Glitching the System


(This YouTube video was posted for the song more than the visuals.)

Videogame music has its niche. With bands like The Advantage and The Minibosses (along with a slew of others) we have a new form of cover band–those that cover 8-bit NES songs in these two bands’ cases. The above video clip is a curious step beyond such, not being wholly chip tune (I’d never even heard this term before I saw it posted by Michal) in nature, nor fitting purely into the glitch format of music. Crystal Castles (both from the She-Ra franchise and an old Atari game) is utilizing videogame music, but not being defined by it.

Doing searches on Amazon.com, Last.fm, and various other sites on which I can quickly look at data, Crystal Castles is by far more lucrative and popular a band than the other examples I mentioned (though still far from ‘mainstream’). They’re not playing to nostalgia alone (which has a tendency to stagnate progression), mixing the tunes we recognize with a high energy delivery and giving us an expertly honed, if not quite unique, performance. Having seen them twice, I’ve noted a few things that made my experience pleasurable.

The stage is set up with flashing strobes that run the entire show. Alice Glass, the vocalist, jumps around on stage, screaming and crooning into the mic, in a curious form of dance. Due to the flashing lights, her movements are disjointed and she ends up looking like she’s missing frames of action. It’s akin to watching an older videogame with amazingly realistic visuals but a horrible frame rate.

The lyrics to most of the songs are not narrative in any format (ranging from sampling Death From Above 1979 to quoting James Joyce’s Ulysses). In fact, Glass has a tendency to scream the vocals so that they aren’t quite discernible in the wall of sound that is assaulting one’s ears. Yet, the song does create a curious spectacle. As I said, this show is high energy and moshing most certainly occurs throughout a major portion of the audience. Instead of the extreme examples that popular culture expects from crusty punk shows, this is a milder form: people are pressed against each other, jumping, dancing, slightly jostling each other and all the while watching Alice toe the edge of the stage, hurl herself into the audience’s expecting arms, and snarl while crouching at the very lip of her performance space.

Videogames are infiltrating every part of our artistic culture and it’s curious to note that passage. My generation is one that grew up in a videogame culture and now that I find myself in my mid-twenties, I can easily spot the culture that has formed. We’re not the only ones noticing. Despite gripes about Nintendo abandoning their ‘core’ audience, when I last visited New York City’s Nintendo World, they had apparel and accessories obviously geared toward those entering the professional work force. I bought (and have since lost in one of my sleep deprived jaunts through airports) a very elegant, simple watch whose Nintendo logo was not instantly visible on the watchface from a distance of more than a few feet. Videogames are not only progressing themselves, but the very world around us.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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2 Responses to Glitching the System

  1. Here’s another chip tunes artist that performed at the LA “I AM 8-Bit” show this year.http://www.i-mockery.com/weeklies/weekly.php?type=music&id=51

  2. WorldMaker says:

    Videogame-inspired/-related musical acts make up a pretty large subsection of my music library, and I love seeing those that I can live. One of the best things about PAX, IMO, is the concerts.(Top on my Last.fm profile is Machinae Supremacy a killer metal band that uses the C64 SID chip as central synthesizer and many of there songs evoke classic videogame themes, with a few freely available that directly use old themes.)

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