The chips are up
Sonic trends come and go, and certain sounds experience an ebb and flow of popularity. The sounds of classic Roland drum machines rule the roost in contemporary R&B and hip-hop; twists on '80s synthpop drift in and out of the charts as reliably as the tide; and '70s funk guitar and synth stabs have re-emerged in the hitmakers’ toolkits.
One sound that has seen its stock continually rise in the past decade is chiptune - that is, the unmistakable sound of '80s computer and console games. Originally, “chip music” meant music produced by 8-bit systems’ sound chips, while “chiptune” referred to Amiga trackers aping that sound with short samples. However, the terms are now interchangeable.
We've picked out 5 unforgettable chiptune gems for you to get your ears around. Four of them date from the '80s, but one is a new classic that pays homage to the 8-bit sound.
For a guide to creating your own 8-bit-style track in your DAW, check out Computer Music 218 (July 2015) which is on sale now.
Megaman 2 - Dr Wily Stage 1
Takashi Tateishi’s Megaman 2 score is still such a firm fan favourite, and it’s not hard to hear why.
It's got a fast pace and a catchy main riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Iron Maiden record, making it an obvious hit and an undeniable classic.
Auf Wiedersehen Monty - title music
Rob Hubbard and Ben Daglish soundtracked this platformer about Monty the mole collecting enough money to buy a Greek island to retire to.
Hardly setting the scene for the game, it’s expansive and progressive, rolling on for about six minutes.
Black Lamp - gameplay music
It was fairly common for '80s games to incorporate parts of well known tunes, or simply to be full-on cover versions.
Here we have an amazing take on the classic Greensleeves, adding a great drumbeat, fast arpeggios, synth solos and more.
Silver Surfer - Level 1 Theme
Tim Follin’s incredible sound routines allowed the Spectrum 48k’s “beeper” to pump out complex polyphonic music such as that of Agent X.
Still, it remained a bit of a racket; for something more palatable, try this fun slice of 8-bit prog rock by Tim and his brother Geoff.
Shovel Knight - Strike The Earth!
Jake ‘Virt’ Kaufman’s music for this 2014 indie hit wasn’t only a catchy soundtrack but also true to its roots.
Available as a machine-language file to play directly on the NES/Famicom hardware, Strike The Earth! is fast, eclectic and hook-laden. A modern classic.