It’s been a while since we did any music-related posts on here, so let’s rectify that. Now, my taste in music as a whole runs rather towards the bleak: gothic metal, post rock, dark wave, that sort of thing. My Dad once described an album I was listening to as “the sort of thing that would get rejected from Leonard Cohen’s funeral playlist for blackening the mood.” So, yeah, I’m a bit of a musical miserablist overall, but when I’m ready to go to my aural happy place there’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to chiptunes.
Which isn’t to say all chiptune sounds are upbeat. Chiptune isn’t really a genre so much as a way of producing music, using the technology and sound chips from old 80s consoles and computers. There are some wonderfully downbeat chiptune soundscapes out there too, some of which we may showcase another Tuesday. But let’s start with a project that does feel truly joyful in its nostalgia for the world of 8-bit gaming… Bring on Demoscene Time Machine!
Currently based in Stockholm, Demoscene Time Machine is the one-man chiptunes project of one David Whiting, who I first discovered when I saw his superb dark synth-pop band Heretics playing live supporting VNV Nation (see above comments on my penchant for miserable music). According to his bio:
I could’ve been a classical musician. I started learning the piano at the age of 7, but it all went wrong when I got my hands on a computer. The draw of QBasic’s “PLAY” statement was just too strong and thus began a torrential output of electronic music of varying quality pretty much constantly for the last 10 years.
All went wrong? It’s all sounding pretty damn right to me! Demoscene Time Machine have been putting out tracks since 2008, but my favourite release has to be 2014’s Artillery EP:
Remember the tank games on early consoles – Like Granada for the Mega Drive? Well Artillery is the soundtrack to the best 8-bit tank game you’ve never played. You’ve never played it because this is the imagined soundtrack for a fictional game, but the great thing about it is that the music is so wonderfully evocative that I can really picture the game in my head to the extent that it almost feels like I have played it!
Title track ”Artillery” establishes the danceable rhythm that always plays such a pivotal role in helping you find your groove in these kinds of early scrolling shooters. “Buccaneer” is the coastal level, driving your tank across sand dunes and through patches of water battling pirates (for whatever reason) along the way. Meanwhile the more sombre “Memory” puts me in mind of the Game Over screen. Do you want to try again? Hell yeah!
There’s a wonderfully bouncy, nostalgic energy to this release, and of course nostalgia for a thing that never existed is the purest and most enduring kind. Did you ever have the experience of revisiting a game you remember fondly from your childhood only to discover that it just isn’t as utterly brilliant as you remember after all? I’ve had that so many times (which isn’t to say the games aren’t still fun to return to) but Artillery the game, as evoked here, is immune to that. With this soundtrack playing I’m free to recall all the best bits and my most rose-tinted gaming memories creating an imaginary montage of the most awesome 8-bit tank game ever, and it’s a blast every time. Pun intended.
You can purchase Artillery and Demoscene Time Machine’s other releases via Bandcamp.