By: Ezra Shanto
Chiptune is a genre of music rooted in video games. Essentially, chiptune (sometimes called 8bit music, or chip music) is the use of 8 or 16 bit sounds, different digital instruments like trumpets or simple drums and other midis used together to create a song. Think the original Mario theme or Castlevania – they sound like instruments, only kind of compressed. To its very core the genre screams the NES – SNES era of gaming, and has seen a recent revival of sorts with modern games like the wonderful Shovel Knight featuring an “old-school” inspired chiptune soundtrack.
In the past year I’ve realized that chiptune has a thriving scene. Outside of video game soundtracks and the occasional style influence in other music, bands playing chiptune have begun to pop up as well as djs and producers who are mixing it into sets or songs. Acts like Anamanguchi are able to consistently produce deep, emotive music that work amazingly as soundtracks but can also stand entirely on their own. Others, like Mega Ran, an artist who fuses hip hop with chip tune – “chip hop” – is able to mix the genres to create an entirely fresh and unique auditory experience.
The reason I feel chiptune music is important is the fact that it truly calls you back – it puts you in a trance like state and brings you back to that glorious age of early gaming. From the first note, you’re hit with feelings of old and new. The sounds are archaic in a sense but they have new life now; they are renewed and reformed. No longer simple beeps or boops as people might think, but dynamic and epic melodies and tunes. It uses familiar sounds and instruments but in a new presentation. Now with new technology people are making better and even more grand chiptune. Toby Fox, the creator of the indie smash hit Undertale, created a beautiful chiptune soundtrack that perfectly suits the game and creates such depth and power when heard alone or while playing that it actually brought me to tears.
Some say that chiptune’s “archaic sounds and tech” limit it as a genre. I disagree, and so does Mega Ran. When I asked him what he thought of that sentiment and why he loves chiptune, Mega said, “I used to feel the same way until I heard people like Chibi Tech and IAYD, and Danimal Cannon.” He says. “If you’re good at it, you will be able to give it a dynamic sound.”
What he said really resonated with me. Some people overlook chiptune because of their preconceptions that it’s a dated type of music production, but artists like Mega Ran create unique new ways of building on the genre and show nay sayers the hard truth: it can be dynamic and super cool too.
Chiptune now is also more accessible due to newer technology and a thriving online scene. There is a great guide here on where to start and some basic do’s and dont’s. There is also a chiptunes subreddit dedicated to discovering the latest and greatest chiptune artists, as well as multiple other communities of people who develop software and push the boundaries of these 8 bit or 16 bit sounds.
I want to thank u/triplebatman and u/viridianforge from the r/chiptune community for their help in making this article possible and the generous advice they gave me. I would also like to thank Mega Ran for taking the time to talk to me and give me some cool insight. It means a lot and I wanted to share the love a little bit.