Europe in 8 Bits | Titles from Javier Polo.
You wouldn’t expect the chiptune set to be political. The genre – typified by the low-fi beats and tones from old-school gaming hardware – has had a steady, global following since the mid-90’s as documented in Javier Polo’s documentary Europe in 8 Bits.
“All the people involved in chip music has decided to be unique, to change the rules, to do more with less and to experiment by themselves,” Polo explained by e-mail. Some of the subjects of the documentary see the genre as an attempt to reject planned obsolescence and disposable culture, to give technology a new life for those who might have missed it the first time around.
According to the filmmaker, these musicians prefer “to travel with the technology and to choose another way of doing things. Not all of them are thinking about in a political way, there are different reasons which are also shown in the documentary that make them be involved in chip music but there is a strong political and philosophical appeal to it which I really like.”
Polo is a commercial and corporate video director, who spent a year working on Europe in 8 Bits, speaking primarily to European chiptune music makers, assembling much of the material on europein8bits.com before assembling the doc for distributor Turanga films.
In his look at chiptune – or “micromusic” as some producers like to call it – across the pond, Polo found both new and veteran producers willing to talk about their experience constructing their own equipment and their own style of music out the remains of a Commodore 64 or the guts of a Game Boy.
The picture Europe in 8 Bits paints is one of a community of musicians and fans that are colorful, articulate, and funny. As likely to talk to you about coding as they are to dumpster dive for much-needed equipment.
While he offers that the genre doesn’t belong to any one continent, Polo wanted to focus on Europe for the documentary.Evolving from the demo scene and tech displays of the 90’s, Polo says that it was ripe for exploration in the doc.
Offering me a quick history lesson, Polo says that the scene grew out of Switzerland’s Micromusic.net, founded by Wanga and Carl, offering a chance for musicians around the world to meet and collaborate alongside Microdisko, an early chip music club, giving birth to some of the earliest chiptune DJ’s. “[T]he most famous ones [were] Oliver Wittchow and Johan Kotlinski, who made the well-known software for the Game Boy; LSDJ and Nanoloop.”
However, Polo is quick to shout out to some of the musicians further west, like Americans Paul Davis, Cory Arcangel, Joe Beuckman and Joe Bonn who were responsible for the 8-bit Construction Set or Goto80 (you might want to check them out yourself).
His own interest in the genre came from his friendship with producer Culomono (AKA Bartolome Moreno) while they were attending school together. Culomono was organizing 8-bit music nights in Valencia with other musicians like Ralp, Tonylight, Vesper On and Abortifacient.
Polo says he became an instant fan, and had Culomono put him in contact with other artists. “I started to research about it because I thought that more people like myself could be surprised and curious about this whole movement.”
Europe in 8 Bits tells us that you’re limited by the amount of time, effort, and ingenuity you’re willing to commit to making chiptune music. According to Polo, “it might be hard to understand how the software and the devices work if you don’t have a passion for the machines or the music,” but he tempers that, suggesting that if you’re really determined to make something, the Internet is packed with tutorials and accepting communities willing to give newbies some pointers.
Polo says that since the conclusion of the doc, he’s been working on more commercials and corporate videos as well as developing his own narrative short, while attempting to put together a soundtrack from Europe in 8 Bits (Polo is hopeful that a free version will be available sometime later in April). “I have currently finished a funny script for a short film that I will be shooting very soon which I am looking forward to, and I have also started to develop what will hopefully be my next documentary, I can’t give you glues about it yet although I hope to finish it next year.”
You can rent Europe in 8 Bits on Vimeo from Turanga Films.