ALBUM REVIEW: FatNick – This Is Not A Chiptune

8/10

FatNick - This is not a Chiptune

You may have come across “Chiptune” (“a type of music comprised of 8-bit music and sounds and sometimes modern-day percussion, resembling old video games” with “an extremely upbeat melody”). Japanese Electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra is considered to have been the first act to have created a chiptune. More recent chiptune artists include YMCK, Bit Shifter, Chipzel, Alex Mauer and Anamanaguchi. Nonetheless, it is FatNick who stands out amongst his chiptune contemporaries because he uses the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive with additional diverse and innovative samples which brings him closer to (and on and on a par with) EDM artists including Caribou, The Chemical Brothers, Lemon Jelly and The Avalanches rather than his chiptune peers.

This is not a Chiptune is as much about a love of retro technology as well as video games. This project was conceived out of FatNick’s love of the Mega Drive sound system which allows sounds to come from both the game cartridges as well as the inbuilt Mega Drive YM2612 sound chip. The beauty of the YM2612 sound chip according to Fat Nick is that it was also built into the 8-bit Sega Master System and the majority of Master System games can also be played through the Mega Drive. As well as releasing This is not a Chiptune via Spotify; FatNick is being unique by releasing this release as a cartridge that is played by inserting it into the Mega Drive.

So how does FatNick introduce his love for old school video games and music? He doesn’t; opening track “Loot Boxes and Skins” contains no video game samples. However, FatNick deftly samples the Lord Bishop of St Alban’s speech asking the Government to ban loot boxes in online games amidst a soundtrack of nineties dance and house music reminiscent to “Can’t Hold Us” by Ryan Lewis and Rozalla’s “Everybody Free”. Whilst 8-bit games remain unquoted; FatNick shows he can draw in a plethora of music lovers irrespective of their perchance for retro video games.

Following “Loot Boxes and Skins”, listeners are introduced to “Cascade”. Video game enthusiasts finally get to hear video game sounds as FatNick samples the Master system soundcheck (humbly called “Cascade”).  The halcyon emotions induced are topped with an unexpected mix of icing and cherries of drum ‘n’ bass with a beautiful piano reminiscent to the intro on Muse’s “Sunburn”. “Dub 2612” also celebrates the sound chip technology with inspiration from dub music and Kraftwerk alongside skilled fake delaying effects by repeating notes more quickly and quietly whilst increasing the time delay each time.

“The Lift of Teeth” is the first song which uses just one Mega Drive game as the focus: ToeJam and Earl (a game about alien rappers who have crash-landed on Earth). The gangsta-funk backdrop with an overall eighties action movie theme is the perfect homage for this game which was re-released in 2019 as well as enticing listeners further into his project.

1990 “Bonanza Bros.” video game is sampled across “OK Have a Chiptune Then” which also produces sounds to the effect of Mario releasing fireballs to defeat his enemies. “Let’s go to the Arcade” is 100% sample-based where FatNick uses a Teenage Engineering PO-20 Pocket Operator Arcade Synthesizer to re-create halcyon memories of playing Pac-Man and Donkey Kong amidst a “Gangster Trippin” style beat.

Playout track “I’ll Just Go” sees FatNick not only paying homage to video game “Can Can Bunny”, but also sees him display all the deft skills one would expect from a proven DJ by creating an intentional oxymoron’s with Joy Division evolving tension which then blossoms into sweet soft and sweet piano keys. The sweet keys suddenly become ruffled with intense static as if it was suddenly “Game Over” following defeat by a nemesis at an end of level platform video game.

This is not a Chiptune also sees FatNick sample the music from the Flash Gordon arcade pinball game machine, not out of nostalgia for his arcade visiting youth, or even out of homage for the film; but because of his own young daughters’ enjoyment out of playing this game and its accompanying music. FatNick also breaks free from child-friendly upbeat melodies by sampling the November 18, 1978, Jonestown Death Tape audio recording which documented the Reverend Jim Jones initiated suicide of the 900+ members of the Peoples Temple movement.

What makes This is not a Chiptune special is that it whilst it does pay tribute to chiptune music and retro video games; it bends the rules allowing this LP to be accessed and appreciated by those who may not necessarily be retro gamer enthusiasts. By looking beyond video games for samples FatNick produces EDM beats for listeners of dub, new wave, jazz-funk and hip-hop. The range of emotions induced by bringing the most innocent and jejune sounds and mixing them with the most barbaric and gruesome works adroitly. By being tight, never banal, absent of filler with surprises and diversity; This is not a Chiptune will always stand tall.

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