LONDON (Reuters) - In a central London bar, Niamh Houston, aka Chipzel, is using a handheld Game Boy device to generate pulsating electronic sounds as the crowd around her dances, arms pumping in the air.
Chiptune, also called chip or 8-bit music, is created by using the sound chips of old video game consoles, such as the Nintendo Game Boy, which was popular in the 1990s.
“Chip music is music composed on old computer hardware or retro consoles, (such as) the Atari systems, the Commodores or Game Boys,” Houston said. “You can use what’s known as a tracker program to basically hack into the sound chip within these consoles and use it as if it was a synthesizer.”
Houston was playing at the launch of a video game, built around her 2013 chiptune album “Spectra”, but this was no one-off dance night. There are dedicated chiptune club nights as well as festivals.
Originating in the 1980s, chiptune has gone through waves of popularity. In the mid-2000s, musicians like Beck, The Killers and No Doubt used samples in their tracks. Today, an increasing number of people are using the consoles as an instrument.
“The main appeal of chiptune music is that it’s quite nostalgic — using video game software and hardware from the 1980s and early 1990s to make sounds that sound like modern sounds,” said Ashley Charles, a chiptune musician and DJ also known as Sabrepulse.
“It’s a way of creating music, it’s not a genre ... You can make different types of chiptune music using different instruments.”
While chiptune has been seen as underground, more and more mainstream musicians have used it recently, including singer Kesha.
“I’ve been doing it for about 10 years and I’ve seen it go from such a small niche sort of thing to big bands using these sounds,” Charles said.
The Game Boy was released by Japanese video games maker Nintendo in 1989 and helped usher in the era of home game players. Under Chief Executive Satoru Iwata, who died of cancer on Saturday, Nintendo went on to broaden the appeal of video games with its top-selling Wii.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan