Musical genres in the world are as simple and massively diverse depending on the creativity of the talented musicians behind them. Generations from now, humans will be listening to evolved formats of Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Pop, Funk and so on. In fact, it is already happening in some places especially in the electronic world, which have been successful in blending itself within each genre of music. However, there are some outliers out there that form their own bubble given the musical instruments made available to them. Of course, I am talking about the genre aptly described as Chiptune. What is Chiptune music you ask? Well, here is its basic definition: Chiptune is a style of electronic music where components of the sound are created using old computer or video game console sound chips. One extremely common choice has been Nintendo Game Boys: both old and new.
Although Chiptune technically started in the 1970’s, based on how you look at it. However, there are plenty of modern pioneers and musicians causing some joyous ruckus in the space. One in particular is a good friend of mine who goes by the name SBthree. His music is a great example of Chiptune and the creative exploration of the genre itself. Not only does the man perform with Game Boys, but he also introduces a funky jazz flair with his tenor saxophone. I was able to see SBthree perform his stuff a couple weekends ago as part of Pulsewave’s musical event at Babycastles downtown. The show started with a short open mic and three main musical performers: SBthree, sylcmyk and NML STYL finishing it off.
After literally just returning from down south in the warmth of Naples, Florida, it was equally pleasant returning to the cool spring of the city. Arriving at Babycastles, I was worried that the bare glass door lead to nothing. However, SBthree was kind enough to meet me out front and guide me upstairs to the unusual venue. Immediately, I determined that Babycastles was a nerd’s paradise, present company included. Scattered about the space were new indie games housed in old arcade cabinets and on the walls various graffiti. Two mannequins adorned in hipster attire greeted us silently with twinkle lights behind them. Sprawled on the floor were black and gold balloons ripe for tossing amongst the soon to be full crowd. The headliners were still busy doing their sound check as SBthree introduced me to some of his enthusiastic contemporaries. I took a seat in the simple artist lounge as the musicians began to organize for their prospective sets. Cute ladies of Pulsewave eagerly brought in pizza and handled drinks for the squad.
Despite Chiptune being the underdogs of the music world they seem to have an impactful following. Much of that is in part of their avid community and support. A prime example of this was their open mic offering which helped aspiring musicians gain a following and eventually friends. Once I was stamped on my right hand, I noticed a huge crowd of people waiting to enter via the stairs. They eventually all came lingering in. They were all a happy and chill group of music fans. Shortly after, the lights dimmed and the open mic began. Most of the musicians who showcased their work that evening were young males with varying styles in both their music and persona. Some were totally enamored in their Game Boys while others were dancing like crazy with dedicated passion. Each one had the most elaborate Game Boy cases I have ever seen covered with stickers all over the place. This is when the wild balloon tossing began and never stopped. There was not a moment that evening where a balloon was not falling in your face. I felt like I was at a party where the cool nerds have always been and the rest of us have been left out. The communal spirit was held after each performance with groups of like-minded artists instantly rushing up to the performers to learn more about their craft. I admired that enthusiasm and appreciation.
A huge additional part of Chiptune is the amazing animation that goes along with every set and show. Some of the animation is hand drawn and some is digital. All of it just adds onto the thrill of the show. An artist, who goes by the name Magical Grill, provided the animation that night in real time. The work was both humorous and beautiful.
Finally, it was time for the event I was waiting for. SBthree was clad in a floral sport coat, a Kermit The Frog watch and glitchy shoes. He was just the epitome of gamified style. This was SBthree’s first time performing his sax with a wireless microphone allowing him to venture out into the crowd, much to the audience’s delight. His fans showed their spirit with rapid hand movements and some form of robot swing. SBthree provided solid beats and filled the genre with the soul of the sax. He was a master at keeping it cool and weird. Everyone had to move a bit and groove. His focus was acute, yet he seemed right at home among his tools and peers. In fact, the mob loved him. At the end of every song he was received a lot of loud cheers.
His style was a step above electronica and a step among modern electric jazz. It was at this moment when pink silly string made its way among the audience along with the balloons. SBthree is the Charlie Parker of Chiptune. People were filming and capturing every moment with grins on their faces. There were even some head bangers hard at work in the crowd. SBthree continued to give a nice little dance with the sax as he worked his magic. God, it was fun. It was a constant game of Chiptune funk. Towards the end of his set he handed out marshmallows and it was all just too awesome to comprehend. He was a success that night.
I do not know about the rest of you but that was my first Chiptune event and I must be honest, I respect the genre even more than before. My knowledge of it was only in the general sense and I always admired the animation that came from it all. However, witnessing and being a part of it for one evening really opened my eyes. If your curious about it all, listen to some SBthree or better yet, see if there is a Chiptune show near you. Bring your Game Boys!