For a generation that grew up hooked on the Super Nintendo, Chiptune is a genre that taps directly into those lovely bits of nostalgia whilst still having the ability to create great songs. The problem is that it’s never really matured into the scene that it so easily could be. Maybe it’s the fact that there aren’t many ways to get into it without rewiring your vintage consoles. Partyshank had a pretty good go, but outside a couple of thousand Vice readers and MySpace fanatics, the genius of tracks like Hammertiming went unrecognised. Anamanaguchi have made a fair go of it as well with their punk take on proceedings using a hacked up NES from 1985 and are probably the best, most exciting example of what can happen when it’s done right. If their geek credentials weren’t shown enough in the music, they’ve played the annual PAX and are providing the soundtrack to the upcoming Scott Pilgrim game.
Whilst the core 8-bit following lives on, there are few artists who truly have the potential to gain a wider audience. Being signed is always a decent start for getting your music out, but Unicorn Kid could probably do it on his own anyway. Having been snapped up by EMI publishing early last year, he went about putting out an EP and 2 singles through his own Euphonios label regardless. Radio playtime soon followed and, inevitably, so did the deals with a multi-album agreement with Ministry of Sound being confirmed in February this year.
It’s not hard to understand why he’s so coveted – whilst Owl City might just be a dumbed down version of what The Postal Service did several years early, it proved that the quirky electronic scene certainly has an audience. When they’re as euphoric as Oliver Sabin – Unicorn Kid’s real name – can make them, it’s difficult not to fall in love. His sound doesn’t simply bank on the fondness people had for Super Mario World, but focuses on making accessible pop songs using samples. Early work was both brilliantly 8-bit focused and layered to perfection, but the latest track he’s given away, Dreamcatcher – the first of his new deal – is a more populist approach, whilst retaining that element of 90’s bedroom glamour. Pitched as ‘8bit dubstep’, it may not be pure chiptune, but it’s a superb dilution of it.
Unicorn Kid – Dreamcatcher [download from soundcloud]
And here’s some of his earlier work to sample:
Unicorn Kid – 8090000