UEBERSCHALL AUDIO/AKAI CD SET
If I asked what you remember most about the '80s, what would you say? New Romantics? Bad hair? Huge shoulder pads? For its legion of fans it would have to be the Commodore 64. Released in December '82, the Commodore was a huge leap forward for the home computer market and sold in bucketloads. As well as offering better graphics than had previously been available, the C64 contained the now-legendary SID sound chip that provided new depth to in-game music and produced an almost fanatical loyalty in Commodore users. Indeed, many of the old C64 game soundtracks still excite fans today, as a quick search on the Internet will testify. This devotion hasn't escaped the attention of the guys at Ueberschall, who have created 8-Bit Stylez, a two-CD (one audio, one mixed-format audio/Akai) collection of loops, burps and bleeps coaxed out of the C64's SID chip.
CD one kicks off the retro vibe with 21 construction kits, their tempos ranging from 70 to 190bpm. (There are 10 more kits on CD Two.) The kits are grouped in pairs -- a track of the full mix followed by a track of the component loops -- and cover most modern dance styles. They're well programmed, if a little cheesy in places, and although they're limited by the constraints of the SID chip, there are some nice techno riffs and loops on offer, as well as the odd gritty synth line that wouldn't sound too out of place in a Dr Dre-style hip-hop/R&B production.
The construction kits are followed by a set of drum loops, 82 in total, grouped by tempo (50 to 135bpm). Once again, the programming is solid, and the loops have a rough-edged synthetic feel that you will either love or hate. The majority of them were a little too harsh and 'computerised' for my taste. CD One is rounded off by five tracks of C64-style background music, 16 tracks of assorted licks, loops and bleeps, then 10 tracks of computer-game sounds and effects. CD Two kicks off with another 99 tracks of single drum hits, sound effects, and more licks and loops. Alongside the audio, the Akai-format section contains 1000 single samples (audio tracks for which can be found on both CDs) to feed your sampler with.
8-Bit Stylez contains a huge amount of material, including interesting loops and textures to drop into (or underpin) a mix, but this type of retro collection is very much an acquired taste. Whilst producers of Aphex Twin/Alex Empire-style hard-edged machine funk will find useful loops and bleeps, a fair chunk of this collection fails to shake off its computer-game roots and sounds a bit dated for my taste. Overall, it does a fair job of transporting the feel of the SID chip into today's dance market, and I'm sure that SID's many fans will love it, but the rest of us may just scratch our heads and wonder what all the fuss is about. Oli Bell