montreal’s burgeoning indie music scene, beyond the scope of such overrated acts like The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. These ‘glory days’ would only last two months before I crashed and burned in my tiny dorm room in a fit of rapid-cycling moods that prompted me to return home to my native Toronto, where a proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder was awaiting me with olive branch extended.

Unable to take in any homegrown talent other than Lesbians on Ecstasy (who would not fall into the ‘talent’ camp) during my limited stay in Montreal, the two most memorable live music experiences were delivered by two of the best acts to ever grace the Polyvinyl roster, Mates of State and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.

While touring in support of their 2006 disc, Bring it Back, with their newborn baby girl, Magnolia, in tow, I pegged Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner as exactly the type of stable people I needed to latch onto in order to survive my chemically imbalanced tailspin into the depths of hipster hell. What resulted was the delusion that this cutesy husband/wife duo would be properly equipped and jumping at the chance to take this two time high school dropout under their wing, into their hearts and aboard their probably cramped tour bus.

With a beer in my left hand and an uncapped pen violently shaking in my right, I feverishly scrawled out in my most legible, all-caps handwriting ‘WILL YOU ADOPT ME?!’, (actually punctuated with an interrobang to underline my utter desperation) wound up my good arm like an MLB pitcher taking the mound and threw the note as hard as I could. Despite being firmly planted in the second row, the wad of paper just barely landed on stage. The band kept on playing without pause and much to my dismay, neither member even bothered to unfold my crumpled request/cry for help.

The following week I wrangled the only gals from my all-girls residence (affectionately coined ‘the Leservation’ by all those fortunate enough to not be residing there) who could still stomach me to the World’s Smallest Venue, Zoobizarre, wherein Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin played to an audience of twelve – bar staff included.

During the first momentary lapse between songs, I frantically yelled out to the band that I personally knew someone from their hometown, Springfield, Missouri via LiveJournal, that he had once upon a time mailed me the demo version of their first LP, Broom and that I loved them, in true fangirl fashion.

Mistaking their bewilderment over my outcry for camaraderie, I seized the opportunity to follow the band members out to their van after the show to properly introduce myself/make them regret ever crossing the border that day. Either the fellows in SSLYBY have experience with handling the mentally ill or they were just floored to know that their fan base extended outside of their circle of friends, but they were nothing but gentlemen to me – handing me a CD-R of their unofficial Summer Tour EP and inviting me to accompany them to see Phoenix later that evening. This was, of course, three years before Phoenix would release their Grammy Award-winning magnum opus, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they merely described them as ‘this French band we’ve been listening to all summer’. Having never cared too much for perennial Daddy’s Girl, Sofia Coppola, or any of the men she has cavorted with, I politely declined their invitation, playing the ‘it’s a school night’ card and exiting without tact.

I plan to attend Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s upcoming performance at Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo on September 4th, but this time, will wisely nurse my beer in silence in a back corner of the room and avoid making a spectacle of myself.

TOUR DATES:

SOMEONE STILL LOVES YOU BORIS YELTSIN:

08/31 – St. Louis, MO @ Firebird *

09/01 – Urbana, IL @ Canopy Club *

09/02 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall *

09/03 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick *

09/04 – Toronto, ON @ El Mocambo *

09/06 – Montreal, QC @ Casa Del Popolo *

09/07 – Cambridge, MA @  TT The Bears *

09/08 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom *

09/10 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat *

09/11 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Barbary *

09/12 – Cleveland, OH @ The Grog Shop *

09/13 – Columbus, OH @ The Basement *

* = w/ Telekinesis

MATES OF STATE:

09/17 – Salt Lake City, UT @ University of Utah – Union Lawn

09/26 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club

09/27 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met

Stepping out of the Boundaries

For years I have been attending numerous concerts; Warped Tour, Florence and the machine, Miike Snow etc and at each of these events, I not only witness breathtaking performances but I also have the pleasure of sticking out like a sore thumb. The color of my skin is what gives me that ability, and although I am not the person to care about something like this, it got me thinking about a deeper issue.

At this point in our generation where everyone can and should be treated as equal and therefore live freely making their own decisions, there is still this lingering idea what each race is expected to listen to, way that they should dress, along with speak and so on. Therefore when people who are for example black don’t fit into those boundaries it is sometimes shocking for others to see.

This means that when one of us are seen singing along to a song by the incredible artist Yeasayer people are so taken a back that they find the need to ask about it as if this person is unaware of who they are singing along to. This also means that buying a ticket to a Bring Me The Horizon concert makes the employee at Ticketmaster laugh. It also means that when I buy a certain album such as The Black Keys, or MGMT, the person working at the store has to take a double take from my face to the album as if I’m crazy. It needs to be understood that there is still some ignorance out there to a certain extent. Ignorance that allows me to be looked at as if I possess a third arm when trying to enjoy myself, singing along to Pierce The Veil.

Not everyone knows that occurrences like these happen all the time, and the people who don’t realize it are the ones who probably have accepted that not all black people are glued to watching Black Entertainment Television 24/7 and that many are exposed to different genres of music that we enjoy.

The thing is, there might not even be a specific way in order to open up other peoples narrow minds but hopefully if they keep witnessing more fans like me in the audience for artists that in their little world is unknown to black people it will become more easy for them to comprehend that Hip Hop and R&B aren’t the only genres on our ipod.

Lady Gaga Breaks Record!

Pop singer Lady Gaga, well known for her songs like ‘Alejandro’ and ‘Bad Romance’ as well as her… shall we say out there dressing style, has made history (for the moment) twice. That’s right: she broke two records!

The first is that she had 13 nominations overall, and the other is that two nominations in the ‘Video of the Year’ award, for her songs Bad Romance and Telephone.

Check out her nominated videos:

Bad Romance by Lady Gaga

Telephone by Lady Gaga

It’s All Bout the Bling and the Flow…

Bottled in the dirty south (Dandridge, Tennessee) and delivered crystal clear to anyone feeling the need to make it rain on them ho’s for $25 – $75 a bottle.

I’m not referring to Ludacris’ sad attempt to “conjure” his way into the alcoholic beverage industry, I’m talking about Bling H20.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen this specific brand of water comes with ballin’ credentials, and looks great.

Winner of the gold medal at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Festival, for best tasting water. The product comes in a vast array of colours, and has recently been setting trends on the upper class wedding scene. But I guess those getting married already carry the label of sucker, so it wasn’t a far stretch for marketers to zero in on such an easy prey.
Nonetheless it’s always nice to show off one’s Bling, and staying hydrated has never been more econonimacally unsound.

Many more including Evian, have been recently exploring the ways in which to make us drop a paycheck on something we all get for free.

Thankfully blind taste tests in New York asked Bling H20 to put it’s money where our mouths are. They pitted Manhattan tap water against critically acclaimed Bling H20, the results? Manhattan Tap water was deemed best-tasting and as for Bling? it was determined to taste like normal tap water.
Go figure.

Watch this video and revel in the fact that you can’t possibly be dumb enough to buy into this liquid bullshit.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

by Garin Fahlman

 Think of the last record you listened to.  To be clear, that means vinyl.  I’m not talking about compact discs or new fangled internet downloads – I’m talking about cold hard, analog vinyl.  If you’ve never listened to a vinyl… well I guess I can’t really blame you.  Just pretend.   

      Now we’re looking at this record.  You’re holding it up at your face and your combing over the cover art.  It‘s a badass watercolour painting: you‘ve got some skeletons, wearing well-worn battle armour, charging at some shirtless spacemen who look slightly homoerotic.  You make your best assumptions about the scene before you, and decide that the skeleton militia most likely stole the battle armour from the now shirtless spacemen.  These are just the foundations of course.  So you open it up, and you are stricken with even more awesome fantasy art.  Now you can see that the scene on the cover was just a part of a larger image, and hovering above the skeletons’ deadly helms, is a flying tank piloted by a bipedal dog/street punk.  There is no direct evidence but you have a hunch that this maverick pooch is working for the shirtless spacemen, running some kind of daring one-man assault on the skeleton militia.  You haven’t even gotten to the music yet, and you have experienced several dimensions of entertainment.  You remove the album sleeve, which is simply etched with an old wizard’s stern face, of whom you can guess is the sovereign conductor of these grisly events. 

      Now after a period of reflection, you are finally ready for the album – that is if you choose to bypass the liner notes, which are sure to contain a transcript of the events in lyrical form.  But you don’t have all day, so you put on the album, and are helpless but to imagine it as the soundtrack to the apocalyptic space opera on the album art.  This, you conclude, must be what music is all about. 

      Of course, if you, at that time, were to fast-forward to today, you would be crushed to learn that music has found other agendas.  But the memory holds (unless you were pretending) and whether you are from the year 20XX or not, it is clear that music has slowly become more about music and less about other things.  Let me clarify: in an age where the physical distribution and larger packaging of music has become rarer, auxiliary mediums to carry the experience of an album have accordingly disappeared.  When can you remember recently having an experience surrounding the music of an album?  I bet your answer is either “never” or “well actually I did once“ in which case you have done irreparable damage to my thesis. 

      While the majority of albums nowadays don’t contain any amount of serious artwork, consistent concepts, or other avenues of immersion, the industry is not without those who are more than interested in creating worlds out of their music.  And one would think in a world with the internet, the possibilities for IP expansion would be near-limitless.  I use the word IP – which is to say “intellectual property” – because the expanding budgets of entertainment properties, whether it’s music or not, have ballooned so dramatically that any project that can launch successfully becomes almost required to churn out related sequels, or an aggressive marketing campaign.  Meaning each individual release has its own meta-world of expansive marketing possibilities, making all successful products important individual platforms – or IPs.  And truth be told, it has taken quite a long acclimation period for musicians and corporations alike to get used to the modern possibilities for creative IP expansion.  Most companies are so worried about just having an album or artist get noticed at large, that outsourcing groups to create an extra level of immersion for fans of said artist or album is low on the priority list.  But not only is the currently cluttered musical landscape screaming for diversity, the rise of the unsigned, do-it-yourself indie artist is making a new stand for the all-encompassing musical experience of old. 

      In fact, there are numerous diamonds in the rough who make a strong stand for “music as an experience”.  After the dark ages of the ‘90’s, the internet had finally become a tool which was stripped of its mystical demeanour and joined the ranks of other common household appliances such as the toaster or the can opener.  Which was a good thing.  This level of accessibility was just what was needed to allow one popular 90’s artist to create one of the most entertaining experiences surrounding 16 tracks ever to appear. 

      The artist I’m talking about is Nine Inch Nails, who is Trent Reznor, a rock musician who debuted his industrial sound in the late 80’s and rose to popularity in the 90’s with his album The Downward Spiral.  In 2007, Trent teamed up with creative marketing team 42 Entertainment, who specialised in a form of viral marketing known as Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, to promote his new album – a concept album called Year Zero.  What Trent wanted to create was a persistent world that grew from his initial concept for the album – a future America that has descended into totalitarian political chaos – through the use of cryptic websites, phone calls, actors, live events, real-world clues, and hidden messages.  Trent funded the Year Zero experience himself, apart from his record company, saying “What you are now starting to experience IS 'year zero'. It's not some kind of gimmick to get you to buy a record – it IS the art form… and we're just getting started. Hope you enjoy the ride.”  The experience consisted mostly of cryptic websites, seemingly sent back in time from a dystopian future to warn us of where our society might be headed.  The URLs could be found in almost any place imaginable – highlighted letters on the back of t-shirts; USB flash drives left in bathroom stalls; fine print scribbled on concert pins; even graffiti left on city streets.  People were led to underground NIN concerts that were preceded by actors giving speeches, posing as the resistance leaders from the Year Zero world, that were then broken up by fake SWAT teams assaulting the audience.  It was an experience that led thousands of fans on an engaging musical and artistic experience for months, and created an album both memorable, relevant and broad in scope. 

      The way Year Zero was marketed caught press and fans off guard.  It was way far beyond any aspirations in terms of marketing that any IP – let alone rock album – had ever even dreamed possible of being allowed to achieve.  It proved that the modern, digital world was hungry for more complex, intimate experiences in the entertainment properties.  Oddly enough, despite incredible success and thousands of people who participated in the ARG, there has been no real answer yet to this type of marketing in any other music release after it.  But Year Zero was a complicated, intricate and painstaking production, which would be very difficult to reproduce; subsequent experiences would be diluted in the wake of too many imitators.  The most important thing Year Zero showed us, is that the ceiling for creating creative experiences for our music is higher than we have ever attempted to reach. 

      Year Zero isn`t the only recent attempt to create more intimate experiences through our music.  Coheed and Cambria is a band who has been able to avoid any extensive media coverage yet holds a large, loyal fan base that is rapidly growing.  Their rising popularity can be attributed to the fact that their music has held a consistent level of quality across five albums, but a more important contributing factor may be the band’s unique approach to album structure.   

      Coheed and Cambria’s lead singer and guitarist Claudio Sanchez is a self-professed nerd.  Which is an accurate statement.  Much of Claudio’s spare time is spent writing a comic book series he`s worked on since before Coheed and Cambria formed, called the Amory Wars.  It is (get ready) a space opera about a network of planets and stars governed by a council of space-mages, who fight a resistance comprising of (among others) a racist-against-white-girls sniper, a fallen angel, and an ex-pro boxer – all of which is actually just a story written by a deranged love-sick author who is tormented by his demon-bicycle.  The comics Claudio writes aren`t just kept in his head either.  The stories of each chapter are explored in each album the band releases.  The elaborate titles of each album are references to the comic book issues, and the lyrics to each song is a counterpart to the dialogue of the characters.  The band name itself is a reference to two characters from the story. 

      Interestingly, the concept has been a great success for the band.  Claudio is now producing a full-fledged comic series about the Amory Wars, has already released a graphic novel, and in the deluxe edition of their most recent album, included a 400 page novel he co-authored.  Their live shows incorporate imagery related to the story, and most media released for the band – like Nine Inch Nails` – gives the music an extended presence long after you’ve taken the CD out of your drive, or left the concert hall. 

      It is music experiences like these that prove that, more than pop music would lead you to believe, music and art are made to go together.  Of course, if you are a record company it is difficult to take the dive investing lots of money in untested marketing waters.  Certainly there are many more bands like these whose efforts did not equate to commercial success.  But the ways a group can make their music stand out artistically does not need to necessarily extend to long, progressive concepts that deviate from the music.  Gorillaz is a band comprised of cartoon characters, complete with fictional backstories, personalities, and live appearances.  The “real“ band is mostly a mystery, and this has spawned considerable interest and intrigue in the band.  Of course, drawing some cartoon characters on the album art is a fairly cheap way to make your music artistically engaging and sustainable in the event that it is not initially popular.  Simple ideas like this are all that is needed to elevate a musical experience. 

      While the cost of selling and promoting music increases, the chance that a company will push to invest money in an unassured marketing campaign decreases.  It is clear that music can be more powerful when the experience relevantly extends beyond the disc, and there is evidence to support that when its done right, it greatly improves the work itself.  Album art is a relic of the past.  Comics, ARGs, and fleshed out worlds are the medium for a generation of sounds that will break the mould.  It is the moving pictures around these sounds that will decide which rise above and which stay below the waves.

Singing in the Pixel Pitch

Singing in the Pixel Pitch

by Garin Fahlman

Everyone knows the Super Mario Bros. theme song. And most people know, at least, that it is from a video game. It’s been parodied and used by enough mainstream media – from Conan O’Brien, to being featured in almost any prime time story about video games even today – that its fallen into its own pop culture niche where it sits comfortably as the one piece of video game music anyone gives a damn about. And looking at the broad spectrum… that’s not necessarily the worst thing. It’s not a bad piece by any means. Sure the instrumentation is wildly outdated and the sounds are more novelty today than to be able to seriously lend to the piece, but there could have been worse songs from 80’s video games that could have landed in Mario Bros. place. I mean imagine if The Adventures of Rad Gravity was the same hit Mario Bros. was? The history of video games would have ended right there. Although I seriously wouldn’t have mind if we got stuck with Mega Man II. You know what I’m sayin’? Wily’s Fortress in the house!

The bleeps and bloops in Super Mario Bros. were composed by video game music legend Koji Kondo. The man has composed the soundtracks to gaming’s greatest early video games and most famous classic series today. The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Star Fox series have all been mostly scored by Kondo. Being quite a popular man in the world of video games, it is important to note the differences and similarities in video game music and traditional music. A lot of the popularity comes from the nostalgia of hearing a song from the video games you used to play as a kid. This is similar to hearing a theme song to an old movie like Top Gun, but there are still things that set it apart. First, the sound of old video game music is audibly of a much different quality than that of fully orchestrated soundtracks for movie or TV show. Made on old computer synthesizers with normally only four sound banks – two white noise channels for drums; a bass, and a treble channel – 8 and 16-bit game composers had a lot less to work with. People associate this sound with video games exclusively, so it feels a lot closer to them if they‘ve played them. Also keep in mind, if you’ve ever played an old video game, you know they can be damn hard, so most people were hearing these songs over and over again as they tried to get through a level, and the songs became like second players. Because of the limitations of the hardware, composing for a game took on its own style, and listening to a video game song even today with realistic synthesizers or even, more increasingly, full orchestras, one can notice that “video game” music has a sound all its own.

The early days of gaming saw the rise of some of its most important composers – Koji Kondo of Nintendo, Capcom’s Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, and Square’s Nobuo Uematsu to name a few – and people within the growing gaming world began to notice that these were people making serious compositions, not resigning themselves to crap output because of the medium or perceived audience. And thankfully, we got some incredible compositions from them, that not only demonstrated a knowledge and understanding for the games they were meant to accompany, but also a serious musical offering that heralded gaming’s first golden age of video game music. In 1994, Square released Final Fantasy VI, known as Final Fantasy III in North America. The composer was Nobuo Uematsu, who was becoming known for his classically influenced work in the Final Fantasy series. The last boss fight in the game was a massively difficult, multi-tiered battle that could take quite a long time to finish, so Nobuo set to work composing a piece that echoed the scale of the epic climax musically. He composed a four piece, eighteen minute suite called Dancing Mad. The piece had an organ lead and moved from sounding like a fugue to a dirge – the first two movements interwoven with phrases from the Final Fantasy VI main theme and the last movements strung together with Kefka’s (the main villain) theme. At this point in the game, the villain Kefka has ascended to godhood, and the song’s second movement evokes allusions to Bach’s “Preludes and Fugues” and Hendel’s “Messiah”, featuring an organ cadenza and a renaissance structure. The final movement, the climax of the fight, featured a mix of 70’s prog-rock complexity reminiscent of Keith Emerson, and Baroque chord progressions. A song of this complexity and musical sophistication had never been seen in video gaming before, and it changed the way video game music was written – and represented – forever.

Now you can put down your Super Nintendo controller, the history lesson is over. What I want to talk about is where video game music is headed today, or more appropriately, music inspired by video game music. As I mentioned earlier, video games have their own style – it’s a genre all its own. Increasingly edging its way into traditional music, people are honouring, covering, and incorporating these sounds and styles into their music. What we are seeing is an increased appreciation for the composers who were relatively unknown back when we were playing Super Mario, but whose influence is being recognized with the current “retro 8-bit revival”.

There is a band called Hella, whose music evokes the feeling of wrestling with a zebra in a pool of Jell-O, in the middle of a blizzard on the side of a spaceship. A math-rock duo from California, they are on the forefront of the technical-indie movement (although they lean a little more heavily on the technical side. Okay they completely fall over into the technical side), and their music and art overflow with cheeky modern sensibility. Their music almost sounds at times like it could have been pulled out of a NES cart, and maybe that’s why Spencer Seim, the guitarist of the group, recently formed a new project called The Advantage, which covers 8-bit video game music with rock instruments. The Advantage features more of the humour and personality of modern bands like Hella – like always wearing gold baseball helmets on stage – but plays a very different kind of show, one that audiences have never quite experienced before. But what The Advantage is doing isn’t really the breakout of video game music into the mainstream. Bands like them are few, but groups like The Black Mages, and The Minibosses are proving that interest in the video game sound is increasing. Then there are groups like HORSE The Band, who call themselves “Nintendocore” and play original songs titled after video game characters like Cutsman and Birdo complete with a keyboardist who sounds just like an old NES. Which leads to probably the most interesting new genre to spawn off of the 8-bit craze.

It’s called chiptune music, and it involves making music the hard way – that is, with blips, bleeps, and yes, bloops. It can be done in a myriad of different ways: Some people actually use authentic NES soundboards, others emulate it, and others just do the best they can with modern synthesizers. But it all ends up making the same unmistakably retro sound. And its gaining fans rapidly. Some listen because of the nostalgic feel, but many people listen because to them it’s a new sound, with its own style. There is a growing number of chiptune collectives and gatherings, and there are rising stars with increasingly recognizable names, such as 8 Bit Weapon, a band whose instruments are all either old computers or video game consoles, and Nullsleep, a pioneer of chiptune who launched the 8bitpeoples collective. 8bitpeoples has, for ten years, been promoting and supporting the artists and audiences of chiptune culture through their music fest, Blip Festival, and their on-site collections of 8-bit art.

But perhaps the most relevant chiptune group to grace us recently is Anamanaguchi, a pop group that seamlessly fuses modern rock-pop with the aesthetics of retro chiptune. Their songs are all incredibly infectious and are easily accessible to anyone whether or not they know their goombas from their koopas. But you can’t get around the fact that once you’ve listened to them once, not only will you probably be hooked, you won’t be able to listen to Super Mario the same way again. Anamanaguchi is slowly changing the pop landscape, as one of the first breakout bands of the chiptune scene. They recently got called onboard to provide the soundtrack to the video game adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, an adaptation of the popular comic series and upcoming movie starring Michael Cera, written by Bryan Lee O’Malley that’s stuffed full of video game references. I imagine a gig doing music for a video game is the dream gig for all chiptune artists, and with the immense success of Scott Pilgrim and the inevitable success of the video game, it looks like this is just the beginning for Anamanaguchi and the entire chiptune scene.

Video games as a serious influence on popular music is still a ways off, but the speed at which it is gaining influence is increasing rapidly and I wouldn’t be surprised if this decade of music is remembered for it. Or maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But at least next time you play your Xbox, maybe you’ll listen a little bit closer. And maybe next time you turn on MTV, you’ll hear a few more bleeps.

Defending the Left Side of the Volume Dial

Defending the Left Side of the Volume Dial

by Garin Fahlman

Spinal Tap is an awesome movie. Aside from making laugh anyone who’s ever played an electric guitar, it cemented a fundamental rule about modern music. It needs to be loud. It’s a non-negotiable fact. The dials on that amp go that far for a reason. And I’m not here to negotiate that. Because I’m not about to call Spinal Tap wrong. I hope that’s not what you thought I was doing.

Let’s think for a second. What was the last song you listened to? More importantly where was the last song you listened to? On your iPod? Let’s say it was. So you’re lying on your bed moping about the world, and you’ve got your earphones in and its pretty loud. I mean you’ve got no time for volume thresholds. I wasn’t saying you did! You’re no pussy. You’ve got stuff to think about and your music needs to be loud! Your friend calls. He says he’s picking you up in ten minutes and you are going to hang out. Like buds. When he arrives you get into his mid-90’s Pontiac and he immediately turns up his sound system, which is conspicuously the only part of his car that was installed in the new millennium. He’s blasting some song that you both know is way too loud for safe driving but hell man, did you catch the Spinal Tap bit? It’s got to be loud. Safety is just a sacrifice that needs to be made.

So, we agree that this was the story of the last song you listened to. If it wasn’t, please try and relate and not be all snobby about it. The motif I tried to illustrate here is that there is and generally has been an unwritten volume law, ever since Johnny Burnette first played Train Kept-A Rollin. Whether it is necessary or even safe to have the music loud doesn’t seem to matter,”loud” is ingrained into our psyches the same way as big muscles, nice cars, and white teeth are. It is something you do to prove you can handle it. It doesn’t even necessarily matter if you have it turned down when you are by yourself, when you get with other people and you are going to put on a tune, you better throw down. There is something expected of you. And it goes beyond whether you play Beyonce or Megadeth. Them beats better be felt down the streets.

So why do we play it loud, and what is really wrong with it? Well being the infinite loser that I am, I will give you few examples of people who steadfastly believe that volume is the herald of our destruction. These are certainly not my beliefs (have you seen my awesome car?), but they do illustrate the fact that there is ample study available to show that perhaps loud is not the healthiest thing in the long run. However like many human vices such as sex and overeating, studies don’t really matter. I mean, doctors right? I never trust anyone who makes more than me. But we’ve got these studies now. They’re not going away. We all know deep down that there is a bit of truth to these documents. But hey, if crabs isn’t going to stop us from getting busy, then a PhD isn’t going to make much of a difference on my volume dial. So we may know these things, but if there’s one thing I know about people, it’s that there is an”ignore bank” full of useful information in our collective consciousness that we all pretend to not know about. And that’s just one side of the story: the”quiet” side, if you will.

Many of you may be saying”Hey, Internet, I don’t turn it up to prove anything! It needs to be loud at a party and at a concert! That’s just how it is! And I need to listen to those songs loud on my iPod ‘cause it feels good! You’ve got it all wrong!” And that would be the other side of the argument. The”noisy” side. I will be the first one to shove my stake in the ground and say that having it loud rocks. When you‘re pumped on a new album it just needs to be blasted; parties have to be loud so no one else hears you when you totally get rejected by that girl; and hell, walking down a busy street while listening to Baker Street really loud just makes you feel good. Loud music can get you feeling totally immersed in something and change your mood and the atmosphere of wherever you are in dramatic, awesome ways. As a texture, loud is like the whipped cream to music’s apple pie. And that’s the problem. As a texture, loud is an incredibly rich, important part of the musical landscape. Listened to Smells Like Teen Spirit recently? The whole reason that song has the punch and deliverance that it does is because of the exchange of volume power between the verse and chorus. The verse is a quiet, unassuming two note phrase, but when the chorus comes in, it explodes into the famously loud chorus that lends the song its popularity. Loud is only”loud” next to quiet, and therefore the two are both dependent on each other. It’s when loud isn’t just a musical texture; when it becomes so loud that all texture is lost, and a song is just a platform for people to prove something, that we lose its worth.

A little while ago, a friend and I went down to Seattle, WA to catch a concert. It was Jenny Lewis, a great modern country/rock girl who’s got a voice that will make you believe she is your girlfriend. And every time a song ends and you realize she isn‘t you get all depressed until the next song starts. Her shows are emotional roller coasters. The venue was a small showroom with a good-sized crowd who was totally devoted to Jenny and having a great time. Before she went on she had two opening acts. The first was a pretty standard but appropriate acoustic act that didn’t turn any heads but got the job done. The second act looked far more exciting, looking to be a rockabilly/Tom Waits/Wild West/metal band. They spent a little bit talking about how many albums they had and showing us how gravelly their voices were (it’s like due diligence for bands like these – people gotta make sure they’ve smoked enough), and they managed to garner a strong crowd on the floor before they even played. That is, before they played. This was a country show, not a metal show, and they sounded, for the most part, like a country(ish) band. But I think they had all completely succumbed to the effects of Louditis (which shall henceforth be the term used to describe the effect of people who believe playing things at an unnecessarily loud volume is super cool), because when they started, they all thought it was a metal show. By the time they had finished their first song, I swear almost 50% of the floor had emptied. Not because they were particularly bad, but because they played louder than any band I have ever heard in my life. And I have heard some pretty loud bands. Metal shows, arena shows, even your friend’s Pontiac’s sound system paled in comparison to this band. When the first song ended and my vision was coming back after my skull had been aggressively rockabillied by these guys I went outside to get a breath when I saw the rest of the show lined up down the street at this booth that was selling earplugs. I got in line.

To be fair, they were actually pretty good once my earplugs did their best to fight back most of the sound. The point of bringing this story up however, is it leads us to my little hypothesis on this whole loosely constructed thing. I’ve played in a few bands myself, and known a few people (myself included) who would prefer their image be slightly embellished. Being stuck as an opening act or being stuck in just say, normal civilian life, has people naturally look up to their rock n roll idols. We see them on top of the stage, rocking out, jamming to our favourite songs, ripping on impossible guitar solos, and most importantly – turning it up. For most of us, turning it up is the only thing on that list we can actually emulate. So a lot of the time, I think we turn it up more often to feel like a rock star than because it actually makes the music better. It’s to say, “They do it that way, and so do I.” A small time band does it to feel like a big time band. Your friend in the Pontiac does it to feel like he’s driving a Porsche.

Ironically, the rock stars can’t hear a damn thing.

FLUTE.BEAT BOX. HARD KNOCK LIFE. ALL AT THE SAME TIME! GREG PATILLO. REMEMBER THAT.

Forget the Nexus Excel Prostate massaging sounds.  Forget the jazzy step-on-my-back-with-peanut-butter-and-jelly indi-artist name grabing names out there.  And forget conventional writing because today we have unconventional barely legal entertainment here.  Here my MVREMIX friends we have the “I’m Jaded. Give Me Innovative Shit” category.  So turn up your speakers and introduce yourselves to Greg Patillo.  New York Times voted, “The Best Person in the World at what he Does.”  He beat boxes and plays the flute all at the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaame time. ..ENJOY.