If you know about chiptune already, the fact that people have been composing and playing music with Game Boys in the past 15-20 years will sound like no news for you. In case you’ve never heard this word before, note that we’re not talking about 8 bit videogames nerds: we’re talking about all-around musicians recording albums and holding reckless live shows.
But whether you’re familiar with the wide sea of chiptune or not, my suggestion is to spend thirteen minutes of your life listening to demo 94, the latest work of arottenbit, a very unique Italian one-man project putting together Game Boy, sludge metal and techno.
Otto (the man behind the music) is no newcomer to the scene. If anything, he’s probably one of the pioneers of Italian chiptune – though “chiptune” is quite a small fence to contain what he does.
Want to get an idea of what demo 94 sounds like? Forget video-game tunes and imagine some sort of post-apocalyptic, psychedelic techno, with a groovy sludge bass and relentless metal drums. But somewhat ironically genre-crossing. A sort of music you can actually see while it comes to your ears. Something to make your jaw drop when you know how it’s made.
After listening to this mind-blowing stuff, I wanted to know more about it and its creator. Then I reached out to Otto on the phone to ask him more about the 8bit scene, his own work and his artistic path.
“8bit has its own labels etc, but personally I feel closer to the avant-garde metal scene – Otto explains me. At the same time, I’m afraid that my music would be too….’dancy’ for that kind of audience, if you can understand what I mean.”
Considering how difficult it is to resist the beat of demo 94, I can understand pretty well. Yet, there are so many influences in this record that its catchy attitude is just one of its many strong points. In fact, Otto’s artistic background is quite diverse and his approach to chiptune roots rather in his desire to explore music borders, than in Mario Bros nerdiness.
“I’ve been playing in bands for ages – as a boy, I used to play bass in a death-black band called Rotten Insanity. Then I played drums in a sludge project. But I needed more freedom to express myself and experiment with music. So I started to compose and make music on my own.
arottenbit was born in 2008, in result of my search for different means of musical expression. I had just discovered Horse the Band. Their mix of hardcore with 8 bit sounds, together with the hype around the nintendocore scene, persuaded me to buy my first Game Boy to make music. Then I joined the 8bitcollective forum and thank to this worldwide, welcoming community I met musicians from the entire globe. It was awesome: I found a very friendly, genuine scene where people invited each other at their festivals, exchanged ideas, shared solutions and suggestions. It’s a great environment, very synergistic.”
But 2008 to 2018 means ten years with no records. Then, demo 94 surfaced on Bandcamp. This was not accidental, as Otto seems to be a very scrupulous, demanding artist.
“Even if I’ve been making music as arottenbit for ten years, this is my first proper release. I owe the popularity of my project mostly to my live shows. And to be honest, I’ve never made an album before because I couldn’t find a satisfying way to convey the energy and sound of live shows on a record. Finally, I went to Deepest Sea Studios in Turin and we connected my Game Boy with eight amps and sixteen mics. The result was mind-blowing, but how to mix it?”
Good question. The answer came when Otto won a contest supported by Converse, called Rubber Tracks. The prize consisted in one day at the astonishing Officine Meccaniche studios in Milan with producer Hector Castillo, who worked with iconic artists such as David Bowie, Bjork, Philip Glass and many more. Not bad at all, isn’t it?
“Though he didn’t even know about the existence of ‘metal-8 bit’, Castillo was thrilled about the project. And though we had at our disposal any sort of device and software, I asked him to only use affordable stuff. My idea was to sketch out a mixing process that I could go ahead with by myself, at home. As result, we worked for eight hours on one single track – and we didn’t even finish it. We experimented a lot. Being myself a sound engineer, the opportunity to work with such a talented man was also kind of a professional workshop for me. So inspiring.”
One of the interesting aspects of making music with a Game Boy, in fact, is that you must be sort of a “sound-MacGyver.” Recording, mixing, and composing with such a device needs a lot of creativity and skills.
“Composing music with a Game Boy is challenging – confirms Otto. You have to deal with the strict limits of your mean, therefore creating new sounds may be quite tricky. But it’s also the interesting part of this genre: the sound design work behind it is exciting. My aim is to make my Game Boy sound like anything but a Game Boy. My dream is to go on stage with a real band: at the moment, I’m playing live with the drummer from death metal band Implore – and the result is killer.”
To discover more about Otto and arottebit, click on the band’s Facebook profile.
Photos on this article by Marco Casino and Roxana CP Vergani.