July 24, 2007Glenn Turner

Nintendo Teenage Robots - We Punk Einheit! Cover

Artist: Alec Empire/Nintendo Teenage Robots
Album: We Punk Einheit!
Track: Funk Was Yesterday (download - 4.5MB)
Purchase: iTunes

Last week I took a look at the first Game Boy-produced album I had heard of, so this week deserves a peek at musician that introduced the sound to a much larger fanbase: Alec Empire.

While Alec Empire's mostly known for his involvement with the noise-punk outfit Atari Teenage Riot, shortly before the release of ATR's 60 Second Burnout in 1999 he dabbled with the Game Boy Camera, specifically the unlockable sequencer buried in camera's Space Fever II minigame. The result of those instrumental efforts were streamed straight from the Game Boy, burned to disc, released under the moniker Nintendo Teenage Robots, and carried the endearing title 'We Punk Einheit!'

The bulk of the 'We Punk Einheit!' tracks are simple affairs, but that's predominately the nature of 'Trippy-H' (the sequencer) (check out this breakdown if you want to see the quaint controls of the sequencer). The album starts out with 'No Humanity Required' and contains a contemplative and stuttered, albeit shrill, set of variations on a tonal theme before delving into even more unstructured and erratic waters. The next five tracks, constituting a third of the album, are mishmashes of alien tones, joltingly presented and rather inaccessible. Compositionally these songs come off more as curiosities, ultimately not terribly engaging and slightly difficult to listen, to without actually being difficult music.

However, matters finally pick up with 'At the Party' thanks to a whimsically disharmonious opening and a lively rhythm backbone bubbling away in the background. And even though 'At the Party' carries an unnervingly high whine throughout the latter half of the song, it lends the song depth instead of annoyance.

And from there on the album improves, featuring highlights like 'NNW', 'Condom Personality' and 'Invasion Control' the latter of which is rather jovial, thanks to some playful tempo work and light-hearted scales. However, 'Funk Was Yesterday', one of four last tracks, is perhaps one of the more engrossing pieces, starting off in a startlingly innocuous manner with harmonizing tones and a hint of pleasantries, at least until the midway point when the song begins its ascent into a noisy, but satisfying cacophony.

Now, when I said that Alec Empire's notoriety & fanbase probably caused quite a few people to hear this album, many of them promptly decided the album was much too minimal, brash, and simply obnoxious (and perhaps abstained from ever listening to a Game Boy-based track ever again.) The album's sensibilities certainly alienated any listeners expecting something a bit more traditional or engaging. The sound does go down a bit rough, despite the self-proclaimed clean & dry nature, but there are some quality compositions buried in there for those who keep at it. And there's no doubt that he was a bit ahead of the curve with this album, regardless of its mildly abrasive nature.

It's worth noting that there's some rabble-rousing by him on the back of the album about how Berlin is divided between two "gameboy scenes", one which espouses Game Boy-based art exhibitions and the other, which one he claims to be aligned with, uses them for dance; Game Boy, straight into the recorder. Personally I find it rather amusing that, close to ten years later, the two mindsets are fused right now in Chicago (and other cities as well), with more dance-oriented chip & bitbands like Nullsleep and Bubblyfish playing to seated audiences at the Chicago Cultural Center. And really, it wouldn't seem all that out of place if Empire played his Nintendo Teenage Robot work on that stage either.

One last, brief note: I'm aware that Empire's been touting his Game Boy & Nanoloop with him for some time since this album, both for studio and live work, but that's potentially another article for another week!

Every Tuesday I take a look at a piece of music that's derived at least portions of its sound from video games! If you'd like to suggest a chiptune, bitpop track, or any video game-inspired music selection, please leave a comment or contact me at gturner at thenewgamer dot com!

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