What have a Game Boy, a Little box that makes buddhist chants and a crying doll got in common? Strange as it may seem, they’re all musical instruments. Smëgg use these objects, and many more, to make chiptune, music created through the sound chip of an 8-bit video console.
You start off playing invisible guitar in pokey dives and then move on to the Hero. One fine day you realize that your life will not be complete if you follow this well-worn path and so you search out some way to roam open ground. That’s more or less the story behind Smëgg, a project by Bruno Vazquez and Manu Retamero, Two friends from Jerez de la Frontera currently living in Barcelona. Shortly afterwards, they were joined by the swedish Asa Riebe to take charge of the visuals. “I” explains Retamero, “was doing workshops on building with electronic junk and one day i managed to create ‘The Machine from Hell’. I called Bruno and said ‘Tou’re gonna go mental with this! We plugged the console to a mixing desk and the project started”.
One thing was clear from the start. It wasn’t about connecting up junk and making noise. “The aim was to get control of the whole situation”, explains Bruno Vazquez. “I was going to Neurolinguistic Programming classes. We had to set some objectives which, at the end, we’ve met.” The first was to meet up every week to learn and to polish their style. The second didn’t depend exclusively on them. “In less than six months we had to play in public,” they told themselves. Done.
To reach this objectives, they got their hands on all kinds of gadgets and learn some circuit bending. “we re-wired the circuits of videogames, toys, transistors… whatever, just to get exactly the sound we want.” That’s why it is common to find a heap of stuff on their table whenever they perform -Game Boys, mixing desks, Nintendo DS, old Casio keyboards from over 25 years ago, internal circuits from ld toys or modular synthesizers “that we learnt to fabricate ourselves”, remarks Manu Ratamero proudly.
Smëgg now form part of a strange and very active scene of ‘crazies’ which, for the laugh, have created ‘Kind of Bloop’ (www.kindofbloop.com), a cover of ‘Kind of Blue’, the legendary Miles Davis record. “Its people that are sick of classical setups. We’re looking for what’s inside the sound”, they conclude, almost in unison.
The chiptune scene in Spain has a real mix of representatives. Pepino and Alejandro Cremades from Alicante and Ai Haijo from Japan. They live in Japan and define themselves as a ‘Game Boy rock band’. They have performed on three continents. Distortled Box use an amplifier, two speakers and a car battery mounted in a shopping trolley to offer audiences anywhere an authentic 8-bit improvised mini rave.