What, Exactly, is 8-Bit Music?
Cristina Fuentes is a master of Game Boy beats.
She plays "8-bit" music, also known as "chip" music or "chiptunes," whose name references computer chips. What unites musicians of this genre is not so much a specific sound, but rather the technology they use to make it; vintage video games and computer equipment. Nintendo is the go-to brand -- Game Boys and old NES consoles-- and computer systems like the Commodore 64 are also frequently used and often combined with other instruments. Some artists have adopted the newer Nintendo DS as a tool. The sound can encompass anything from rock to synthpop to dubstep.
Fuentes has helped bring together L.A.'s small chip music community through a collective called Obsolete, which hosts a monthly showcase at Pixel Frequency. Last Saturday was the collective's third event.
"It's basically a group of 20 of us who have been doing individual shows all based on 8-bit," says Fuentes, an L.A.-based artist who is one half of the raucous duo Sonic Death Rabbit -- with Derrick Estrada, a.k.a. Baseck -- and performs solo as Wet Mango. "As of this year, I kind of hit up everybody who was doing similar things and decided to see if everyone wanted to work together to make one big party every month."
Though some chip musicians are also gamers, not all are.
Liz Ohanesian Cristina Fuentes (shown here with Sonic Death Rabbit bandmate Derrick Estrada) started Obsolete as a collective for L.A. chip music artists.
"I got into it because it was convenient for me creatively," says Fuentes, who began working with Game Boys in 2004. She was looking for a way to make beats without buying a bunch of equipment, she explains.
At Obsolete on Saturday night, touring artists Yatagarasu and Bubblegum Octopus struck a punk-meets-electronic nerve that would seemingly be at home at The Smell or Sean Carnage's Pehrspace parties. Duo 8 Bit Weapon performed a fantastic cover of "Enjoy the Silence." ComputeHer (who is also a member of 8 Bit Weapon) took a more straightforward dance music approach with steady beats that didn't drop as one track bled into the next. Every month, the performances are accompanied by a visual artist who works with retro media; this time, Alex Pelly provided VHS-based art.
What makes Obsolete stand out is the open mic portion of the night; each performer gets one jack to plug in either a Game Boy, or a Nintendo DS, and plays a very short set. Unfortunately, thanks to bad traffic, we only got to catch one of the open mic performers -- James Pop Star.
"The open mic has had a lot more response than I expected," says Fuentes. "We've had people get upset because it filled up."
Obsolete is a fairly small party, averaging about 60 attendees, but it's quickly gaining a reputation outside of Los Angeles. "We get a lot of people from San Diego," says Fuentes. "I didn't expect that."
Obsolete runs the first Saturday of each month. Keep up on future events via Facebook.