Last week, the highly-anticipated Grand Theft Auto V was released, making almost $1 billion on its first day. Coupled with the fact that gross revenue from video game sales eclipsed that of the film industry in 2005, it seems logical that video game culture would have begun making inroads into other realms of pop culture. Digital music has always made reference to the midi tracks of early video games; as technology changes the tools we use to make music, the impulse to revel in the overt artificiality of that era becomes irresistible. An entire genre of music called “chiptune” exists to engage with this aesthetic. Propelled by a combination of formal appreciation and nostalgia, the style pays homage to the complex, affecting soundtracks that played in the background while its fans guided iconic avatars like Sonic the Hedgehog and Link through their 8-bit adventures as kids.
Infinity Shred is a three-piece electronic band with roots in chiptune, composed of Nathan Ritholz on guitar, George Stroud on drums, and Damon Hardjowirogo on keys and multi-instrumental duty. I saw them play their release party for their new album Sanctuary on September 6th to a packed house at 285 Kent. The audience skewed fairly young – like the band themselves, it was mostly composed of kids in their early twenties, and included a number of people from New York’s indie video game social circles. The band couldn’t contain their enthusiasm, even in mid-performance; a number of times during their song’s crescendos the members could be seen visibly smiling.
I went outside with Damon after the set to chat about the band and its influences, from books to video games and beyond.
I think Infinity Shred’s music lends itself to a narrative interpretation. It’s very evocative, almost like a soundtrack. Do you feel like when you’re working on the songs, you’re imagining scenes or stories?
Damon: Our guitarist gives me a lot of shit because every time I propose a music video idea, I want it to be narrative. I propose a story for it. “Void Ripper” was a lot of fun to make. For me, music videos are such a big opportunity to tell a story, so I’d rather tell a story than just make something purely visual. I think we’ll probably do both.
But I’ve been reading a lot of William Gibson, and it’s been a huge influence on this last album. I wanted to write about something more relatable to my life. When you read William Gibson’s work, you get the feeling that what he’s describing is minutes away. Years at most, but really minutes away. I wanted to dream about something that was within reach.
That’s awesome. Neuromancer was one of my favorite books growing up.
Yeah, well the song we opened with tonight is called “Straylight,” from the book. I just finished the “Sprawl” and “Bridge” trilogies.
Those are great. I also really liked the short stories, like “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Burning Chrome”. How do those themes enter your music?
Our band has been together for a while. It used to just be me and George, the drummer. We used to be called Starscream. And when we were Starscream, the biggest driver of the themes was our blatant love for space exploration, even though that’s too big to fathom. But when we became Infinity Shred, our music started to coalesce around a cyberpunk theme, thinking about the “near human future”.
The name sounds like it could be the title of a cyberpunk novel from the 80’s.
What are the themes and ideas you’re trying to convey in the song “Void Ripper“?
We wanted to write a cyberpunk-themed song that was upbeat but dramatic, and juxtapose it with the video, which is really dark. I’m really happy with how that came out.
Who did the video?
These guys! (Gestures to a group standing beside us) This is Jesse Goldsboury from Many Hearts. We had the song and thought it was really upbeat and they were like “Ok, now you’re going to hold this butterfly knife to his eye,” and we were like “Ok, this is a lot darker than we thought,” but it turned out great.
Do you do most of the writing?
I do most of the writing, but a huge part of the new songs has been the addition of our new member Nate, who plays guitar. He’s a really secretly talented hip hop producer, so I handed off all my songs to him and he just added things to them, and it was great, because I didn’t know those songs could sound like that.
So are you all from here?
I was born and raised in New York. George is from Jersey and moved here for high school, and Nate is from Westchester.
Did growing up here have an influence on your musical choices?
Growing up in the city impacts everything. It impacts your whole worldview. But even though Nate and I don’t come from the same place or chip-tune scene, we bonded over this video game called Mass Effect. I told him “this is the most emotional game, we’ll bond over this like we do over our post-rock fandom.” And we played the whole series together.
There are also a lot of video game references in your music. What’s your relationship with chiptune music?
Well that’s where we come from, but it’s not our focus anymore. We started off with 8-bit stuff, and it’s still an influence.
(At that moment, Jeremiah Johnson, who records under the name Nullsleep, tackles Damon, throwing him into the chain-link fence outside the venue)
Actually, here is one of the biggest influences I had. This is Nullsleep, who just tackled me against the fence. I was raised listening to this guy, all the 8-bit music. Anyway, 8-bit is very related to the indie video game scene. The Babycastles crew and us, we used to throw a lot of those kinds of shows at Silent Barn together. One of the most fun shows I ever played was with Jeremiah at a Babycastles show at the old Silent Barn in Queens.
So that’s where we come from and I’m super thankful for it, but it’s not what we’re focusing on anymore. All through middle school and high school I was raised on post-rock, bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky . . .
Mogwai . . .
Exactly! Very huge influence. So I had that idea of what kind of genre I wanted to tap. But recently I discovered R&B. And it’s been such a huge influence to me, and all my friends who I grew up with are telling me I’m so late to this. So I view this project as a combination of all the music I love coming together. I view my role in the band not as being a composer, but as an aggregator of everything I love.
Infinity Shred’s new album Sanctuary is available now from Paracadute Records. They play Glasslands on October 9th.