Malcolm McLaren made us

People say that Malcolm McLaren failed in his attempt to hi-jack the chipscene. I wonder if he did. Maybe McLaren was the antagonist that the chipscene needed to create a community. If he was wrong, then what was right and according to whom? One answer came from, the most popular meeting place for the chipscene at the time. There was not much purist chipmusic there – it was more about a community of lo-fi sound players. They disagreed with McLaren’s idea that chipmusic is about hacking analogue videogames by twisting knobs (to LOL-summarize his ideas). They were against him “packaging, pillaging and taking credit for” chipmusic. But what is this ‘chipmusic’ then?

The definition of chipmusic was becoming a matter of hardware. In the letter, the history of chipmusic starts in the late 1970s with the introduction of soundchips. Such historiographies were getting popular in the early 2000s, but were not used before. It was only the second testament of chipmusic. In the 1990s ‘chipmusic’ refered to sample-based Amiga/PC-music with small filesizes, and in the 1980s the term was generally not used. The transformation of chipmusic in the early 2000s can be seen as a so-called defensive discourse of orthodoxy against McLaren and other ‘threats to the tribe’. It is an (un)conscious strategy to distance yourself from something, and so you develop anti-rhetorics. We are Not like You. You create a connection with the thing you want to step away from.

What if the way we define chipmusic today is an anti-reaction to daddy McLaren? We are still trying to explain that we are not hacking videogames, and that chipmusic did not start with Gameboys. But from a cultural perspective, maybe that’s what chipmusic is (mostly) about anyway. It’s the connection with Gameboys and videogames that made it so pop-popular, right? But that’s unholy according to the second testament of chipmusic, and the Book of PSG. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that had it not been for McLarenoids chipmusic might have been less about hardware and authenticity and more about becoming a musical war machine?

14 Responses to “Malcolm McLaren made us”

  1. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH • TCTD Links for 2010-04-12 Says:

    […] makes the case for McLaren: […]

  2. FTC Says:

    Who’s that!? What handle did he use?

  3. chipflip Says:


  4. µB Says:

    Isn’t this the concept of the Foil in literature? Pretty nice perspective, a playful person could extend this to Crystal Castles and Timbo as the antagonists, thus creating mainstream interest in chip music and welding the ‘scene’ together. It’s fine with me- no conflict makes for a dull story, after all, and there would be no ‘character’ development either.

  5. chipflip Says:

    Ah, didnt know about the Foil. Seems interesting to apply to this, but I am not sure. Maybe he became a foil. I mean – what he said wasn’t all that different from how some chip-peeps were talking about chipmusic at the time, right? What was so provocative, maybe, was that he managed to embed chipmusic in a much cooler way than all chippers could. I mean – most of the stuff that gwEm’s letter criticizes is about technological misunderstandings. But he doesn’t really give any alternative cultural explanations. Before McLaren, I don’t think chipmusic had become a consequence of PSG-soundchips yet…

  6. nils Says:

    that’s a nice thought.
    i’ve seen mclaren’s attempts – quite psychologist way – as an old man’s hobby or whatever to get over a midlife crisis.
    what tried with chipmusic is that he saw a movement that needed marketing and tried to do what he did earlier:
    historically, he is just that lucky bastard that sold his knowledge at the right time: he knew better than his surroundings about biz or marketing or whatever and made huge money out of a cultural phenomenum by casting a boy group.
    Massive Fail when it comes to chipmusic, nobody so far did it. And I doubt that something like “taking over” will happen other than any of this First World Entertainment World pricks (Lopez,Gaga,Dion,Furtado and all their brillant producers) making maybe one song with chippy backing, well didn’t that happen, yet?!?

    But nice comment, anyways – I’ve been never been part of the scene though, therefore I can’t really judgje ^^

  7. µB Says:

    Well, I made that comparison mainly because of the distorted reflection a foil casts. With the need to correct something came a reason for introspective, so to define an outline. I haven’t been part of the scene when the first sample trackers got popular (nor am I now), although I was vaguely aware of it. My impression back then was that the main motivation was advancement in technology (and quality) of the productions, which it still is if you consider the goal of min-maxing a demo; that is, getting the best quality achievable on a platform. Maybe McLaren just gave the trigger impulse for the need to draw a line between the gap of technology that has grown between oldschool systems and modern hardware, and together with that the etymological drift of the term chiptune/chipmusic. It wouldn’t be the first time for a misnomer taking on it’s own life.

    Plus, he was using terms a layman could relate to. Even if they were wrong, it’s the stuff that stickies itself in one’s brain, courtesy of ye olde pattern recognition.

  8. yonxUP Says:

    isn’t the chip transformation in the 2000s kinda like when JC (also in early 2000) exploited the punkrock aesthetics with their “royal punk” brand transforming an underground sloppy non-commercial DIY-culture into a trendy commercial pop-outfit?

  9. chipflip Says:

    yeah, but it’s worth noting that the symbols, clothes, words, styles, etc that “is” punk was also a result of what malcolm mclaren did in the 1970s. sex pistols was, afaik, more like a boy band.

    the whole discussion of what is commercial and non-commercial seems a bit old-fashioned to me, and not as relevant as before due to the blurred borders between pop-commerce-art-underground…

  10. yonxUP Says:

    i think that in the end it comes down to boys that wear tight pants or not..

  11. FTC Says:

    @yonx: A gay comment, as always…

  12. yonxUP Says:

    @FTC: better one toe in the ass than 10 tajtish gameboykids without bass

  13. yonxUP Says:

    about the commercial bit, my point is that when you’re a part of an obscure “non-commercial” subculture (regardless if the origin of the culture was commercial, which is mostly the case i believe) people tend to climb on to the obscureness.. the point with being a badass punkrocker creating your own leather jacket with nasty names written on it, upsetting old ladies with bizarre looks kinda loses it’s point when you suddenly can buy the whole outfit for 19E at JC.. people tend to go mad when a 3rd party business model makes your unique hard-for-the-average-person-to-comprehend-lifestyle suddenly available for the masses..

    same thing with chipmusic, i believe a large part of the community want chipmusic to be obscure and difficult for the average person to understand.. people want to put out nes-pictures on flashy galleries claiming it’s transgressional superadvanced technoart rather than explaining it’s just about using a fixed palette in photoshop ;)

    • chipflip Says:

      yeah, i see your point, but i think that ‘chip-artists’ share more with ‘techno-artists’ than punk rockers in that sense. i just read this thing, which relates to that:

      art is not usually supposed to be related to craft, i guess. which is kind of a shame. but on the other hand, the demoscene-way is perhaps not the ultimate way either? :) anyway, i feel like there is some kind of timelessness in squeezing weird shit out of old technologies, that is not there in a lot of new media art or punk rock. and since the idea of ‘subverting’ technology seems to be everybody’s wet dream today (compared to 100 years ago, i mean), it’s understandable that that aspect of chip-stuff is emphasized a lot.

      and, well, i’d say that the material transgressions that chipmusicians (collectively) have made the past decades are quite impressive, and it’s quite difficult to think of similar achievements in digital music….?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: