Yes, it’s that time of the week again when things get bleepy and bloopy! But here’s a band that eschew the retro stylings of most chiptune artists. Rather than looking back to the 80s and early gaming technology that gave birth to their 8-bit instruments, Starscream/Infinity Shred have their sights set firmly on the future and on the infinite possibilities of space.
But first up, some disambiguation since this is a band who’ve had some identity issues. Starscream were founded in 2007, initially a two-piece chiptune outfit, comprising Damon Hardjowirogo and George Stroud, they were later joined by guitarist Nathan Ritholz. The band played and recorded under their Seeker-sational moniker until 2012 when they changed their name to Infinity Shred. The reason for the renaming wasn’t, as you might expect, a lawsuit from Hasbro, but actually legal pressures from another band, the Philadelphian rockers Starskream. The name change also signaled an evolution in the band’s sound, maintaining their signature downbeat science-fiction themes but beginning to move away from purely 8-bit/chip music to explore wider electronic soundscapes. They now describe themselves as Electronic / Rock / Post-Rock rather than chiptune per se. Although I strongly encourage you to check out their whole back catalogue, I’m mostly going to talk about the band as Starscream not just because we find it hard to pass up a good Transformers reference here on AddAltMode (although we do), but primarily due to the fact that I’ll be focusing my attention on my favourite of their albums, which dates from the Starscream era, 2011’s Future, Towards the Edge of Forever.
Future, Towards the Edge of Forever is a superbly atmospheric album of instrumental chiptunes. Starscream are notable for creating ponderous, downbeat melodies within a genre that is more often characterised by its sense of retro glee. This band’s unique style was described perfectly by Nathan Pensky in his review of Future, Towards… for Pop Matters, so rather than struggling to say much the same thing I’m just going to quote from that review:
If most chiptune bands are like a group of robots who become self-aware and decide to have a dance party, Starscream’s music is like the morning after, when, hung-over, the robots start to actually question what their self-awareness means.
Another factor that make Starscream so delightfully anomalous among chiptune artists is their song length. Most of the songs we’ve highlighted on previous Chiptune Tuesdays clock in at under three minutes, but several tracks on Future, Towards… exceed the seven minute mark, with “Outer and Onward” pushing a progtastic nine! But none of these tracks outstay their welcome. The band employ the technique of more guitar-driven post-rock in frequently opting for a slow-build up before finally unleashing the hooks and the noise. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the track “Galeforce”(probably my personal favourite) which launches with one of the most stripped down and conventionally chiptune sounding melodies only to gradually ratchet up the intensity, erupting into a finale that manages to be simultaneously sweeping and funky.
As its title implies, Future, Towards the Edge of Forever is an album of grand themes, and what theme could be grander than that of space? The marriage of 8-bit audio technology and sweeping post-rock stylings manages to evoke not only the scale and cold beauty of space but also the technology and mechanical contrivances upon which humans must rely if we ever want to travel there. This is the chiptune aesthetic at its most futuristic. It’s not an album to dance to but I find it a brilliant soundtrack for thinking and for writing. Indeed many of my posts on this blog have been powered by Starscream.
You can preview and buy Future, Towards the Edge of Forever along with other releases from both incarnations of the band from the Infinity Shred Bandcamp page.
We being Transformers obsessives I can’t quite pass up the opportunity to comment on the name, or ex-name. The band have commented that they “don’t really care about Transformers.” It’s true that the moniker Infinity Shred far better captures the band’s interests and aesthetic, so – all legal issues aside – the name change was probably the right move. But on this blog we care enough about Transformers to compensate for any lack of interest from Damon and co. So I feel duty bound to point out that they do have a song that is almost certainly not named after Rodimus’ ex-lefthand man, “Drift” and that their logo will forever put me in mind of Titanium Series Starscream‘s alt-mode.
Chiptune Tuesday: now with added playlist!
We’ve now put together a Spotify playlist to accompany this regular blog feature. Not all the bands we’ve covered here appear on Spotify but many do, so we’ve curated a few of our favourite songs along with other pure chiptune and chip-inspired tracks to set the 8-bit mood. Click here to check out the playlist.
If you’ve got any chiptune recommendations do let us know in the comments: we’d love to hear them and add them to the list.