Remember a time when video games didn’t sound like movie soundtracks? Instead of hearing symphony orchestras or popular artists, there would be little beeps, chimes, zaps and synthetic tunes coming from a Game Boy. Kill3r Whale uses those sounds for making modern music.
Kill3r Whale is the chiptune music project of music education major Robert Joffred and Drexel’s Andrew Lim.
Chiptune is electronic music that emulates old video game noises, in addition to more modern and conventional instrumentals.
To make music, Joffred uses the program Little Sound DJ, which allows him to input pitches and tweak them to get the 8-bit sound that he wants.
Even though he plays in a band that focuses on Game Boys, Joffred said that its games never really influenced him. When he played Game Boy as a kid, he didn’t really pay attention to the music. He added that old Super Nintendo games including Yoshi’s Island are a stronger influence.
“For recording, sometimes [Joffred] will have a full song ready to go, and then I’ll program drums and sometimes bass,” Lim said. “Other times I’ll have stuff made already and then [Joffred] will kind of re-write it on his Game Boy.”
Much of the process is trial-and-error. The duo pieces together individual ideas to see how they sound to reach a finished product.
Joffred and Lim played in bands together during their high school years at Wilson High School in Reading, Pa. They both have backgrounds playing and singing/screaming in hardcore bands. Eventually things moved toward the more digital sound.
“I had been making music with Game Boys since the spring of high school,” Joffred said.
“We were toying around with remixes, with me programming and using [Joffred’s] Game Boy music,” Lim said. “Basically we started making remixes and we wanted to do it live, but we realized it didn’t translate well, just playing recorded music, so that’s when we started incorporating live stuff.”
They said their favorite venue for performing is basement parties. Note: Not basement shows, basement parties. The pair said their shows compare to a DJ set, providing music for people to dance and have a good time.
“It’s obviously not as awesome as going to see Diplo, I guess,” Lim said. “But it’s something like that.”
Their live performance includes Joffred handling vocals and the Game Boy, with Lim playing on the drum set behind him. They perform their own songs as well as chiptune versions of other artists’ songs, including Snoop Dogg, Wale, Kanye West and “guilty pop pleasures.”
Joffred recalled a time when they were screaming along to Ke$ha and Katy Perry in Lim’s basement.
Kill3r Whale first started playing its shows in the Drexel area, but eventually brought their music to North Philly at Temple parties. They’ve also played at the Blockley on 38th and Chestnut streets.
“It’s a college market,” Lim said. “But it’s not just college parties anymore at least.”
Philadelphia is home to a thriving chiptune scene, and Kill3r Whale is making moves toward integrating themselves in it.
“Every second Saturday there’s a show called 8Static, and it used to be in Studio 34, which is [at] 45th and Baltimore,” Joffred said. “Last month it was the first time it was at the new location, PhilaMOCA.”
PhilaMOCA is the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, located at 531 N. 12th St., and is where Diplo used to host his Mad Decent events.
“It’s a lot of diverse artists,” Joffred said. “A lot of scenes tend to be very similar music, but we have so much different stuff going on with what we have compared to other artists. It’s just like while we’re doing pop stuff, [local chiptune band] Cheap Dinosaurs is doing like prog, crazy prog, stuff. There’s just so much diversity in the scene in Philly, and it’s sort of like a powerhouse in the chip scene.”
Despite the growing chiptune scene in Philadelphia, Kill3r Whale hasn’t had the easiest journey.
“It’s kind of hard for us to get shows with other bands,” Joffred said. “We don’t really fit in so much, ‘cause we’re not like a rock band or anything. We’re like a pop band, so it’s weird.”
With the majority of bands in the scene playing instrumental, dance-oriented music, their pop-driven music with vocals and drums has set them apart. Lim described the band as, “the frat party equivalent of a wedding band.”
The guys aren’t letting that stop them, though, and they said they have plans to re-record some songs, and hope to incorporate more original music into their set. They also started DJing.
“Hopefully we could get a gig at a bar or something,” Joffred said. “Our plan is to go to bars with terrible DJs and just give [the bar] our card and be like, ‘We’ll do this better for less money.’”
They added that they hope to get a residency in the future.
When asked about memorable times in Kill3r Whale, Joffred’s eyes lit up.
“Oh man, right away I know,” he said. “We have our one main single, ‘Let Go,’ that we made a music video for, and at the beginning of this month we played it in our friend’s basement, and we have some good friends that essentially, sort of, tweaked our idea for a cover band.”
The two bands played a show together, during which the other band covered “Let Go.”
“It’s super bizarre hearing people actually play that,” Joffred said. “It feels like we’re famous, even though, we are not at all.”
Brendan Menapace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.