The Perfomant: The future's so bright


Rejecting planned obsolescence with chiptunes and Front Line Theatre

This week, The Performant turns one, so please excuse me a moment while I stick a candle in my Molotov cocktail, tie it to this big red balloon, and send it soaring. In the oft-imagined dystopian future, this may well be how all our landmark dates will be celebrated, not with a whimper but a bang. We’ll all get drunk on a rare flask of artesian well water, and play pin the tail to the Womprat. As for the party music, it’s tough to predict what we’ll be listening to in the 22nd century, but it’s a good bet that electronics are going to figure heavily into the equation—if only as a way to use up all the obsolete 21st century e-waste sure to be still piled around.
Take chip music, for example.

This hardy little strain of underground electronica, also known as chiptune and 8-bit, has been pulsating away for over a decade in its own little corner of the dance floor, creating a sound that is both futuristic and retro. Walking into the DNALounge for the West Coast edition of Pulsewave, New York’s premiere, monthly chip music event, was akin to walking into an 80’s-era video arcade. Primitive, 8-bit graphics loomed large on the projection screen (courtesy of VJ Max Capacity), and the blip and zoom of familiar video-game sounds wedded to danceable beats were being DJed by Doctor Popular. Anybody who’s ever felt compelled to dance along to the theme music of The Super Mario Brothers would feel right at home at a chip music event, where much-cherished Game Boys serve as instruments, a lo-fi medium for creating hi-tech ambiance.
Of course, not every chip musician is limited to just 8-bits. San Francisco’s The Glowing Stars featured Lizzie Cuevas on guitar, and Matt Payne on baby blue drums (and canary yellow key-tar), who doubled up on the Game Boy, tweaking the output of their “traditional” instruments with the bloopety-bloop of that iconic device. Morgan Tucker, or Crashfaster , added ominous, vocoder-distorted vocals over dark-edged, almost gothic layers of chiptune before inviting East Bay hip-hop ensemble Spirits in the Basement to rap along. And headliner Bit Shifter, who’s been creating chip music for over a decade, blew the top off with an eminently danceable set of hard yet chirpy, post-EBM deftly coaxed out of his modified Game Boy box. Watch for more chip music marathons in the future as Pulsewave SF goes monthly. It definitely beats dancing alone at the video arcade.   
Meanwhile, Front Line Theatre, presenting their “verse-and-movement comedy, ‘Rare Earth’” at CounterPULSE, created an entire world from abandoned electronics. Called Unland, this desolate island was poisoned by chemical landfill leachings and decorated by enigmatic sculptures made of empty consoles, motherboards, and chicken wire (designed by Honey McMoney). An unexpected “Tempest”-style shipwreck brought a wayward Unlander home, and a thinly-plotted revenge scheme emerged from the rusty rubble. Combining modern-day slang, future dilemmas, and age-old conflicts, “Rare Earth” provided a view of the future not too fantastic to accept, but disquieting enough to want to stave off for as long as possible. Finding a use for all those outdated electronics would be a good first step. Someone get Bit Shifter on the phone.