“Computer games don't affect kids. I mean, if Pac Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.”
Most everyone has heard of that little satiric meme made famous by British comedian Marcus Brigstocke. But it would be naive to think a technological novelty so earth-shattering as the video game would not wind up affecting other aspects of our culture, both musical and sociological. In fact, by the dawn of the rave era, many people were doing the very things they had grown up watching Pac-Man do. And while the game doesn’t account for the pacifiers and glowsticks, it proved to be even more prophetically poetic in its suppositions that many of these pill-munching party people would eventually wind up chasing ghosts.
In 1982, Buckner & Garcia’s seminal Pac-Man Fever spawned Billboard toppers such as “Do the Donkey Kong” and the self-titled track. Sampling video game sounds and delivering a message of relinquishing all of one’s money at the arcade, it was a herald in breaking down the walls between the video game world and the music industry. In the mid-’80s to early-’90s, a music scene developed around the primitive 8-bit soundcards of now seemingly ancient computers and game consoles. They called it Chiptune, and by utilizing the simple sawtooth, sine, and pulse waves encoded in various consoles’ soundboards, a new realm of electronic music and composition was opened.
Soon, sequestered hardware hackers were creating home-brewed ROMs to interface with the consoles. Two notables were both designed for the original Gameboy. Nanoloop, developed by Oliver Wittchow, is a sound-editing and sequencer application that was made famous on 2002’s Nanoloop 1.0 comp. Then came Johan Kotlinski’s LSDJ (Little Sound Disc Jockey), which was even more of a revolution, as it allowed for real-time, free-hand wave-form drawing and real synth-modeling capabilities like resonant filters and arpeggiators, not to mention having a sample bank of nearly every drum machine ever made. A new world of musics made by Gameboys was spawned, with some highlights being the aforementioned Nanoloop comp and Alec Empire’s We Punk Einheitmade (released under his Nintendo Teenage Robots moniker), which was made entirely on Gameboy. Elsewhere, other artists like DAT Politics, Nullsleep, and 8-bit Weapon all use Gameboys as centerpieces in their acts.
And then there’s DJ Scotch Egg. Standing at an apex of video game music, he uses four gameboys and a mixer, manipulating in real-time using programs such as the Nanoloop and LSDJ. Given that he began his musical forays in circuit-bending, it seems reasonable to surmise that hardware hackery is still part of his trade. Regardless, Scotch Egg (real name Shigeru Ishihara) creates day-glo gabba techno splattered with paintballs of punk fury and modern minimalist composition. Born in Japan but residing in Brighton, England, DJ Scotch Egg has been offering up schizophrenic dance music for the Nintendo generation since 2005 when he released his debut KFC Core, which dealt candidly with his unhealthy obsession with the greasy fast food chain while inaugurating the dawn of a new level of frenetic insanity injected into electronic music.
His newest album Drumized is a natural continuation of that insanity. “Wwwww” will immediately initiate a flood of memories of hundreds of mind-numbing hours playing Tetris and Dr. Mario, staring into that tiny, green-tinted screen much to the dismay of your optic nerves. No matter how bonkers and demented this music may seem to get, title track “Drumized” shows a cohesive structure that befits it all, displaying a mastery of interspersing sound signals arguably on par with modern composition geniuses like Reich or Xenakis. The melding of punk and electronic music is notable especially on “Scotch Grind,” which smacks of Discordance Axis-style blast beats and showcases a need for speed that started with punk but didn’t end there. “Scotch Circus” takes you on another crazy carousel ride with short hyperblasts of drums and noise that gets all gabbery and for some reason puts the image of those weird furry beings from Aphex Twin’s “Donkey Rhubarb” video in my head. Meanwhile “Scotch Phantom” may be the soundtrack to that nightmare you keep having where you’re in the underworld and King Koopa is ripping your face off.
Some might find Drumized out of place on Load, seeing as there aren’t a whole lot of (any?) purely electronic acts on the label. But there’s enough of a punk attitude to fit in, and Egg may have more in common with other Load acts like Neon Hunk and Lightning Bolt than you may realize. Like those acts, the schizophrenic, high-octane freewheeling-ness of it all will surely conjure images of elves running around shooting rainbows that bleed crystals into a negative spiraling vortex made of teddy bears.