Zapped

Specializing in vintage videogame music, Droidekka generates 8-bit brilliance.
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Posted November 13, 2013 by EDWARD BROWN in Music
All aboard with Droidekka! Next stop, nostalgia.All aboard with Droidekka! Next stop, nostalgia.

As long as there have been video games, there’s been videogame music –– and there have been video games for nearly 35 years. The genre’s nascent effervescent bleeps and bloops are what inspire Droidekka, a Fort Worth instrumental sextet that covers everything from Super Mario Bros. to The Legend of Zelda while also cranking out some originals, all in an electro-reggae-pop style.

After a few years of performing locally, Droidekka has just returned from its first tour. The four-day This Tour Is a Party also featured fellow gaming-music acts Mega Ran, Descendants of Erdrick, Professor Shyguy, and D&D Sluggers and made stops in Austin, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. Droidekka guitarist Brandon Melton hopes This Tour Is a Party is just the first of many.

“We’re hoping the tour opens up some eyes [to our unique gaming sound] in places other than Dallas and Fort Worth,” he said.

Melton, keyboardist Emily Thompson, bassist Chris Horton, trumpeter Emily Jackson, saxophonist Jarett Edge, and drummer Evan Trest will take advantage of a lull in performing to finish their debut album. Produced by Fort Worth’s Ben Napier, the still-unnamed recording will feature three originals recorded last year at Sessionworks Studios in Hurst and several covers. “It’s part of our gearing up for MAGFest,” Trest said.

Taking place every January in Maryland, the four-day Music and Gaming Festival is the biggest videogame music festival in the country. “We’re working hard to create a mind-blowing show,” Thompson said.

The idea of specializing in videogame music came largely “by accident,” Thompson said.

One night, Thompson and former guitarist Matt Williams, who co-founded the band in 2009 but left a couple of months later for personal reasons, were playing vintage Sega games (cheap entertainment at $8 apiece) when Thompson had an idea. “Man, we should totally cover this,” she recalled saying.

The first incarnation of Droidekka –– Thompson, Williams, and co-founder/drummer Trest –– was not performing covers at the time. Instead, the trio churned out “Star Wars-type melodies over synth sounds and a rock beat,” Thompson said. Since the band was about two songs short of a full set, Thompson and company figured, Why the hell not? Let’s cover some gaming tunes.

Created by using or imitating vintage soundchips from the 1970s and ’80s, 8-bit music has that chintzy bleep-blop-bloop sound we all know so well.  The Droidekka folks played their first gaming-music-covers-infused set at a short-lived Dallas club in December 2010.

The band had no idea the covers were going to be such a hit. “People liked them so much,” Thompson said.

Public interest in the covers plus the musicians’ love of video games and videogame music were all the motivation Droidekka needed to dive into the genre and eventually expand to include Melton, Horton, Edge, and Jackson. And Droidekka isn’t into new gaming music. Just the old stuff. “I think it’s a nostalgic journey,” Trest said.

Acoustic instruments add richness to the samples, giving each cover song renewed vibrancy and color. After the arranging process, the musicians apply their diverse influences, ranging from punk and rock to jazz and classical. And, of course, reggae.

So where’d that come from?

It was “totally Trest’s fault,” Thompson said jokingly.

Melton agreed, noting that the drummer is “really into a lot of complicated rhythms. … It turns out you can put a Latin beat to a lot of Nintendo games.”

The first sign that their reggae originals (seamlessly blended with the gaming sounds, of course) were passing muster came last April when Droidekka performed at Austin’s Armadillo Art Glass Initiative. Melton noticed that their show was drawing crowds from the nearby Austin Reggae Festival. “We knew we were being accepted,” he said.

Reggae without singing is akin to hip-hop without beats for some people, but Trest said there are “no plans” to add vocals anytime soon. “Part of the magic of purely instrumental music is that it allows the listener’s mind to wander between the instruments,” he said.

Thompson said their goal now is to get regular gigs at outdoor events like Friday on the Green and Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival to obtain “better exposure” and, of course, better pay. “The smaller venues just call you when they need you,” she said. “Festivals tend to happen annually.”

Though a handful of local artists and bands are pounding out 8-bit or videogame-inspired music, the style isn’t really mainstream or even necessarily popular. Trest and company aren’t discouraged, though. He doesn’t think there’s anything not to like about his band’s music. “The stuff we play covers the ’80s to today, and anyone can enjoy or relate to it,” he said.


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