Thursday, February 4, 2010

Famimode: Kick Off 2010 With a Trip Back to 1985

For those of us that spent our formative years in the 80's, a certain part of our brain is now dedicated to the bips and bleeps that filled the pizza parlors and lazy days of our youth . These neurons are forever wasted, ruined by Saturday mornings spent digesting mechanized musical loops and sugared cereals. For those of us that were there, this 3-channel sound has become a comfort food of sorts. As much as we'd like to go back to this carefree time, things will never be the same. Our tastes have grown up, wittingly or otherwise. The magic that filled these old consoles has literally turned to dust.

Events like Famimode are there to make our memories palatable once more.

Meteor sponsors this annual all-night party that brings together musicians, performing artists, and vendors of the 8-bit persuasion. Meteor itself is what would happen if Beams opened a Famicon store—trendy, subdued, and overpriced. Reliving your childhood comes at a price, but you’ve got to pay your dues to be part of the club, right?


The Famicon only represents one of many possible flavors of game music, so it was nice to get things started with a sampling of the greatest hits of our gneration, from the Atari to a live vocal version of Katamari Damashi. While I dug the Player 1/Player 2 themed hoodies, there’s only so much two DJs can do simultaneously when you’re not actually spinning records. At one point they broke out a Super Famicon and had P2 playing Chrono Trigger while the other one keyed in sound effects and mixed loops. Nothing makes the kids shuffle furiously back and forth like Frog’s theme, let me tell you.

Choose between either The 80's or pitch correction, you can't have both at once!


Their pre-programmed hooks struck the perfect balance between feeling like they could be from any number of classic titles, while stopping short of being so derivative as to actually be recognizable. And that’s the beauty of it. KPLECRAFT best personified the underlying theme of the night—Taking something old and familiar as a base to build upon layers of creativity. In this clip they’re messing around with a saxophone and hand drums, but at the show they also had an electric mandolin and didgeridoo that totally sealed the deal.

Kirby's Dreamland or Naked Lunch? You be the judge.


Sporting slick full motion video and eight hundred dollar track jackets, Consumers made the other performer look like chumps. And yeah, they’re pretty awesome, until the front man opens his mouth and starts rapping like a salary-man version of B-Dash. Naturally the crowd ate it up. At an event dedicated to all things pixel, being square is the best thing you could do.

This song's pretty alright because the doofus with the mike keeps his mouth shut.


Never underestimate the Game Boy. The original Brick lived for nearly 10 years despite the fact that its electronic guts were already rotten at the time of it’s launch. Nintendo is now being forced to create upgrades for the DS after accidentally selling a copy to every man, women, child, and grandparent in Japan. People are drawn to the glow of its LED screen like our ancestors were to the stars.

Omodaka is well aware of the mysterious power the device holds over people. He opens his set with the familiar echoing ping of the DS. Unwittingly you react—oh my God, he’s making music on the Game Boy! The trap is set, here comes the net. Suddenly his chip tunes are replaced with electric folk songs and avante guard spoken word skits. But by now you’re enjoying yourself too much to care that you’ve been duped into watching genre-bending performance art.

Kayo-Kyoku, skeletons, and Game Genie noise. Everything I've ever wanted out of life in one place.

Omodaka’s subservient performance belongs more in one of Shoji Terayama’s sideshows than a dance club, and I love him for that. For his final song, he spoke through a voice changer, inciting the crowd shout their hearts out on the 4th beat. Are you ready? An on-stage television counted down with the music. 4-3-2-1-SCREAM!


The text on the television responded on cue,

“The despair deepens”

That says more about video gaming than most would like to admit.

But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a feel-good event? At this rate I’m going to start contemplating what would have happened if I had better spend my childhood learning an instrument, or getting to know my grandparents better, or volunteering in the community. I need to cleanse my palette. I need something like… Famicon Big Battle!

The Playoffs

Qualifiers were held off to the side throughout the night were entrants vied for top scores and clear times in fairly standard fare, such as Super Mario Brothers and Clu Clu Land. Once the dust cleared, the 8 players left standing were called to the stage to bring the knowledge in a head-to-head showdown.

The top 4 qualifier was Olympic games. Players hunkered down, their free hand braced on the side of the table, poised as if they meant to out-press Takahashi Meijin himself. It was like Over the Top meets The Wizard, with veins popping and sweat flying and people pulling every secret maneuver in the book.

The Final Four

And then there were 4. Their challenge: Get the highest score in the first three stages of Arakanoid using a stupidly sensitive trackball controller. This dude with the McDonald's track jacket and matching lucha mask was last year's champion, but his meaty hands lacked the finesse needed to caress his way to the final round. Better luck next year buddy.

FUN FACT: Doraemon’s original voice actress, Nobuyo Ohyama, is the #2 Arakanoid player in the world. Whenever she visits another country, she makes it her mission to blast all the high scores of whatever machine she finds.

The Championship

It all came down to who could be the biggest dick in Ice Climbers. I’m glad my parents never bought this for me as a kid or my siblings would have lynched me with the controller cord. Things are cold on Icicle Mountain and only one man comes back down alive.

The guy on the left ended up winning. For his contributions to humanity he was crowned Grand Poobah of hipster gamers 2010, a title he will surely be back to defend next year.

And make no mistake, the people backing this event are dyed-in-the-flannel hipsters. I say that with begrudging respect. Unlike most subculture clubs in Japanese, these guys are trying to break free of the limits imposed on their genre and do something innovative. Perhaps it's because the fan base is so varied, or because the basic recipe is so simple, but the acts tonight all moved in different directions while maintaining a cohesive vibe.

I can respect them for that. Though I don't necessarily buy into it.

Though I do regret not picking up Omodaka's album.

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