During the ’80s and ’90s, video game music was very prominent among gaming geeks like myself. During that time, video game music managed to make a mark in our memories, and tunes such as the theme from Super Mario Bros. are now commonly recognized in modern pop culture. If you were anything like me, as a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you probably also grew up humming along your favorite 8-bit tunes (aka chip tunes) and maybe even wrote your own rap song about the games, comic books and cartoons you loved.
I vividly remember a night when I was a teenager, and I was playing at the end of the original Castlevania game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), fighting the final boss, Dracula. My best friend was sitting next to me playing his acoustic guitar, and I died so many times that by around the tenth time he was already playing along with the music. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that he could play along with a Castlevania song. Little did I know, years later I would discover a band dedicated to doing this, and that is Bit Brigade. So, when I discovered that Bit Brigade would be performing at the Lowry Parcade in Tampa FL on December 1st, along with Mega Ran, I immediately marked my calendar.
Mega Ran is probably the most popular “nerdcore” hip hop artist in the genre. With a clever and distinctive style, he has become a fan favorite through the years by rapping about video games and many other pop culture elements such as the Netflix original series Stranger Things. Mega Ran took the stage after a strong opening by his two supporting artists from the Extra Credit Tour, rapper/trombonist Kadesh Flow and rapper Alfred Banks. Immediately after taking the stage, it was evident that Mega Ran is not only a superbly talented rapper but also very charismatic. Full of smiles and energy, he managed to work the crowd from beginning to end with an intimate show of constant interaction. I don’t know if he does this regularly, but at one point he asked the crowd to take items out of their pockets. When I looked around, I saw everything from toys, Amiibos, and hand-held video game consoles to comic books and even a Chewbacca-shaped backpack. It definitely seemed like the crowd came prepared for this moment. He then went around the crowd, picking some of these random items and improvising some of the cleverest freestyle lines I’ve ever heard. Mega Ran was a load of fun, and seeing him perform live showed me exactly why he is so popular in the “nerdcore” scene.
To put an end to the already epic night, Bit Brigade took the stage last. But, as one of their members did before they started their show, I first must explain how their performance works. Essentially, Bit Brigade plays retro video game soundtracks, but they do it in a unique way. Just in case you are not familiar, there’s an entire scene dedicated to “speedrunning” video games (the act of playing through a game as fast as possible), and one of Bit Brigade’s members is a video game speedrunner — on stage. During their show, their speedrunner plays through a game, and the rest of the band plays the game’s soundtrack live while the game is displayed from a projector for the crowd to see. As complicated as it sounds, for any retro gaming or music fan, this is a must-see act. During this show, they flawlessly played thru the entire soundtrack of Mega Man 2, and it was beautiful. I found myself staring at the screen and admiring how good the music sounded, and since everything flowed so seamlessly, at times I would get lost and forget it was a live band performing. Bit Brigade is amazing, and their execution of this very original concept is something worth seeing over and over. From now on, I will make it my business to catch them live as often as I can.
Long after we’ve stopped blowing air into Nintendo cartridges and we no longer carry notebooks full of rhymes about saving a princess, it’s refreshing to discover that there are entire music genres that celebrate these things, genres that explore those things that we loved long ago and which still hold a special place in our minds and hearts. Artists like Bit Brigade and Mega Ran continue to carry the voices and sounds of our inner-geekdom, and they are amazing for it.