Chiptune trailblazers speak to Clash…

It’s hard not to get excited talking to Peter Berkman. The Anamanaguchi frontman’s sentences seem to come with inbuilt exclamation marks and almost every anecdote is qualified with a “super cool”.

Berkman’s puppy-like enthusiasm isn’t without due cause. As pioneers of the chiptune genre, Anamanaguchi’s debut album ‘Dawn Metropolis’ became an Internet sensation for its fusion of old video game soundtracks and punk-pop hooks. The New York band’s latest album, ‘Endless Fantasy’, was funded through Kickstarter, with fans committing $50,000 within just 11 hours. At the time, the campaign was Kickstarter’s second most successful music project, behind that of Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer. 

Anamanaguchi are now bringing their electro-tinged melodies and outlandish videos (the title track to ‘Endless Fantasy’ features a pizza being flown into space – check it out below) across the Atlantic – the band’s new album had its official UK release at the end of September via Alcopop! Records.

Clash catches up with Berkman to find out more about the band and ‘Endless Fantasy’.

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Anamanaguchi, ‘Endless Fantasy’, from ‘Endless Fantasy’

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‘Endless Fantasy’ has been hugely popular in the States, charting highly. So what can newcomers in the UK expect from it?

It’s 22 songs that all kind of branch off in different directions. It’s a very chiptune album but we experiment with dance music and go more punk than we ever have. Between each of the tracks, it’s like this weird crystal thing that balances out its ridiculous amount of direction. It’s definitely not meant to be listened to in one sitting! It’s basically just a bunch of little, fun, bite-size ideas that you can enjoy at your leisure.

Is it hard to maintain a consistent sound when you’re branching off in so many different directions?

There’s a lot of detail in there, it’s a pretty dense thing. We all kind of have different influences. I grew up playing in punk bands and then got really interested in electronic music, and Ary [Warnaar, guitarist] grew up listening to techno music. All of his friends were listening to emo and he played in screamo bands and had ridiculous haircuts, but we all kind of met at this one weird place where all those influences fit together.

A lot of your sound is built around electronic melodies and programmed beats. What is the Anamanguchi writing process like?

Most of the tracks are written by me and Ary. Typically, I’ll have a song that’s 70% done with a melody that I’m happy with, and then we’ll email back and forth and he’ll put some structure to it and just kind of darken the tone a bit, so there’s not too much sugar! He’ll also send tracks to me that have really solid production and build really well but are missing a human touch.

Luke [Silas, drummer] also writes a lot of songs. Whenever he contributes something, we’re just totally down with it because he’s brilliant. He’s probably the best musician in the group. I’m an okay guitarist but Luke is an actualyl incredible drummer so we kind of just let him do what he wants. We’re just glad to have any songs by him!

When so much of your writing is done virtually, is it hard to prepare the songs for playing live?

We figure all that stuff out in the recording process, really. We usually decide what the guitar should be doing and what the drums should be doing when it comes to laying down the tracks. That way allows us to experiment more than if we were just sitting in a rehearsal room listening to the songs over and over again. We kind of practise through email and solo rehearsal. It basically comes down to a Gmail account being much less expensive than a practise space!

‘Endless Fantasy’ was self-released. Do you worry about losing any of that independence now you’re signed to Alcopop! Records?

No way, not at all. They wanted to work with us because they put a lot of trust into what we were doing and we wouldn’t have signed a contact with anyone who was trying to influence our direction. They’re all lovely guys, they’re all about fostering people independent thinking. 

Anamanaguchi’s videos have become almost as well known as your music. Have you got any more planned right now?

We’re still coming out with some new music videos for ‘Endless Fantasy’ for at least the foreseeable future. We’ve started one for ‘Japan Air’ and we have a pretty fun boy band, J-Pop kind of concept for it. We shot it a little while ago and now we’ve just got to get the thing edited! We also want to put out a video for ‘Prom Night’ and hopefully get some remixes on it as well.

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Anamanaguchi, ‘Meow’, from ‘Endless Fantasy’

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You’re credited for bringing chiptune to mainstream audiences. How do you feel about that?

For us, chiptune was a starting point for the whole project. We started as a chiptune band I guess, but we’re throwing new elements into stuff all the time. I think people understood us a lot quicker than other chiptune artists because we kind of brought in those other elements and only used it as a piece of the landscape instead of the entire picture. If you listen to the radio now, even Britney Spears is using these kind of sounds too, in a huge pop setting, so I think chiptune came into the mainstream in a kind of subversive way.

Do you think you’ll ever move away from chiptune?

We’re always going to be growing from our roots, but we’ll never cut them off. Anything that we do is going come from there and have some kind of element still built into it. But our sound is gonna change and we always like to keep it different. Being kids of the Internet, we get bored really, really fast! We also just like way too much stuff to keep doing the same thing. We’re already working on new music and it’s going in lots of different directions that I definitely wouldn’t have anticipated, even six months ago.

You guys wrote the soundtrack for the soundtrack for the videogame adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and you use NES and Game Boy sounds in your music. Do you find that your fans are usually interested in video games, too?

For us, it’s always about looking under the hood and seeing how stuff works. I’m glad that people enjoy the technical stuff but, at the end of the day, it’s the songs themselves that matter and if they don’t work we’re not doing our jobs right. Everyone at the shows in England definitely got us on a musical side, but there were also a lot of people there who were completely interested in the way we do things which is awesome, I love that.

The technical side is an important part of the Anamanaguchi sound, though...

We love the spirit of being able to take things apart and figure out how they work. We just want to be as involved with the technology as we can because the best way to make it yours is to work with it – and understand what it can’t do. James [DeVito], our bass player, built the lights for the tour we were just on. We had eight light poles that were all synchronised to the entire set and he also built the cage around the lights by hand. He even sourced all the bags that we used to bring them around in. It’s insane! Sometimes they’ll break on the road and we’ll repair them in the van, it’s all very hands on.

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Anamanaguchi, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (complete soundtrack)

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Words: Phoebe Hurst

‘Endless Fantasy’ is out now on Alcopop! Records. Find Anamanaguchi online here

Check out Clash’s recent article on the best original video game soundtracks, with nods for the likes of Max Payne 3 and Streets Of Rage 2, here

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Listen to the whole of ‘Endless Fantasy’ via Deezer, below…


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