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Chip Music's Game Boy DJs Drop Electronic Beats on Analog Machines

By Sonja Sharp | July 25, 2013 7:56am
Battle Lava - Untitled #37 (Teaser Photo: Flickr/Ugly Machine)
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Battle Lava/Joshua Studham (Teaser Photo: Flickr/Ugly Machine)

CROWN HEIGHTS — It's Atari like you've never heard it before. 

Over the past year, Franklin Avenue's LaunchPad has become the adoptive home for an obscure but fiercely loved genre of electronic music whose genesis is less synthesizer and more Sega. If Grunge is a reaction to Hair Metal and millennial indie folk a course correction from the Backstreet Boys, the Game Boy DJs of Chiptune might be called a revolt against Dubstep.

"It’s kind of like having two player pianos instead of turntables," said Chiptune artist Alexander Westcott, who performs with a pair of Game Boys under the stage name Battle Lava. "The Game Boys are doing the playing, not me. I do all the programing in advance, but the Game Boy is doing the real work." 

Created on dinosaur systems like Nintendo 64, Chip music shares its basic DNA with the up-tempo bleeping of Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. But fans and artists are quick to point out, the genre is more about reverse engineering than a return to childhood.

"Everyone wants to get the video game association away from it," said artist Michael Goodman, alias DIY Destructi0n. "The Nintendos to me are my instruments, they’re not a video game system." 

For years, Chip music aficionados have been sharing their Amiga hacks and obscure symphonies through Pulsewave, a New York City-based group known for its monthly gatherings. When it lost its longtime Manhattan venue, the meet-up began looking across the bridge. 

"We looked at a lot of different venues," said Pulsewave organizer Jenn de la Vega, herself a resident of Bed-Stuy. "We really wanted something that was stable and really looked after the community, and when we discovered LaunchPad, we felt like the space was awesome, and they embraced the same type of community as we do."

LaunchPad will host the next Pulsewave event, Quebec Edition, this Saturday, July 27 at 8 p.m. 

"It’s a really fascinating community," de la Vega said. "The interface of [the Game Boy hack] LS-DJ makes it easy for people to look at it in terms of numbers and patterns instead of musical theory, which is fascinating because it creates a whole different language for creating music with other people."

Despite some undeniable nerd-factor, Chiptune artists want the uninitiated to know that underneath the odd instruments, they're making real music.   

"Too often when people hear this music thy just say, 'Mario at a rave', which doesn’t add a lot to the conversation," Westcott said "It’s an innocent misunderstanding of the whole thing. We’re leaving the whole video game aspect of it in the dust."