VGM or Chiptune of The Year 2003

We changed this annual column to typical awards style this year, and pick up the best works and artists at eight categories.

The Best Record of The Year: G6.COM "Evolution"

Reprint movement for the oldschool vgm records was slightly simmered down this year. On the other hand, original cd/vinyl releases are accelerating through the year. Among those discs, G6.COM's first commercial album "Evolution" excels at sophistication. They got great performance out of cellphone FM synth chip, and it resulted in one of the best accomplishment not only in a cellphone music scene but also in whole FM chip music history. It's especially recommended for those who likes 90s FM synth arcade sound in club music style, such as "View Point" and "Battle Garegga". Note that previews at their homepage don't deliver its real attraction and sound pressure. The cd is far more better.

As for the rest, we'd like to mention Soundburst's "Ecripse of Mars" which shows beautiful fusion between fresh MED sound of the AMIGA days and energetic Japanese arcade taste. Shougun/Naon's "More! Street of Rage" which declared Japanese PC music based on FM synth not dead was also impressive.

The Best Music Disk of The Year: Razor 1911 Chipdisk #3 (Windows)

Some of you might remember that last year was a music disk bonanza. This year also brought 54 releases (, but they might be less impressive than last year. Most of them stayed at smaller and safer quality. The third disk from a European veteran demo group Razor 1911 stood out among them, especially by its architectural beauty. Although songs don't have special novelties, their quality is still first-class. The real significance of the disk is its high balance derived from unwearying deployment and elaborate interface.

The runner-up is YM Rockerz's virtual vgm compilation disk called "Warryorz" (ATARI ST). It showed rock-solid teamwork based on crisp concept. CoolPHat's "Deadly Beats" (Windows) which diverts with around styles and techniques is also worth to be mentioned.

The Best Artist of The Year: YMCK

This Japanese unit came into sudden prominence, and took many listeners by storm. They have absolutely completed unique "four-beat chip jazz featuring cute'n sweet female vocal" style on their first mini album "Family Music", and it directly hit those who grew up with Nintendo (more properly Hirokazu Tanaka) sound. Their positive action at still silent Japanese club/live scene was also impressive. Soon they'll organize the first exclusive 8-bit music party in Tokyo.

There're also two noteworthy new comers from Japanese MOD scene: Little Nero and Maak. In terms of technical skills they should be the best composers of the year. Those two talents already rank with Naruto, the best contemporary chiptune composer in Japan who is mainly active in NES or MSX scene. Also, Chibi-Tech's NES songs aroused much comment especially in Japan due to not only super techniques but also incredible Japanese sense more than Japanese. Lastly, don't forget the great Dane who still makes him high up in many Commodore 64 competitions.

The Best Label of The Year: N/A

Excellent net labels such as Analogik and Fromage fell silent one after the other. The only group who still keeps presence now is 8bitpeoples. Anyway, their wide interest and activity crossing whole scene (from raw NES sound to more common electro style) remains to be worth to be checked out.

The Best Competition of The Year: The SID Compo III

Famicompo, the first NES music competition, also achieved a great success. So it's hard to say which was better. Famicompo brought about some historical NES tunes. However, because of such a new trial there were many inexperienced entries and even some problems of the rules were pointed out. On the other hand, C64 Portal's The SID Compo is now three years old and reached awesome mature average. Entries full of sophisticated tunes must have made it one of the most difficult-to-anticipate competitions ever.

The Best Software of The Year: BridgeM1

M1 is kinda music version of the famous arcade emulator MAME. The development of its interface called BridgeM1 made arcade music much more approachable. It works not only as a player with decent usability but also as a excellent database since many volunteers are now contributing activity to maintain playlist properties.

MT-32 Emulation Project also generated headlines in various ways. It finally realized LA synthesis emulation, but the author's inimitableness goes far beyond that. He tried to get official development permission from Roland, and met partial success.

The Best Hardware of The Year: Yamaha YMU765 (MA-5)

Major cellphone sound chip developers such as Oki and Rohm released ML2864 and BU8709KN. They're very powerful PCM chips featuring 64 voices. Soon cellphones will graduate from cheap sound and music. However, Yamaha still sticks on synthesized sound. They released very unique new chip called YMU765 (MA-5). It also features 64 voices, but allows you to use FM, PCM, analogue filtered sound and even robot voice. It can balance competing goals for realism and chippie interest.

When turning our eyes toward hobby area, we cannot forget the impact of The Breadboard Pokey Project.

The Best Website of The Year:

Many active websites related to NES sound and music were born this year. In first half of the year, MCK development chiptunes in 2ch launched to sum up Japanese mck scene evolving around the 2 Channel (the biggest anonymous forum in Japan). Then the Famicompo connected both Japanese and American/European NES music scene on a large scale. merged those results to American/European properties, and created a complete archive including most of non-commercial NES music ever released. They made a substrate to be a strong music scene on a par with the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and Atari's 8-bit/16-bit PCs.

Besides, we'd particularly like to praise Yamaha's SMAF Global consolidating cellphone music informations and utilities for PC users, and MSX Resource Center's download section collecting MSX freewares which were dispersed for a long time.


Through the year I saw many unexpected things for better or for worse. One of my big surprises is slightly anemic chiptune MOD scene. Until last year it was the center of the chip music world, and still there are tons of new songs. However, now it's not easy to see many impressive releases due to diffusion of release places or due to lack of announcements. We hope return of chiptune labels.

Gameboy music scene, the emblem of the 8-bit revival, also started calming down because two most important music editors such as nanoloop and Little Sound Dj stopped cartridge distribution. However, on the other hand, micromusic's USA tour and "BOY PLAYGROUND" LSDj compilation actually aroused GAMEBOY music awareness among commercial media. As a result some TV programs or magazines came to feature topics related to current chip musicians. Except in Japan, chiptunes have been underground music for more than 20 years, so forthgoing media started giving composers hope or disquieting them. Maybe people in the scene may have to think about commercialism more seriously next year.

[written by Hally]