Ready Or Not, Benny Boeldt Enters The Underground Music Business
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Adventure--aka local electronic musician Benny Boeldt--got a June 14 nod on Wired magazine's blog. It wasn't much, but you can be sure it made the rotation through the RSS readers of just about every chiptune producer with an internet connection. If you're standing outside the now insular world of chiptune music--essentially music processed through vintage video game sound chips and hailed by a cultish fan base--you couldn't be faulted for thinking Boeldt is approximating the genre. Adventure uses old-school game imagery and game-ish song titles such as "Battle Cat" and "Crypt Castle Cult." And, well, musically Adventure mimics 8-bit synthesis, and its quick, darting movements sound like they could be a well-composed alternate soundtrack to Zelda.
But, technically, Adventure doesn't meet the requirements for the chiptune genre: The hardware is all wrong. (And he's probably all the better for it: Chiptuners can be kind of a drag.) Boeldt composes and performs via a computer and a MIDI keyboard, not game chips. And, as he admitted to Wired in the blog post, he's not doing things according to chiptune rules--to which commenter "phony chip" coldly replied "i appreciate the guy admits to not using any real hardware, and it sounds like it. very plasticy phony gimmicky when someone does not use the real deal." "Phony chip" goes on to list where to find the "real deal."
"I have no problem being a part of that scene," Boeldt confesses about being associated with chiptune music. "I just . . . I don't know much about it."
Boeldt's sitting in a Mount Vernon pub, the sort of place you imagine the musical genre "chiptune" would draw blank stares, and he appears a little exasperated talking about it, at least to the extent the sedate musician can be exasperated. But there's also surprise in there, too, that there are enough strangers on the internet with an interest in his music even to form a common rebuttal. "There's already a heavy criticism of the way I write my music," he says. "The comments that have come up on the blogs always are like, `I can totally tell . . .'"--you know the rest.
After only two years of making any kind of music, you wonder if he feels a swept up by something out of his control. "Yeah, absolutely," he says, without a second thought.
Now, though, he has a self-titled record coming out on Washington's increasingly watched Carpark Records this September and, at the moment, looks to be Wham City's next offering to the world. And it's funny, because this exposure and the signing on with the music industry--as free-thinking as Carpark is, it's still around to sell records, and everything that entails--sounds like the exact opposite from what Boeldt wants out of his music, at least to hear Adventure's short story.
Unsurprisingly, it started in art school. Surprisingly, that art school wasn't MICA or SUNY Purchase (the pre-migration home of Wham City). Adventure started out in living rooms and house shows in Greenville, N.C., where Boeldt was studying at East Carolina University. "Being in art school . . . it makes doing art less fun I guess," he says. "I found music more or less another outlet aside from being a painting and drawing major, another medium to do stuff that wasn't controlled by being in school.
"I started playing around with some old keyboards that I had and learned how to write music on my own, just like playing it for myself and for my friends. They kept nagging me to play shows and I eventually did." He played "two or three" shows at first, all in houses, before touring with Virginia noiseniks Narwhalz, who sound like an anxious, angry, and abrasive take on Adventure's Sega nostalgia.
Back in Greenville, Boeldt kept to the house-show scene. "That's one of the ways I met Video Hippos, OCDJ, and Dan [Deacon] was them coming through Greenville and I got to play a lot with them," he says. "That's how I got to become friends with people up here and eventually moved up [late last summer]." Still, one of Boeldt's main sources of income is chauffeuring Deacon to shows up and down the East Coast.
"There's a lot of new stuff going on here that doesn't necessarily happen in North Carolina," he adds. "There was more of a formula in [Chapel Hill and Raleigh]. It was just less receptive to new stuff. Here is really open to showcasing new types of things."
And, certainly, Adventure is classic Wham City: eager to swing toward the fantastical and ridiculous. Live, you'll find him in front of a keyboard wearing a zebra mask and an embarrassingly tight spandex suit dancing in place like he's watching an aerobics tape locked in his head. "Trying to perform the music I make, doing it live and making it really interesting, is always a challenge because most of it is on a computer," he says. "If you're not dancing and if you're watching you're going to be bored . . . and I guess laughing at the fact that I'm wearing spandex and my balls are showing."
Upcoming album and national tour aside, everything about Adventure feels contingent--as in, now that it's exposed to the world, Adventure is back in its primordial stage. Maybe Adventure happened too fast to have one the first time. "It's very confusing right now as to where or what my direction is . . . how long it will last," he says. "I definitely have interest in doing more things in the future--maybe incorporating other live instruments, maybe slow it down a bit.
"Maybe [I'll add] analog instruments," he adds. "It's all digital right now. I think part of why that is is lack of money to buy the instruments I want. There's no way I could afford to buy the cool keyboards that are all out there. When I wrote those songs I didn't have to worry about that. I was writing them for myself and kinda for fun."