The last Trouserful was all about chiptune-inspired pop music, which I’ve been calling ‘chiptunes’ or ‘chiptune music’. And I did a little rant at the end, saying that if you disagreed with my use of the word ‘chiptune’, you could get stuffed. Well since then I’ve thought about it a little more, and guess what – I’m doing a backflip!
The thing is that ‘chiptune’ is a term that already means something specific: tunes made with a chip (eg. NES, Gameboy and Commodore 64 music). It’s a good and useful term, so why confuse things? The pop music I’ve been talking about – from now on, I’m going to call it ‘8bit music’, as many other people do.
Of course, sometimes 8bit music is chiptunes, and sometimes it incorporates chiptunes, and sometimes it sounds like chiptunes – and all of it is inspired by chiptunes. So it’s a bit confusing anyway! So once again, just so we’re clear:
From now on, when I say chiptunes, I’m talking about music programmed for and played by a chip, be it original NES music from the 1980s (eg. the Metroid music by Hip Tanaka), or music created by hobbyists and professionals in the years since then.
When I say 8bit music, I’m talking about a relatively new wave of pop music, inspired by NES-period chiptunes, and created by and associated with ‘the Nintendo generation’ – the first generation to grow up with videogames (and consequently be inspired by them).
I’m not going to make my terms needlessly specific and inflexible, nor will I dogmatically insist that everyone else use the same terms that I do. I just want it to be clear what I’m talking about, which is the only important thing.
So! With that bullshit out of the way...
January 26, 12:00pm – 5:00am
Star Pine’s Cafe, Kichijouji, Tokyo
Fami-mode is an all-night chipt... uh, 8bit music concert, or possibly dance party (it’s sort of half and half), organised each January by the guy who runs Meteor (which you can learn about here). ‘Fami-mode’ is a portmanteau of ‘Famicom’ and Hatsumode, which is the first shrine visit of the new year. So scientifically, Fami-mode is where you pray to Donkey Kong to bless you with high scores and an enriching sex life.
Here’s a thing: I actually really like nightclubs and dancing, it’s just that I hate almost all music, especially R&B and more than about twenty consecutive minutes of hip-hop. So, yeah, practically, I hate nightclubs, and I used to think I hated them entirely. But one day I was invited to an event which was, well, a nightclub, except the music was all new wave (eg. Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Elvis Costello, Devo) and similarly geek-friendly stuff, and the people there were people I could talk to about things, and weren’t wearing stupid clothes that made me hate them on sight. I had a great time! It was so great! “This,” I said, “is so great. If this were a proper club instead of a one-off event, I would come here every week.”
Well, Fami-mode is like that, but even more. The music, as music, is great, but more than that, it means something to me, and it means the same thing to everyone else in the room. There was a moment, during a video montage of videogames and whatnot, when the dual-screen Donkey Kong Game & Watch appeared on the screen, and everyone spontaneously cheered, myself included. I realised at that moment (fade in Wonder Years music) that I was part of a scene – like, a subculture – and to my mild surprise I didn’t and don’t find the idea contemptible. The reason is that this scene, this ‘8bit culture’, isn’t like a club that you have to behave or dress a certain way to belong to. No-one invented it. It just happened – it’s just who we are.
Of course, give it a decade or two and the whole thing will have been appropriated by fifteen-year-old dipshits who wouldn’t know a NES from a PlayStation. But for the time being – and I’m probably being a bit romantic, but – I can imagine that being at Fami-mode was like seeing a Sex Pistols show in the 1970s, except a lot safer and with much better music.
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