Anamanaguchi, with Infinity Shred and Ovlov
May 16, 7:30 p.m., $10-$12, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Bldg. H, Hamden, (203) 288-6400, thespacect.com, manicproductions.org.
Hey friend, let's start a band. OK, what instrument do you play? The Nintendo. Chiptune or 8-bit music is a genre where all or part of otherwise conventional popular music songs are played via a Nintendo NES, the original Nintendo system that just about everybody has spent some time with. I mean, Mario and Luigi are practically part of the family by now, right? Electronic music is just another of the myriad ways we satisfy (or torture, ahem, dubstep) our ears, and we're all already accustomed to the sounds of the glorious 8-bit tunes we grew up listening to via our video games. I'm sure some of us even listened to the start menus of certain games because there was no other way to hear that song we loved other than to record it onto a shitty cassette tape. But now we can get it in our indie rock, and for that we are stoked.
In New York City not so long ago, four dudes came together to form Anamanaguchi, an indie rock band soaked in chiptune with a lot of energy. They compose their tunes using both an NES and a program that emulates an old Amiga, a video game system put out by Commodore in the early 1990s. During a phone chat last week, drummer Luke Silas explained how the band recreates its music live. The songs that the band's head songwriter Pete Berkman writes via the Nintendo are exported in a Nintendo sound file and put on a special cartridge that the NES can read. "We press play, and it starts to play that track, and we try to keep up," Silas says, laughing.
The foursome, which also includes James DeVito and Ary Warnaar, look like a regular old band otherwise, what with their drum set and guitars. But don't think that these guys just cracked out on video games forever and then decided to make some video game music one day. "We've always been much closer to Andrew WK than we are to like, fuckin', Pacman or whatever," Silas says. The use of electronic samples and instruments is not a single driving factor in what Anamanaguchi's songs sound like. In fact, there's a bit of a philosophical debate to be had over some of the requirements of a chiptune band. "If we were doing this all on synthesizers, with the same sounds, exactly the same songs, same structure, everything, but just using slightly different sounds, at what point would we not be a Nintendo band?" Silas says, when asked if the chiptune factor in the band's sound has influenced their writing style at all. "At what point would we not be chiptune? Where does the Ship of Theseus end?" After some thought Silas said he felt comfortable going on record to say that, because the sounds they use are a conscious decision, their writing is a product of what the band is, and not what they sound like.
Maybe some would be inclined to pass them over due to their sound, but they've found a fan in Bryan Lee O'Malley, the writer and creator of the Scott Pilgrim series. When the band got the call in the summer of 2009 from Ubisoft while out on tour, asking if they had any interest in providing a soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World video game, coinciding with the release of the similarly titled movie based on the books, they'd literally learned of the series' existence the night before. The four of them bought and read the books while on tour and went straight to work on the soundtrack once they got home. Silas has played the game, but can get tripped up thinking back to putting the music together. "I'm playing this game and all I can really think of is how silly it was to write this little part here," he says.
Anamanaguchi has just released its latest record, Endless Fantasy. Since they're flying solo on the label front, Anamanaguchi started a Kickstarter to help them fund the album's release after recording it themselves. Silas feels that bands who will only record and release an album after asking their fans to cough up the money to do so are "exploitative." They appreciate the ability to be able to work so closely with their fans, who they know will be down to help spread the music around.