Was there a Chipscene in the 1990s?

Lately I’ve been collecting plenty of examples of 8-bit music released on records in the 1990s, and I still haven’t updated the timeline with the info that Patric Catani was kind enough to send me. But anyway, most of it is Amiga-music that has little to do with the aesthetics of chipmusic. In the 1990s most people probably only heard chipmusic that came from mobile phones, handheld games, toys and the occasional ‘retro-games’. It was in the demoscene that it was happening. (and the term chipmusic was still mostly used for sample-based Amiga/PC-music)

But I’d like to quickly mention some of the chipmusic releases I’ve found from the 1990s. There is some ‘arty’ stuff. Via ne7 I recently heard about Chatarra Informatica (free dl) which was a noisy jam-session with a TI-99/4A, a Timex Sinclair 2068, a C128 and a Radio Shack 128k. It was recorded in Argentina in 1997, and it’s quite disturbing stuff, I must say : ). A bit less disturbing is Mariopaint, made by the Electric Family in 1995 using a SNES.

In 1997, one of the very few chip-EBM releases came out. Body Mass IndexLive im Haus der Jugend, Valhall (free dl) is a live-recording from Sweden, released on cassette. Body to body! In 1998, Christian Morgenstern released an Amiga chiptune on his techno-12″ Sexy World. You can pre-listen Sexy World 2 here.

And then in 1999 the history of the modern chipmusic movement begins. Micromusic.net is formed. There are releases by Bodenständig 2000, Oliver Wittchow and Role Model, aswell as Nintendo Teenage Robot (aka Alec Empire) who used Mariopaint Trippy-H on the Gameboy. Also, probably the first netlabel chip-release is Vim’s 4-bit Christmas on Monotonik.

It’s surprisingly few releases, isn’t it? What did I miss? Let’s enhance!

Update: Judging from the comments, I need to clarify what I mean. With chipscene, I don’t mean the demoscene. They are (still) two quite separate fields. The demoscene started talking about chipmusic in 1989, but the chipscene started talking about it in 1999, sort of. The point here was to find out about chipmusic outside of the demoscene and game industry.

32 Responses to “Was there a Chipscene in the 1990s?”

  1. johnny Says:

    wow…. you totally need to get updated on exactly how long the “demo scene”, where chip music was born, has existed.

    you’re about 10 years off on your estimation on when the “chipmusic movement” started. some day maybe you too will find the, oh, tens of thousands of chip tunes tracked on the amiga during the late 80s and the entire 90s.

  2. Markus Says:

    :D i lol’d

    Really – chip music began in the Amiga scene in the late 80s. You are completely mistaken and confused about its origin and size.

    • chipflip Says:

      I guess I should’ve written more clearly, especially with such a provocative topic. I know that 4-mat and the others coined the term in 1989. What I mean with the chipscene is something different from the demoscene, and it started to grow in 1999. Today they are still two quite separate movements, as I suppose you’re aware of.

  3. kikendo Says:

    There’s no Mariopaint on the Gameboy. Are you confused or does Alec Empire really say that? Wouldn’t surprise me having in mind he’s a fake little twat :P

    Wasn’t Patric Catani’s album released in the 90s?

    This one is interesting and certainly caters for the “aesthetics” side of chipmusic rather than the method:

    And maybe this search yields something interesting:

  4. nitro2k01 Says:

    I may be talking out of my ass, and shit, but here’s my theory.
    The chip aesthetic was not “hip” during the 90’s.
    1) It was still associated mainly with games. That was still the image people had fresh in mind. That was the cultural context of it, and there was no distance that allowed people to think of it as useful on its own merits.
    2) There was probably a lack of useful software. The software that was available was probably either made for games (and thus unavailable to the general public) or demoscene-centric (meaning that it was either too hard to use for the non-technical user, or that people who knew about it and used it were already demosceners).

    I’m sure there was occasional albums featuring chip music, but I don’t think there was really a scene, again outside of the demoscene. But those albums probably…
    1) were avant-garde in their style. (if for nothing else, for the lack of control over the sound chip which forced the people to use samples from games.)
    2) referenced games in some way.

    The 90’s were instead the time of digital sampling. During this decade it wasn’t a novelty anymore, like in the 80’s, but technology that began to be more available and prevalent. The big winner of the 90’s is without doubt the Amiga which helped shape such genres jungle, rave and happy hardcore.

    End of ass-talk.

    • chipflip Says:

      It’s impossible to say how the connection to games is different today cmp to before. On the one hand, the earliest Amiga chipmusic was often covers of C64-music. On the other, the game-romantix were not as reinforced by journalists/”outsiders” that it is today.

      As for software – isn’t it basically the same today as 20 years ago? Goat Tracker is pretty much the same as JCH, in a way. LSDj is not super easy cmp with Protracker, etc. Even so, you’re right that the releases were usually abstract + used game-references.

      Yep, the 90s was the time for sampling, but again – chipmusic was about game-retrospection from the very first days that the term was used (something we tend to forget…).

  5. nitro2k01 Says:

    Ojojojojoj! Det är fan inte lite Gordon-varning på BMI-plattan, alltså! :D

  6. Rhubmewd Says:

    Monotom unt minimal

  7. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH • TCTD Links for 2010-05-06 Says:

    […] Was there a chipscene in the 90's? https://chipflip.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/was-there-a-chipscene-in-the-1990s/ 6 hrs […]

  8. Akira//8GB Says:

    By the way, megaLOL at thsoe telling goto80 what the demoscene is and when chipmusic happened xD

  9. kami68k Says:

    Another separated field might be the japanese homecomputers. There are really thousands of tunes released for the japanese homecomputers, like X68000, PC88, PC98 and so on, with a lot of the songs being released in the 90s already. I guess its because these were also the most accessible systems at the time in japan, where no one (?) had an amiga and trackers e.g. for the famicom were nonexistant. This is also the time where MML became more widespread then ever before (and probably reached its peak at some point)
    On the other hand, those guys just made music on the systems they had anyway, so you cannot speak about a “scene” like there is today, and I guess no one ever said “look its a chiptune!”. But, after all, these are chiptunes and it is separated from the Demoscene or the Game Industry (yes, the X68000 can be heavily sample-based, so maybe it does not count ;-))

    Talking about CD Releases, I looked around a bit and found some 1990s CDs with music from Yuzo Koshiro, Chemool or even Woodsoft and a few other notorious chiptune composers. I have no idea what kind of music is on those CDs, but these aren’t game soundtracks, so maybe its worth investigating. We have a strong link to the game industry here though.

    • chipflip Says:

      Ah yes, that’s true. Sometimes I forget how much I don’t know about Japan… Thanks. Let me know if you find out any more about it!

  10. Akira//8GB Says:

    Anders, re: Welle:Erdball

    Their single Nyntändo-Schock is from 1993 and that’s really chippy-blippy already. Their first full length from 1994 uses the C64 already too (I have that album, the classic is the song entioned above by Rhubmewd), They have been using an SX-64 since they started as far as I know. Your best bet is to ask Honey himself, though.

  11. nitro2k01 Says:

    Oh how did we forget… Bodenständig 2000! Even if they’re arguably more part of the 00’s scene than the 90’s, they did release two albums in ’98 and ’99.

  12. nitro2k01 Says:

    According to Wikipedia, and their own discography on their homepage:
    # Hemzärmelig (1998) (Translation: ‘Short-sleeved’ colloquial)
    # Maxi German Rave Blast Hits 3 (1999)

    The 1998 album was released on tape so good luck finding it now.

  13. nitro2k01 Says:

    Oh and I forgot to publicly spank myself for not reading the post properly. ;)

    • chipflip Says:

      it’s never too late!
      thanx for googling for me about BS2000, hehe, i put it in the timeline!

  14. nitro2k01 Says:

    Rant time again. YAY!

    It’s impossible to say how the connection to games is different today cmp to before.
    I don’t think it’s too impossible. Back then, 8-bit games were still being actively sold in retail, and for a few years as 2nd hand. That’s what I mean by distance. It’s not until mainstream people stopped playing these games that you could view chip music as a retro movement and make music that was independent of the games.

    On the one hand, the earliest Amiga chipmusic was often covers of C64-music.
    But note that the covers were (at least sometimes) using modern samples = a step away from the chip aesthetics. But I also think that the target audience for Amiga mods at the time was the demoscene/hacker community. (BBS’s and such.)

    As for software – isn’t it basically the same today as 20 years ago? Goat Tracker is pretty much the same as JCH, in a way.
    I didn’t know about JCH (i’m not a C64 guy you see) but you’re right, it existed back then and it seems to be a reasonable tracker. On the other hand, I think it’s cherrypicking to point to the C64. It was the only computer/console that used a sound chip, was extremely widespread and had an active user homebrew community. NES, Gameboy, the Segas etc didn’t have good tools. The Amiga was sample based. The Atari ST was probably more used among musicians with Cubase as a MIDI master than anything else. Left is the C64.

    So JCH was there and relatively easy to use I suppose, but was it really known outside the underground? And there’s another if someone really used the C64 well blended into a song and didn’t use obvious chip trademark sounds like arps, would you really be able to tell? The C64 does have filters and shit and is not necessarily much different from any other synth in sound, unless you want to emphasize it. (Well ok, it is, but you get my point)

    LSDj is not super easy cmp with Protracker, etc. Even so, you’re right that the releases were usually abstract + used game-references.
    But… LSDj was released when chip was beginning to become retro. LSDj had letters instead of hex numbers for commands. LSDj was easier in that it was sold as a full package with a cartridge loaded with the software+a printed manual. And even a discussion group that you could access with your AOL e-mail account without having to call a BBS. How novel!

    And besides, Gameboy was the perfect platform to propel the new wave of chip music. It didn’t take much space. You could take it with you anywhere. You could plug it in easily to any PA. You could hold it in your hand on stage just like any other instrument. And maybe most important, there are lots of GB’s floating around. Combined with GBC, over 100 millions.

    Yep, the 90s was the time for sampling, but again – chipmusic was about game-retrospection from the very first days that the term was used (something we tend to forget…).
    But there’s a distinction. Insofar that 90’s chip music was retrospective to music, it related back to the actual games. You’d (stereotypically) play a game on your old C64, then load a mod on your Amiga and cry a little. (Best stereotype EVAR!) But you’d never think of it as music to be listened to outside that context or subculture.

    The 00’s chipscene on the other hand revolves around chip music as a unique instrumentation to be used in live performances or a studio. The scene does indeed appeal to oldschool games as a vague cultural retrospection, but that’s also all there’s to it. The focus is on creating new music with old instruments. Game covers are even frowned upon. The 00’s scene is mostly a whole new phenomenon with little to no connection to the 90’s (E.g. Amiga mod) scene.

    • boomlinde Says:

      “It was the only computer/console that used a sound chip, was extremely widespread and had an active user homebrew community.”

      You left out a few computers there, but I guess it depends on how you define “extremely widespread,” for whatever reason that is even relevant.

      And why exclude the Amiga? It might have been the first time chip music existed for the sake of being chip music, not because of some impassable technical paradigm.

      Technically, it might be a hard nut, but IMO the Amiga is closer to the 8-bit league than it is to generic PC sound cards. After setting up waveform pointers and lengths, its channels (in DMA mode, which is _the_ practical case) are controlled pretty much like a PSG chip, by changing volume and period, and I think most music software on the machine is shaped after this peculiarity (at least to some extent).

      It is even possible (by hardware) to have channels modulate each other to produce envelopes, FM or AM etc. I can’t give a good definition of a “sound chip” in the sense we use it, but if FM (which, like the Amiga, are essentially wave table players with modulation capabilities) passes, why not Amiga?

      Pff, I’m derailing :(

    • ant1 Says:

      “But note that the covers were (at least sometimes) using modern samples = a step away from the chip aesthetics. ”

      What about all five hundred billion covers of Turrican 2 soundtrack with C64 samples and such-like? They were called “conversions” I think… Using the word “sometimes” is a bit weak too because there are still some (quite a lot) covers made of C64 game music with modern sounds, that doesn’t mean there is no chip scene today.

      I think there wasn’t a significant chip scene (distinct from demoscene active people) in the 90s though, because the chip scene is to me characterised by hundreds of live shows each year, lots of new people, some kind of internet forums/file sharing and, unfortunately, drama. 10-ish chip releases in 10 years is not constituting a “scene” at all, imho. :P I am just gibbering nonsense, ignore it all. :D

    • chipflip Says:

      @Nitro: What I mean with chipmusic aesthetics is a ‘social’ construction, ie not something that you can ‘step away from’ as such. And remember that playing samples was pretty popular on e.g. C64 and NES in the 80s aswell. The current technopurist definition of chipmusic did not appear until after 2000. Before that, it was about small file-sizes but also a sense of aesthetics.

      I agree that there are (still) few connections between the chipscene and the demoscene. But there are also similarities. Chipmusic was always (also) about a stylistic choice that was not strictly hardware-dependent. And the music isn’t, imho, all that different from eachother. The majority has the same rhythms and tones and pop-culture references. Hehe.

      Speccys, Ataris and Commodores all had soundchips, demoscenes and music software. To a varied degree, but I can’t imagine that it was hard to find a decent tracker for Ataris or Speccys, and certainly not the more popular Commodore models.

      @ant1: the point was not to argue that there was a chipscene in the 1990s (outside of the demoscene, johnny). but i think it’s interesting how few the people playing with the chip aesthetics were in the 90s.

  15. bucky Says:

    The demoscene, chipscene, and video game music are all undeniably interconnected in some fashion. However, in response to the negative comments calling out the author, there is indeed a distinguishing divide between them as well. This article is about digging up early examples of chipmusic fall *outside* of vgm and the demoscene. Don’t worry, at least someone understood what you meant. :)

  16. bucky Says:


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