Chips, Bits and Donkey Kong for Dancing

Game Boy DJ Invades Club Neone

By Michael Chrupcala

A selection of house, techno, and 8-bit DJ’s – largely from the Berlin-based label BleepStreet’s roster – welcomed a 150-strong crowd on a recent evening to the graffiti-covered entrance of Neone on the South-Western side of Holešovice, just shy of the Vltavská tram stop. Located in an office complex, the interior of Neone seemed a cross between the modest lobby of a tech start-up and a Brooklyn warehouse hipster party. Visitors were lured by the promise of “chiptunes”  “8-bit” and free Jägermeister.

So what is this 8-bit/chiptune shtick? Within the massive music world called “EDM,” electronic dance music, there exists a niche of DJ’s creating and sharing dance tracks made exclusively from video game systems. Sound chips from Game Boys, Commodore 64s, and other hardware are used to make tracks ranging from the background music of games like Space Invaders to the synth-based arrangement of Kesha’s “TiK ToK”. Songs using this equipment draw influence from 8-bit, and will often sound like electronica/techno/dubstep with crackly and retro button-pressing sounds, but there are no rules to chiptune music – anything goes.

“Imagine the half-time, bass-heavy feel of dubstep with distorted hip-hop percussion and the sounds of Super Mario Bros. on an acid trip, and you’ve got the basic idea.”

The Internet fosters a global chiptune community. Noah Lemen – otherwise known as Kedromelon, a NYC-based chipmusician – said there is “a large demographic of the community that lives in the middle of nowhere,” but who can still share their work online via sites like chipmusic.org to increasing acclaim.

With a global network of this sort, a club like Neone can draw an audience in Prague with names from Germany (Zet. and Computadora), France (JDDJ3J) and as far as Chile (Trippy-H). The evening had a slow start: a small, mid-20s aged crowd of Czechs, Germans, and the occasional Brit milled about, casually observing Zet. showcase his take on “8-bit darkstep.” Imagine the half-time, bass-heavy feel of dubstep with distorted hip-hop percussion and the sounds of Super Mario Bros. on an acid trip, and you’ve got the basic idea.

It wasn’t until Computadora hit the decks with his 80s-influenced party mix that the crowd found something to dance to. The same “no-rules” mentality that applies to a chiptunes show also applies to the crowd’s reaction. There is no wrong way to enjoy it, but the dance often matches the genre of inspiration’s style: 80s club music means swinging arms and partnering up, while fast house-styled chiptunes invite what some might perceive as Molly-popping arm-flailing freakouts.  With the blips and crunch of Game Boys overlaying a steady throbbing bass, all decorated visually by the morphing red-and-white graphic from six ceiling projectors, Computadora made quite a strong argument for getting a little silly, regardless of your style.

Chiptune artists us mixers and Game Boys to make their unique sound and draw in large crowds of electronic music lovers. Photo by Lucius Kwok.

Chiptune artists use mixers and Game Boys to make their unique sound and draw in large crowds of electronic music lovers.
Photo by Lucius Kwok.

We took a smoke break just outside the front doors, along with most of the club occupants, then rejoined the cacophony to find the DJs had switched. In a coffee-colored V-neck sweater, Trippy-H rocked the “boy you’d bring home to meet your parents” look, but he wasn’t fooling anybody. The sound of his glitch backdrop underneath a steady high-hat and triplet hand-clap coaxed us toward the floor, and then gave way to a sine-wave beat and crunchy walking bass, reminiscent of Donkey Kong’s pounding footsteps. Those imaginary steps sounded all-the-louder in tiny Neone, as the dance floor – limited by an awkward column or two and the wall-to-wall DJ booth – could probably only fit about 100 people. Neone’s interior was quite bland – red speckled paint on white walls with no exceptional or out-there designs, which only added to the banality of its office-like feel. Drink prices, like the space, were nothing exceptional – average.

Like so many study-abroad students before us, we ended up making our way to the 80s-90s night at Lucerna, and we regrettably missed the headliner JDDJ3J. Abbreviated “j’ai devenu DJ en 3 jours,” or “I became a DJ in 3 days,” the headliner uses Game Boys to craft his sound, creating sonic landscapes reminiscent of a Matrix-style, acid-green computer code downpour. I can promise you that JDDJ3J’s set, where his percussion crackles and his melodies bite, along with the 8-bit music scene in general, is every bit as strange and as fun as it sounds, and definitely worth a listen, but maybe in a more exciting space than Neone.

Club Neone

Bubenska 1, 170 00 Prague 7, Czech Republic

http://www.lunchmeat.cz/en/

Michael Chrupcala is in the NYU Steinhardt class of 2015. His hometown is Marlton, New Jersey.

 

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Categories: Culture, Fall 2013 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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