The small web label Forest, apparently some kind of Norwegian/Russian collaborative effort, has existed a little less than a year, and released four albums of chiptune. This latest one came out pretty much exactly a month ago, is available for free download, and aims to showcase Russian chiptune acts – “good old names and talented young-bloods” – over 11 songs. As you may or may not know, chiptune is a music genre originally created using the music hard- and sometimes software of classic old videogames and computers. The original Nintendo 8-bit, the portable Game Boy system, old Amiga computers and so forth. As the internet has grown its tentacles to ruin most things and develop others, the definition has broadened. Many artists now use computers that emulate the chips, mix in digital instrumentation that wouldn’t even be possible on the original chips, or even just use the chippy tunes as a complementary sound in electronic music made in other ways entirely.
My ears aren’t exactly fine tuned to make these distinctions, but I am fairly certain that most of the tracks on Chiptunes From Russia were not created using a couple of old Game Boys. Since I only dabble in chiptune-listening on and off, I don’t really mind either way. I can certainly appreciate the technical skill involved in “true chiptunes”, not to mention that the purely technical restraints placed on artists using thirty year old Amigas to make music someone wants to listen to today make it an impressive feat to pull it off. Furthermore, the special feeling we mid 30s males get when hearing music reminiscent of the 8-bit videogamefests of our youths is impossible to transmit to young people, women and others to whom the future supposedly belong.
All assholery aside, this is really an entertaining album. Apart from nostalgia and impressive gadgetry chiptune has another salient feature: a happy, intense energy, born from the immediate attack of electronic, chip generated notes (think the Super Mario Brothers theme, if you lack other references). The absence, or at least limited use, of reverb and softening effects in general, means that the sound is very in your face. Most artists on Chiptunes from Russia utilize this fact to great effect. Granted, many tracks sound more like entirely different types of club music or techno, with a little chip-chirps thrown in for good measure, but even those tracks work well.
My absolute hands down favorite is Final Sketch’s “Need For Adventures”, but overall it’s an even and convincing compilation. I hope and pray that somewhere in Russia there’s a dimly lit club where dodgy looking skinheads and women in bizarre fetish fashion eye each other disinterestedly, as an all-too-skinny DJ in thick framed hipster glasses and a T-shirt with a goomba churns out this music at extreme volume, all the while watching the crowd for signs of sudden violence and flying, half empty bottles of Estonian beer.
It works just fine with a pair of headphones in front of the computer, too, though.