Tag Archives: chiptunes

How the Commodore 64 defined my taste in music

Something rather wonderful occurred in the early 1980s when home computers started to make noises.

Sophistication would come later, but having endured a year or so with the ZX-81 as the most sophisticated machine in my household, even the most raucous and tuneless of squawks to emanate from the ZX Spectrum or the BBC Micro were a welcome step in the right direction.

Ah, the joys of monophonic beeps!

Enter SID

But it wasn’t until the Commodore 64 came along that I started to looking at computers in a whole new way. They were no longer machines for playing games and perhaps doing a bit of word-processing or accounting on the side. They were now advanced artistic tools and, in the hands of the right people, a powerful gateway to a whole new world of creative expression.

I became fascinated by the possibilities offered by digital music production. It would be some years before I indulged in music production myself, but for most of the 80s I was content to explore the works of others, forever in awe of the sounds and melodies people were able to coax from the Commodore 64′s SID chip.

Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Ben Dalglish, Matt Gray and Jeroen Tel become huge names within the European C64 gaming scene, often being more recognizable than programmers and artists. A number of budget software publishers, particularly Firebird, Mastertronic and Codemasters even capitalized on the popularity of C64 musicians by commissioning them to provide loading/title/gameplay tunes for otherwise mediocre or terrible games. Grabbing a new Rob Hubbard track for only £1.99 was a no-brainer. If the game attached to it happened to be halfway decent, all the better.

Beyond the Commodore 64

My fascination with C64 music led to an equal fascination with Amiga music, which happened to coincide with the emergence of the techno, acid house and ambient music scene in the UK. I’d already become fascinated with the music of Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream around this time, but the UK electronic music scene soon gave birth to artists such as 808 State, Orbital and The Orb, all of whom took music in yet another fascinating direction for me. Once Warp Records rose to prominence, boasting the likes of LFO, Autechre and Aphex Twin on their roster, there was no looking back.

These days my taste in music is pretty varied, thanks in no small part to working in a record store during the mid-to-late 1990s and being surrounded by awesome co-workers with equally esoteric tastes. Now I’m just as comfortable with classic rock, indie and even alternative country, but electronic music still holds a special place in my heart and continues to be the one genre I can’t live without.

A Spotify Playlist

I’ll sign off by dropping in a Spotify playlist I knocked up containing some tracks from a few of my favorite artists in the electronic music genre. I present it mostly as a means of saying thank you to the Commodore 64 and those musicians who worked wonders with the machine. Most of the music I love today is because of the music they made some thirty years ago. Cheers, guys.

(For those of you without access to Spotify, here’s a YouTube playlist of mine containing some of my favorite music, albeit with various other genres thrown in.)