Street spoke with Peter Berkman of the “chiptune” indie rock outfit Anamanaguchi about video games, the Spice Girls, and interning at Prada. Anamanaguchi will be performing with Baths and Ki: Theory at the ARCH, 8pm on Wednesday (11/30).
Street: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. So, where are you guys right now? It seems like you’re in the middle of a tour on the East Coast.
Peter Berkman: Yeah, it’s not so many shows that we’re about to do, but we’re about to go on the road with Baths. We’re gonna play a couple shows in Boston, DC, Philly, that kind of stuff. Then we’ll be heading to Toronto in January with – we actually aren’t sure who we’re with on that – but we’re hyped as fuck. Honestly, I’m really most psyched to be playing at a college.
Street: Starting with just a basic question — it says in big letters, on your website: “Anamanaguchi makes loud, fast music with a hacked NES from 1985.” I guess my first question would be, whose NES is it?
PB: Well, actually, we have two — one of them is my NES from growing up, which still works, which is awesome. And the other is one that our friend from Portland painted, which he did in sweet colors so we had to use it.
Street: I have no idea how the mechanics work on that. Do you have to do some crazy hacking to unleash the sounds in it?
PB: Basically, there’s just some software that some Swedish magician bros made that lets you write in normal sequencer language that the system can understand. The hard part is getting the data onto a chip to actually communicate it to the thing. A lot of the work has been done though. The way we used to do it was take an old cartridge, take out the chip that was there, and replace it with our chip. But now, there’s a cartridge that has a compact flash that you can store on a little hard drive. You can hold 1,000 songs on one cartridge and it has a menu and everything. So we basically DJ shit that we programmed. And you know, be a band and stuff.
Street: I was reading your interview with NPR where you call 8-bit music the “punk rock of electronic” — could you say a little more about that?
PB: So basically, what draws us to the sound is that it’s just disgusting, dirty and primitive. I grew up playing in punk bands outside New York and I was always drawn to the stuff that isn’t polished, isn’t, you know, necessarily what everyone would consider beautiful, but is filled to the brim with energy.
Street: Is the 8–bit scene at all like the punk rock scene?
PB: Like any scene, there’s a bunch of different styles. Recently, we’ve been kinda doing our own thing. We used to be very much involved with the chiptune [another word for 8–bit] scene when we were starting out, even a couple of years ago, but like, we play super loud, fast music and then there’s other artists that do trance, hip-hop, and a whole bunch of different styles. But there’s monthly shows in New York and you can always expect to see something cool.
Street: As far as chiptune goes — you guys are one of the most high-profile acts out there. I guess there’s sort of a “video game band” stereotype that exists. Do you guys have a difficult time combating it?
PB: It’s pretty easy for me. I love video games too, but people are going to get different stuff out of music all the time. There’s gonna be people who like it because it sounds like a video game and then there’s gonna be people who like it because it makes them wanna party. What makes the music fun for me is that there’s different contexts. Like, I recognize these sounds from my childhood. But what’s interesting is that people will be at shows and make a statement like, “Oh, this is just like when I was twelve,” or something like that. Then you’re like, but wait, I have a beer in my hand and people are going crazy. So we’re putting it in a different context. We’re taking this thing that sounds innocent and making it our own. We’re just trying to have a good time. Like I said, I grew up playing a lot of video games. But one of our other guitarists didn’t. It goes to show that it’s a cultural thing you can look towards. Not just a “fuck yeah, we like video games” thing…it’s different.
Street: I love video games too, and I was listening to some of your stuff, and I just thought, wow, this is like when I played Game Boy when I was ten, but it also makes you wanna get up and dance because it’s such high–energy stuff.
PB: Exactly. Like you feel that sense of adventure — like you’re on your bike in Pokemon and you’re just like, this is awesome.
Street: Are there any specific games that inspire you? Or is it like a general thing.
PB: I mean it’s more of a general thing. Megaman’s the shit, but for us, we’re more influenced by specific artists. You know, I could list 100.
Street: In the past, you’ve mentioned Weezer and the Beach Boys specifically.
PB: Definitely those artists, also My Bloody Valentine, even fucking Dragonforce. I like a lot of pop — Britney Spears’ newest album is fucking awesome. But yeah, Das Racist — we’re big fans of them and we did a remix for them, so we like hip-hop stuff too. The inspiration for a new song usually comes from music and not a game. The influence from the game stuff is the general idea of it. Like, this is something that we all grew up with so let’s make something fun out of it.
Street: But you have done music for video games specifically, like the Scott Pilgrim video game, which was really cool.
PB: Yeah that was fucking awesome. It was a really fun project to do, very much a postmodern mindfuck thing — like we’re a band that makes music with video game stuff and kinda influenced by that culture and here’s a video game that’s also kinda influenced by music – so yeah, it was kinda weird. But, yeah, things have been really good. We’ve seen more people at shows recently. We released a bunch of singles around the time the video game was coming out and people went to the website, downloaded them for free and we were like, shit, that’s awesome. So shit’s kind of been improving non–stop.
Street: And you guys did Rock Band!
PB: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a dream to be able to play our own song in Rock Band. Another postmodern crazy thing.
Street: So, what’s next? What’s priority number one right now?
PB: Priority number one is working on an album, actually, which is what we’ve been doing for about a year and a half now, and just like writing a bunch of songs that represent the extremely wide gamut of shit that we love and shit we wanna play. It goes everywhere from Wavves–style noisy punk rock, lo–fi stuff, all the way to Spice Girls dance jam kinda things. Somewhere between Wavves and the Spice Girls is where we want our next album to be. It’s gonna be fun. As soon as we get back from this string of dates, we’re talking to a bunch of producer homies that are gonna help us make shit dope and, it’s gonna be awesome.
Street: Just because I have to ask: what is the origin of the name Anamanaguchi?
PB: Well, basically, we were all students at Parsons [School of Design in New York], Ary and James were interning at Armani, and I was at Prada and Luke was interning at Gucci. And we’d go to these parties, always together, and people would be like “Oh, it’s the Armani Prada Gucci boys” and it just kinda stuck. Armanipradagucci. And people would just be drunk and saying it, and it’d go from “armanipradagucci” to “anamanaguchi.” And we thought it’d be a good band name and then we started a band. But yeah, we all have a bachelor’s degree in design in fashion.
Street: That’s awesome. Is that still an interest for you guys?
PB: Well, yeah, designing merch is like having your own clothing line.
Street: So do you guys do all the merch?
PB: Yeah, we do, actually. Putting our degrees to use.
Street: One last thing – favorite video game of all time?
PB: Katamari Damacy is awesome.