Written by Jake Sillman
Imagine an evening, nay, a night, rather, straight out of Poe: dark and stormy, the works. You’re behind in your schoolwork, your friends are nowhere to be found, it’s getting late, your mother is telling you to stay in and heed the tornado warning. These are all signs pointing south, for most of us who aren’t contrarian renegades, at least. But there is a tipping point, as there is with all events in the universe; and my equally stormy stomach was working that night to tip me in the right direction. Because it was not settled, just as the matter was not settled, and I continued to gaze out my back glass sliding door at the trees swaying in the 40 mph wind gusts, searching for some external push akin to the one they were currently experiencing. Making up your mind is a troublesome thing, because often when it needs making up, it is in a decision where there is a correct answer, and a wrong, or far less correct, answer. I’m glad to say at the end of this exposition paragraph, that I made the right choice that night.
It was 8:23 PM. The tornado warning was downgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning. The show is at 9. I get in my car, unable to shake memories of the scene from the Blues Brothers, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
The drive went fine, and I made it into an Ybor garage with 5 minutes to spare, but all shows start late. I saw others dressed to the nines in neon and clothing with excess cloth in strange places, and felt that strange sensation of belonging but also exclusion in some alternate realm of niche fandom. I’ve been to some strange music shows in the past: jam rock extravaganzas, metal festivals, classic rock concerts in amphitheaters (a plethora of those), but lately I haven’t really cared to seek anything out. I went to a vaporwave show a year ago, but that’s just it. Obscure internet music is all that I’m aware of, and so my awareness of the current, living-and-breathing music scene is limited to say the least. I mean, I know what the hit of the summer is usually. And I go to enough house parties to learn how the dominant sound on party playlists is evolving (On that matter, I think Spotify is a godsend). So when I went on to my favorite artist’s tumblr account and saw this posterà
Well, I freaked out in the best way possible. Chiptune (and related genres)? In Tampa? And I had just been to this bar for the first time the weekend before, and was aware of just how perfect a venue it was for an ebullient gathering of weebs and dweebs to jump around frenetically. The stars had aligned, even if the high-risk weather patterns had done
so along with them. I was planning on going all week, got some friends in on it, but then the week began to experience some Lemony-Snicket level snafus.
Ultimately, my friends bowed out and all day the weather channel app on my phone reminded me to take the field of meteorology seriously. But at that aforementioned tipping point, I decided to go for it. Honestly, there wasn’t a real question of it. My mind was made up before I even began to stress about it. The build-up to the show was too great, and I had just missed concerts too much. So I paid the $6 at the door, and went to the work of making friends. I met a fine fellow discussing the more common-sense opposed aspects of set theory and probability, who also turned out to be a producer himself, and a lovely lady who had helped organize the show in Orlando the day before. I even met my favorite artist from tumblr!! This was the true origin of my roiling gut, not the storm, not going to a show by myself, but just this one encounter; I own a bunch of her merchandise, and absolutely love her art style, so her celebrity status was all too real and intimidating for me. She even designed the event poster itself! So I overcame the magnetic pull towards awkwardness and fear and just spoke with her. And she was even more chill than I could have imagined!! So, all of my anxiety became defused before the first song was even played. Now, enough of my gonzo journalism nonsense, on to the show!
The show happened in the covered area in front of the establishment, and at most hosted 60 people between the indoors and outdoors, and only about 25 people were dancing at any given point, but this led to a much more comfortable experience than I’m used to in packed indoor venues where I’m either smashed against sweaty t-shirts or some equally uncomfortable physical barrier to my free motion. In short, good venue, good crowd size. Plenty of room to jump, groove, even make a short-lived crowdsurfing run (wasn’t me though). First up was Neon Death Cat, and her set was somewhat chill, the songs hit their stride pretty much immediately and stayed in a narrow ‘groove-zone’ so to speak. Her own swaying while she was DJ’ing pretty much embodied much of the set, and it was great for warming up the crowd, and introducing somewhat peaceful vibes of more traditional chiptune, opposed to the more house-driven focus of the rest of the night.
Now, chiptune is essentially 8-bit video game music but with a more traditional rock-music backbone. Usually lacking in lyrics, but overflowing with melodies and harmonies and every other brand of musical idea. I’ve always felt that it is a very lush sound despite how it removes the warm, natural
hum of a vibrating string or drum head from the music entirely. It instead forges its own warmth thanks to the complete control the producer has over the interplay between the synth lines and the drum lines in a track. Despite how ‘jagged’ chiptune synths can sound, as they hearken back to a more primitive era of music programming, (many artists use modded Gameboys and even DS’s to make and play their music with a program/hardware known as little sound DJ) I’ve always found the sound to be extremely inviting, and whether that’s due to some indescribable visceral preference or just good ole nostalgia, I cannot say. But again I think it might have something to do with the complete human control over how sound is produced that allows for certain flourishes to come through that ordinarily don’t, along with the sugar-sweet frequencies and keys normally used. Okay, back on track.
Another notable artist was Boy without Batteries, who employs a particularly crisp version of chiptune, replete with sound effects which hone in on that period from 1988-1990, back when no one knew what a bad Sonic game was. He also avoids settling into a groove, and hits you with a new melodic line from a different ‘tone’ of synth just as you’re digesting the last one. Yeah, just really strong melodies punctuated by focused beats.
Cosmicosmo was probably the largest revelation at the show for me personally, as they play a very clean, hard-hitting style of music compared to the fuzzy, groove oriented artists above; something close to the emerging genre of ‘future bass’. Future bass was pithily described as “happy trap” by Frank Javcee, and I’ll stick with that description, because it tickles me so. Take trap hi-hats, fat, sweet, rounded, yet glistening synths, and super smash bros melee sound effects, and you have a new genre, folks. Honestly, few wholes are so impressively more massive than the sum of their parts than future bass, and I was jumping, head banging, moshing, and attempting to dance in other uncreative ways, this entire set. Definitely a great intro into the next artist, and I immediately found Cosmicosmo on Soundcloud after the show.
Now, Slime Girls, pictured below on guitar, has been a mainstay of chiptune for a while now. Not at Anamanaguchi’s level, but definitely a founding father in some respect, and was definitely the most anticipated act for me. And there wasn’t a shred of disappointment from his set!! Now, Slime Girls
mixed things up a bit by not just playing their original tunes, but also a number of remixes from Carly Rae Jepsen to K-pop (I believe Boy Without Batteries also remixed Hyuna’s Bubble Pop earlier), and even opening up with a undistorted guitar/vocal performance! A very unique set showing an artist looking to occupy more artistic niches and to just entertain the crowd however they know how, something I really respect. The energy level didn’t subside at all between Cosmicosmo’s set and Slime Girls’s, and the crowd’s energy didn’t really have a release valve to control it. Nothing too crazy happened, just smiles, dancing, and the never-too-far-away refrain of “Undertale 2.0!”
Ultimately, I clocked out a little after 2 AM and headed home, uncomfortably atwitter from just how much movement I had just accomplished in 5 hours, but entirely enthralled by the unique and effervescent experience and the fire it had lit in me to become more active in some cultural creative scene! And that’s when I remembered why I leave the house. Hey, look, it’s the name of the movie.