8-Bit Operators Compilations

[Enjoy The Science sleeve]"Enjoy The Science: Tribute To Depeche Mode" (Album, 2014)

8-Bit Operators

It was surely only a question of time (sorry! How could I resist?) before 8-bit micro music label 8bitpeoples released a cover versions compilation dedicated to one of the most globally influential electronic music artists of all time – Depeche Mode. This follows similar previous projects, the first of which was the superb Kraftwerk tribute in 2007. That has since been followed by albums dedicated to The Beatles and Devo.

I think I've seen more cover albums of Depeche Mode than any other electronic music artist. The majority have their hearts in the right place but usually disappoint. A glance at DM's back catalogue over more than thirty years shows what a consistently high standard of writing across a seriously extensive body of work the former Basildon boys have managed to produce. Anyone attempting a cover version of any of those needs to dig deep to bring something new and worthwhile to the table.

One thing the 8bitpeoples collective has had going for it, since it was founded in 1999, is a knack for releasing inventive, skilled and decidedly worthwhile music. Thankfully, that continues on Enjoy The Science (which, as all DM fans know, is a play on the title of DM's single Enjoy The Silence). Here then are fifteen contributions from multiple artists (one track a multi-artist mega-mix).

Bacalao's take on Stripped b-side But Not Tonight (the A-side in the US release on account of it having been used in a film at the time) get the ball rolling. It comes as no surprise this very satisfying version was chosen to open the album. Charming arrangement aside, Bacalao's top-notch vocals are what seal the deal here. It's terrific and unenviably sets the bar extremely high for what follows. Herbert Weixelbaum, who memorably derezzed Tanzmusik on the earlier Kraftwerk tribute, does Enjoy The Silence but to less lasting effect. GOTO80's lively instrumental go at Boys Say Go demonstrates just how melodically strong so many of those early DM songs are that they can work effectively without a vocal (expect to hear this one slipped into club play lists by canny DJs).

Lisa's guest vocals on Matt Nida's relaxed dance lounge version of Policy Of Truth is about as close as you'll get to a DM cover version by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, unless she opts to actually do one herself (please don't). Computeher (nice name!) get to do Strangelove and, given that is possibly the most-covered DM song, bring fresh ideas alongside effective vocodered vocals to the mix. Scene name gwEm delivers another instrumental interpretation – of Martyr, whilst Laker (featuring ONTBG) brings an amusing personal perspective to Clean. Patokai's musical rendition of New Life is suitably ADHD with an unexpected flaky Cockney-esque vocal.

It's Called A Heart b-side (Set Me Free) Remotivate Me is another that comes in an instrumental version courtesy of Aomoni, whilst Crashfaster tackles live favourite and stadium roof-raiser Never Let Me Down Again and instead of trying to compete on the epic scale tones it down a little adding a well-placed guitar riff or two. That stalwart of UK TV advertising, I Just Can't Get Enough, is nicely handled by Poland's Yerzmyey who turns in a perfect recreation of the soundtracks that Dutch 8-Bit demoscene masters High-Tech Team created to accompany their mammoth, chip-melting Big Atari 8-Bit Demo, coded back in 1990 to showcase the graphical capabilities of the Atari 8-Bit homecomputers (ah, fond memories!). And Inverse Phase create a largely faithful chiptune Behind The Wheel with female vocals blended with male. In the middle of all of this is an multi-artist megamix of Photographic featuring Justin Emerson, 8 Bit Weapon, Varsovia, Bobby Bailey, Chris Tucker, Frank Lardino, Richard Hess and Ian Lloyd.

Genre wise, this compilation is more diverse than the earlier Kraftwerk one. It's less slavishly tied to 8-bit game systems hardware. I kinda preferred the more restricted palette of the minimalist approach so some of the tracks don't quite do it for me as they might have. Whilst, for me, this isn't quite as accomplished as the earlier (and truly sublime) Kraftwerk tribute, this nevertheless, still stands out as one of the best Depeche Mode tribute albums I've heard to date. 7/10

Rob Dyer (December 2014)

[8-Bit Operators sleeve]"8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk" (Compilation album, 2007) !Recommended!


The album sleeve carries a descriptive subtitle: "The Music of Kraftwerk - performed on vintage 8-bit video game systems" - and this does exactly what it says on the tin. When I stumbled across this, I momentarily wondered if someone was playing an elaborate joke on me, pausing to look over my shoulder half expecting a bunch of friends to be giggling and pointing in my direction. For the Kraftmeisters and 80s computer technology are two things about as synonymous with the inner workings of my quirky (or is that geeky?) brain as you can uncover. Realising this wasn't a bizarre prank at my expense, and only just managing to compose myself rapidly enough to stop drooling over the cellophane-wrapped techno porn in my hands, I couldn't have handed over my cash any quicker.

I was aware of the chip tune/8-bit movement but didn't know a great deal about it. 8-Bit Operators has now corrected that, serving up the perfect entry sampler, especially tailored for those keen on the German electronic pioneers. (The liner notes about each of the contributing artists with URLs to their respective websites are particularly useful to newbies.) Some contributions add more melodies or harmonious voices, whilst others take the vocals down to a much lower resolution than found on the originals. A high standard is maintained throughout but it is often some of the lesser-known album tracks that surprise and delight the most. So whilst (Nullsleep's) The Model is a tad disappointing, (Oliver Wittchow's) Kristallo (from the band's 1973 third album Ralf und Florian) is perhaps the most convincing conversion to 80s video game soundtrack.

The female vocals on Showroom Dummies, courtesy of Role Model, are as if Maria from Metropolis has been inspired to sing by watching too many Marlene Deitrich movies and was voice coached by Isabella Rosselini speaking English. firestARTer's superb take on Computer World retains all the antique elegance of Kraftwerk and involuntarily prompts memories of the BBC's The Computer Programme from the early 80s (which used the song as its theme music).

What strikes me most about this album (and the movement it champions) is how credible those dated sounds can be in the right context and how talented some of the musicians are. I guess I had expected most to be bedroom retro computer geeks more obsessed with their 80s circuitry than demonstrating any special talent for composition. Okay, they didn't write any of these songs but the arrangements and interpretations are as creative as you could possibly hope for. 'Gimmick' of the 8-Bit technology aside, it seems almost ironic that 8-Bit Operators is by some way the highest quality Kraftwerk covers album I've heard to date.

The whole concept behind the 8-bit music scene seems as much an intellectual and artistic challenge as it is about just making music. Here, the technical limitations of the source equipment force the musicians to apply their ingenious hardware and software expertise (and, one imagines, some potentially detailed mathematics) to mimic or even accurately reproduce Kraftwerk's famous repertoire. This is a collection of some achievement.

It takes a brave man (or two) to risk rewriting Kraftwerk's lyrics, but by the time we get to the end of the astonishing live version of The Man Machine, that closes the proceedings, by gwEm and Counter Reset, featuring a truly inspired geek rap by Counter Reset whose lyrics aspire for him and gwEm to be included in one of Channel 4's list programmes listing the Top 100 micromusic artists, wherein Jimmy Carr introduces the duo, you're left in no doubt that this movement goes beyond gimmick and fad to be a thrilling (if undeniably nerdy) musical genre in its own right. Stick this on your stereogram, watch Tron on a CRT TV and prepare to enter nirvana. Shimmering brilliance on a silver platter. 8/10

Rob Dyer (December, 2008)

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