While I could easily call Strange Matter my weekend home, I often forget how the venue physically bridges live music and gaming culture. In the dim lighting one could overlook the beautiful video game inspired murals strewn across the walls. And if you never make it to the bathroom or merch tables, you could miss the arcade games lining the wall past the bar.
While all of that could happen, the connection was not lost on Friday night as Bit Brigade‘s speedrunning, live-scoring frenzy capped an evening of mathy and game-inspired tunes supported by locals Daniel_ and Night Idea.
Daniel_, also known as Daniel Davis (an0va, Fashion Zoo), opened the night and keep the energy up between sets djing a mix of house, juke/footwork and chiptune. I feel like every time I see him he’s working on a totally new sound under a new name, which is half indicative of me not getting to the gig often enough but also an expression of his insatiable need for reinvention that separates him from my other producers. There are definitely still elements of his earlier work present in the new tunes, but his expanded sonic palate really allows his hand-made patches and arrangement skills to shine.
Night Idea opened the main stage performing songs from their upcoming album Riverless, which comes out in October. While they may have been somewhat of the sonic outlier for the night, it took the band little time to win over the audience with their lush instrumentation and thick grooves. Their six song set spanned everything from straightforward alternative and dark brooding post rock to synth-led hooks and the mathy fret and pedalwork expected from the RVA veterans.
If you can’t wait for the album to hear new tunes, you can catch them again at the end of the month on a wild bill for Illiterate Light‘s EP release at The Camel with Magnus Lush, Colin Phils and Philadelphia’s Invalids, as well as at the Riverless release show on October 20th with Eric Slick, Antiphons and Magnus Lush.
Bit Brigade began their set by asking how people many in the audience had seen them before, a seemingly innocuous if somewhat socially taboo way to introduce yourself before a performance.
By a very scientific noise measure, it seemed like a 50-50 split within the packed Strange Matter crowd. But the band had a surprise in store for everyone – as opposed to their usual sets of Mega Man II or Metroid, they would be performing/speedrunning old favorite Castlevania as well as Batman and Ducktales.
To the uninitiated, the band’s conceit is the addition of Player One, Noah McCarthy, who speedruns NES games while the band scores them live. The choreography and risk that goes into making this happen in real time is delicate and exciting. There is no guarantee that things are going to work out perfectly, and the band has to respond to the game in real time. So when McCarthy and the band sync perfectly as he finishes a boss battle, it feels like pure magic.
On the surface it may seem like watching someone game in the middle of the set would take away from the presence of the live band, but it really just adds another layer of energy to the already intricate translations of classic game scores. It also helps that the band rips shreddy dueling guitar harmonies and driving rhythms of the translated 8-bit soundtracks that could easily stand on their own as a great performance.
At many shows you can’t tell if folks are clapping because they liked the song or because it is over. But when McCarthy cleared the final level of Ducktales and the band cut back into the title theme over the credit scroll, you could tell everyone was celebrating the shared experience of risking it all and coming out on top.