Shades of Pac-Man 

Flint Eastwood and the chiptune movement

click to enlarge Jax Andersen, the singer-guitarist sibling
  • Jax Andersen, the singer-guitarist sibling

Flint Eastwood plays with I Fight Dragons, MC Lars, Skyfox, DJ Drybones, Snesei, the One Electric, Monotony, Nikola Whallon, Sample the Martian, Noisewaves and Red Pill on Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Blizzard at the Crofoot, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-858-9333.

As video games and gaming in general become more and more a part of pop culture, it is inevitable that the music associated with them will become accepted as an art form. Those chirps and beeps that have been heard blasting out of arcade games like Gallagher and Pac-Man since the '80s are now considered "classic" to fans of what is called 8-bit music — or "chiptune."

One of the leaders of the 8-bit scene is a New York band called Anamanaguchi, active since 2004 and blessed with an enviable cult following thanks to the hyper tunes they create using a hacked Nintendo system from '85. To all of the more mature readers out there who had a fit when people starting referring to turntables as musical instruments, this must sound nightmarish. Bands are playing game machines now — and not in the conventional sense.

Anamanaguchi, while perhaps the most popular 8-bit band out there, is really only the tip of the iceberg; here in Detroit we have the gloriously named Flint Eastwood, a brother-sister combo (Jax Andersen, a 22-year-old video editor, singer and guitarist, and Seth Andersen, a 25-year-old producer) that creates spaghetti western-inspired 8-bit indie pop. 

What a frankly glorious combination that is — these guys take the dusty, orchestral beauty of Ennio Morricone scores to movies like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and mix it with old game music and quirky pop, resulting in tunes so infectious and undeniably catchy that it's practically impossible to hate. The sound is 8-bit inspired, though not pure 8-bit in that the music is created with synth, guitar and production tools rather than hacked game systems. In other words, the music they make fits the 8-bit style, though purists might scoff that they aren't using the classic equipment. What we do know is that game-ish noises mixed with spaghetti western score, live guitar and electronic noise can sound fuckin' great.

The siblings have been writing together for years, but officially became Flint Eastwood this past February, having previously played under the moniker Power. While brother Seth likes to retain an air of "behind the scenes mystery," Jax is bubbly to the extreme. "The common ground that we share is any kind of old western films," she says. "Anything by Morricone we enjoy, particularly the spaghetti western film scores. Writingwise, we like old bands like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. We really like the lyrical content that people like that have. But we're inspired by film scores more than anything else."

The recent video for the song "Billy the Kid", which can be viewed now on YouTube, is proof of that, as is the western-inspired band name. "It's obviously a turn on the spaghetti western samples that we use, but it's also a mixture of the different places that we come from," says the singer. "1) Flint in Michigan, 2) we grew up in the east side of Detroit, and 3) we were living in Hollywood when we came up with the name. That's what made us fall in love with the name."

Jax says that, while the situation presents challenges, being in a band with her brother generally makes life easier. "It's easy in that there's a certain honesty that comes from working with a sibling," she says. "If something sucks we can just say it sucks, we don't have to worry about stepping on toes because at the end of the day, we're always going to be family members and we're always going to have to talk to each other. There's not any kind of Oasis Gallagher brother stuff going on where we don't get on at all. We have our tiffs, but we get along pretty well. We do things pretty independently though. He'll either bring along some kind of instrumental and I'll write over it, or I'll come to him with the bones or structure of a song and he'll fill in all the parts. Overall, it's an easy process, much easier working with your sibling than anybody else in my opinion."

Having traveled around the country for a few years, Jax found herself back in her hometown of Detroit a couple of years ago, and she's delighted to be making music in this city. "We bring a raw energy and a sense of happiness that I feel the Detroit scene has," she says. "I just started getting into a lot of Detroit bands. One thing that I love, that I feel we have in common with these musicians, is that people are just passionate about playing music. It doesn't matter what kind of music you're playing, it doesn't matter what genre it is, if you're passionate about it, if you're going full force, then people appreciate it and I love that. People go fucking insane and don't care. I feel like you don't get that in any other city as far as band performance goes. I really enjoy the Detroit scene and I'm impressed with everything going on right now."

That's fair, though Jax says that she prefers playing house shows as opposed to the region's more traditional dive bar venues. "One of our best shows was a recent house show in Woodbridge," she says. "I literally went to one of my friends and said that I want to play her next party, and she said OK. We had a bunch of bands playing, and it ended up being two houses, this huge clusterfuck of a million bands, and amazing energy. Everybody went crazy as soon as we started playing. I swore I was going to get punched in the face, but in a good way. It was insane."

If getting punched in the face would be a good night, what makes for a shitty one? "Technically our worst show but weirdly one of my Top 5 favorites was when we opened for T-Pain in Arizona," Jax says. "It was a very interesting show. From the time that we stepped on the stage to the time we stopped playing, they booed us the entire time. We didn't even play a note. At the time I had a shaved head so they just saw me and started booing. It was so awesome."

Hopefully the band won't be lambasted as mercilessly when they play the Blizzard, a night of 8-bit music and video game tournaments at the Crofoot on Saturday. "It's a bunch of 8-bit bands all getting together," says Jax. "I believe I Fight Dragons and MC Lars are on tour together, leading up to this event. They're doing some video game tournaments in between sets, and I'm super-pumped to play Goldeneye 007. They're going to have a tournament on it. I'm really excited about that because it's the one video game I ever played my entire life. But yeah, it's a bunch of bands having a big party."

Sounds like fun and, though the show isn't in a house, this should be the perfect sort of night for Flint Eastwood to get some decent exposure among like-minded souls. 

For Jax, it's all about creating a community. "Our main goal is to build a community around the music that we play and really just have every single show feel like you're in a room full of your best friends and you're here to have an awesome time," she says. "That's our main goal. We want to be one of those bands where you meet people at shows and become friends just because you have a bunch of things in common already by being involved in this band. We want to make a culture around the music that we play. We want to get it out into people's hands and play as many shows as we can. We're releasing an EP in January that will be four songs that we're really pumped about. I'm excited about the next coming months."

As for the immediate future, "We're planning on doing videos for all four songs on the forthcoming EP, and playing a crap-ton of shows all over Michigan and the Midwest."

Brett Callwood writes City Slang.

Send comments to him at [email protected]


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