Shall we play a game? Chicago's I Fight Dragons on the magic of 8-bit rock
If the music from Mega Man 2 or the Super Mario Bros. underworld still haunts you in your sleep, you might have a problem with I Fight Dragons.
The Chicago band’s songs are laced with the 8-bit blips and bloops familiar to any kid who zoned out for hours in front of a Nintendo in 1990. It’s part of a geeky genre of music called chiptune, which utilizes synthy video-game sounds to create a collage of electronic music.
I Fight Dragons ups the ante by performing onstage with game controllers and Guitar Hero axes, in addition to old-school Nintendo apparati like the NES Advantage and Power Glove. But truthfully, the songs on their new EP, Cool Is Just A Number, are more guitar-based than geeky — it’s Nintendo Power-pop, equal parts Weezer and Dragon Warrior.
I Fight Dragons will open for MC Chris when the nerdcore rapper plays Friday night at Crowbar in Ybor City. (Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show.) Before the show, tbt* called founder and frontman Brian Mazzaferri to chat about the musical allure of classic Nintendo games.
The first time I heard of 8-bit music, my reaction was, why would anybody want to hear it? I associate some of that music with some of the most painfully misspent hours of my youth, just throwing my controller down in disgust.
(laughs) I suppose it depends on the type of games you play. I was always an RPG gamer. The NES version of Final Fantasy is probably what got me hooked. You heard the same music over and over again for battle sequences or this or that, and you would play the games for so much time, the songs would get ingrained in your mind. If we have an artistic goal, it’s definitely to bring some of the emotions that those sounds trigger in people — which can be looked at as nostalgia, but what we’re trying to do is the opposite of that, which is use it as a starting point to open up people’s hearts and minds.
When you were building the band, did you require musicians to know how to use all the various controllers, or did you have to train them on Nintendo instrumentation?
No. Everybody had already played Nintendo, so everybody knew how to hold the controllers. And everybody that I asked was already an instrumentalist. In that sense, it’s just a matter of remapping your fingers and remembering when to hit each button. We split up the chiptune parts between the individual controllers. We’ve got two Nintendo, two Super Nintendo, a Power Glove, a Power Pad, a Guitar Hero controller, and an NES Advantage controller. Because we programmed them ourselves, they’re different for every song — it’s not like a guitar, where every time you hit the third fret on the fifth string it’s a C. Each song, we program uniquely.
Are you guys, like, fully funded by Nintendo at this point?
Not in the slightest. We’ve had various people tell us, 'We’ve got to get you a Nintendo sponsorship!” But I think we’re more interested in pursuing more of a proper musicians’ career path. There’s other ways to try to turn this into a career, but I think we’re more excited by the idea of being a band.
You do seem pretty dedicated to the Nintendo brand, though. Have you ever branched out to the Sega Genesis or Atari Lynx?
We don’t. Obviously we use Nintendo controllers, but there’s a whole movement that we’re only one aspect of. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve run into on tour that will show us their Nintendo tattoos, like a Triforce or something. And that stuff’s permanent! People think of video games as a superficial thing, but in some ways, they’ve taken the place of modern mythology.
Give me your top three video game scores of all time. Musical scores, that is.
It’s tricky, because once you start getting into later PlayStation, you might as well be talking about orchestral music. But in terms of NES stuff, Final Fantasy is really up there for me — and really, all the Final Fantasies, Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3 and 7. Mega Man 2, sure — great, intense stuff there. Anything by (famed Nintendo composer) Koji Kondo — Zelda, those scores are just awesome. I really like Rygar and Blaster Master, which are lesser known, but also have really cool usages of the .wav form. Rygar, it feels like all trumpets. It’s great, and I know firsthand how limited the options are in terms of the sounds you can make. To see the limits to which they push it is cool.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo by Peter Hoffman.