KETR

Anamanaguchi: The Band That Plays Nintendo

Sep 12, 2011
Originally published on September 13, 2011 10:48 am

Anamanaguchi is a punk band that's part of an underground music scene known as "chiptune," an emerging form of electronic music that creates a layered sound from limited technology: video-game systems from the '80s. The group's music got its name because it combines the sound chips of old Nintendos and Game Boys with the guitars and drums of rock; it uses software designed for writing songs, then installs those songs on chips into old game machines. On stage, its members play traditional instruments like guitars and drums along with the video-game console, chirping a digital melody.

"Eight-bit music and working with it is pretty much like the punk-rock world of electronic music," says Peter Berkman, who composes and programs most of the songs and also plays guitar in the band. When he says "8-bit," he's talking about the low-tech quality of the music and the video games from which it came. "It's taking something that's superorchestrated, like most of the electronic music you hear today, and breaking it down to its most basic principles."

Berkman says that even though it's a challenge to create music that can fill a club using the small "sound palette" of an old Nintendo game system, those sounds have the power to evoke a Technicolor world.

"Whenever you use those 8-bit sounds," Berkman says, "you associate them with these fantasy places, and that aesthetic of these worlds that exist nowhere else but your imagination is tapped in supereasily by using these sounds that were considered for a long time to be off-limits to artists."

Anamanaguchi's music grew out of video games, and its members were asked to create the soundtrack for one — their song "Leave the Past Behind" was featured in last summer's video game Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Drummer Luke Silas says he doesn't want Anamanaguchi to be simplistically stereotyped as a "video-game band."

"It is an instrument the same way that someone would use a guitar for a million, billion purposes," he says. "It has nothing to do with genre. It's a medium."

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

From reading suggestions, now we bring you something for your ear. We're going to take a listen now to an emerging form of electronic music. Its layered sound comes from some pretty limited technology - video game systems from the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SKATEBOARD WILL GO ON")

GREENE: That's music from Anamanaguchi. They're a punk band from Brooklyn, and they're part of an underground music scene known as chiptune. Chiptune musicians have brought old Nintendos and Game Boy systems back to life by bringing them on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SKATEBOARD WILL GO ON")

GREENE: Peter Berkman composes and programs most of the songs. He also plays the guitar.

PETER BERKMAN: Eight-bit music, and working with it, is pretty much like the punk-rock world of electronic music.

GREENE: When he says 8-bit there, he's talking about the low-tech quality of the music and the video games it comes from.

BERKMAN: It's taking something that's super-orchestrated, like most of the electronic music you hear today, and breaking it down to its most basic principles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: We spoke with Berkman and the rest of his band backstage at the Ottobar, a venue in Baltimore that's a must stop for indie musicians. Berkman says it is a challenge to create music that can fill a club using the small-sound palette from an old Nintendo game system. But he says those sounds have the power to evoke a Technicolor world.

BERKMAN: Whenever you use those 8-bit sounds, you associate them with these fantasy places. And that aesthetic of these worlds that exist nowhere else but your imagination is tapped in super easily, by using these sounds that were considered for a long time to be off-limits to artists.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Because Anamanaguchi's music grew out of video games, the group was asked to create the soundtrack for one. It's called "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." There's a graphic novel and a movie by the same name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: But drummer Luke Silas says he's determined that Anamanaguchi not be stereotyped as a video-game band.

LUKE SILAS: It is an instrument, you know, the same way that someone would use a guitar for a million, billion purposes. You know, it has nothing to do with genre. It's a medium.

GREENE: To show how versatile this medium can be, the band played a new song at their recent show in Baltimore. It's called "You and Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AND ME")

GREENE: For more live recording from Anamanaguchi, go to nprmusic.org. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.