VGM or Chiptune of The Year 2004

In the same way as the last year, we pick up the best works and artists at eight categories.

The Best Record of The Year: Treewave "Cabana EP+"

Many artists released chiptune vinyls/cds this year. However, most of them didn't make enough appeal though their quality was actually more than average. What's the lack? Perhaps Tree Wave knows. Their "Cabana EP+" was obviously different. They succeeded to stimulate a new layer of chip music listeners by creating audio oriented velvety chip pops. Their style might not be familiar for traditional chiptune freaks, but nobody can deny the fact that they brought out another charm of chip music.

In the sense of stimulating new listeners, on the contrary, commercial oldschool vgm releases showed the worst situation. We are really disappointed by Japanese record companies that concentrated too solid reputation titles on the market continuously (How many CDs will be needed until they get bored with Out Run?). Perhaps they say that unfamiliar titles can not be a commercial success. But it's just a subterfuge because there're already some indie chiptune artists who sold out more than 1000 copies. WING Game Music Complete Works was the only exception among those tame oldschool releases.

The Best Music Disk of The Year: Razor 1911 Chipdisk 4 - The Essentials (Windows)

Following the last year, we elected Razor 1911 again. This year didn't turn out many quality chiptune disks, but their fourth disk was the tower above the rest. Although participators were reduce by half than the previous disk, Zabutom and Dualtrax showed discerning far outweighing absence. Their architectural beauty of the interface was unrivaled, too.

ihyper from Backtrack seems a great disk as well. At least it contains quality songs along wide range. But unfortunately, we cannot appreciate it because their disk doesn't run on our environments.

The Best Artist of The Year: Maniacs of Noise

The return of the legend to the Commodore 64 scene was simply a great news. Perhaps some of you were surprised when Jeroen Tel released his first SID tune in a decade at X-2004. But even more noteworthy was Thomas Mogensen (Drax). He won at X-2004 and The SID Compo IV, and it proves his activity is more than nostalgia.

Another impressive return of the legend happened this year. Nobuyuki Shioda, former vgm composer worked for various NES/SNES/GB games from KID, recently released some new NES tunes. I think this kind of exchange beyond generations is very interesting phenomenon, as heyday vgm composers have not sympathized to contemporary chiptune scene until recently.

Also don't forget the farther excitements in Gameboy scene. Many artists moved their main playground from websites to club parties, and countless gigs were performed around the EU/USA during the year. Now Gameboy sound is steadily enhancing its presence as party music by their effort. Incidentally, I was surprized with many active talents newly coming to this scene despite the difficulty of starting Gameboy music nowadays due to runaway growth of empty cartridges. Although most of their songs are still rough-hewn, each character is no less unique than forerunners.

The Best Label of The Year: N/A

Mp3death and 20kbps Recordings were no doubt two of the most active online labels in this year. Comparing to usual chiptune labels, their extreme lo-fi orientation brought very different presence. But they might be overproduction a bit. Their line-up runs hot and cold, so we decided to keep this award for their next year.

The Best Competition of The Year: Assembly 2004 Oldschool Music Competition

The oldschool music competition held during Assembly party always receives tons of submissions from various platforms, but this year the range of approach was wider. Many high quality songs by various means pumped up the event. Agemixer's winning (and singing) SID tune called Da Smit Eastwood Jacks caused much attention.

Runner-ups: Antique Toy 2004 (ZX Spectrum), The SID Compo IV (C64), Famicompo Mini (NES) and MuSiXmas Challenge (MSX). They're the representatives from each platform. It's difficult to say which was better.

The Best Software of The Year: HuSIC

Nothing was more than HuSIC in the meaning of the groundbreaker of the new chiptune front. Although there aren't many musicians yet, Boukichi's frontier spirit which created music community in undiscovered PC-Engine's world is imitable.

There was a move to enhance music community also in Gameboy Advance scene. Yes, the long awaited Nanoloop 2.0 was finally released. It might not be enough of a challenge for chiptune people as the legacy Gameboy sound was dropped, but this year brought us one more option as well. It's MADRV, a text (MML) based music edit system for the GBA. Though it's available in Japanese language only for now, you can use the GBA as the truely chip-oriented device.

The Best Hardware of The Year: SpeakJet

Individual chip development is becoming easier lately. However, nobody except Magnavation hasn't produced oldschool sound chips on a commercial basis yet. Speakjet cleverly exploited a gap of the day - the robot voice. It has a high affinity for 8-bit platforms, and has already found a way to be extra sound device for the Vectrex and the Atari 2600. Neoclassical sound chip - it's another methodology to breathe new life into 8-bits.

One more hot topic of the year was the booming of cross platform music players such as MIDINES (NES), TNS-HFC1 (Famicom) and MMC64 (C64). All of them allows you to play chiptues easily on the real 8-bit platforms.

The Best Website of The Year: GSF Central & USF Central

GSF (Gameboy Advance), USF (Nintendo 64), QSF (CPS1/2)... Many new video game music formats were developed this year. I'd like to devote this award to Caitsith2 and Halley's Comet Software who quickly prepared central websites for collecting information on them. In connection with such a backbone infrastructure, the launch of Adlib Music Archive was also a good news.

And even though it's a bit puffed lately, the achievement of should be mentioned. They provided a bear pit to chiptune tracking community of the PC.


Casual chiptune fans were considerably increased this year (particularly in Japan, buoyed by Famicom 20th Anniversary advertisement). It's very nice to see the expanded scope of listeners, but I have to question if the understanding of the chiptune world was drilled down. Well, I know "The Rise and Fall of Game Audio" (Armchair Arcade) did a good job in this sense, but it's not about current chiptune scene, of course.

As shown on the many mass media articles since the Wired's article, casual people focus on just punky gadget aspect of chiptunes, not musical appeal. Maybe, now is the time we really need masterpieces. But many experienced chiptune masters were not so positive to release new songs through the year. I felt it was a sort of charging period of the scene. Next year we'd like to support the scene more aggressively not to be slowed down.

[written by :hally/vorc]