We’ve all been to crummy shows. You go expecting to have a good time and dance around a bit, and as it gets underway, you become infused with woe. You get this buzz in your body, notice how edgy and belligerent you’re getting, and then register how bad the music is. You want to get grooved up, but it’d just feel morbidly embarrassing to stoop to such a level. Giving in to the temptation would defeat the purpose of having standards and a legitimate set of preferences. And then, just as you tell yourself, “Shit, who am I kidding; I might as well just join the revelry.” The show ends. Now, there you are, left with a surplus of nervous energy wanting to kick a dumpster.
Don’t fret, there is Starscream. They encapsulate the antithesis to that situation. Starscream is an 8bit duo (entirely vocal free) from New York composed of George Stroud on drums and Damon Hardjowirogo on the Game Boy. Starscream makes all their music using LSDJ (Little Sound Disk Jockey), a now extinct cartridge for the Nintendo Game Boy which lets the user sequence and program music using Game Boy noises.
The touchstone of Starscream’s lure is that it somehow through its strangeness becomes universally accessible. It doesn’t carry all the target audience baggage of the subculture inducing and induced fields of alternative rock and hip hop. In fact, it combines the main tenets of these two categories in equal proportion: melody and rhythm. The distorted buzzing melody of the Game Boy coalesces with the hi-hat and snare heavy drumming without favoring either (a setback which besieges many bands) in excess. Instead, they combine with jagged clarity to produce a sound which is temporally dense but sonically sparse and refreshingly pithy. The sound itself embodies that oft recited saying that a band should play a short set to “leave the audience hungering for more.”
Starscream doesn’t fall into the rut of playing the same thing for too long. In each song, they shift sporadically from groove to groove and line to line with occasional and sudden breaks which leave the whole audience confused and astounded and then satiated and consoled when the music starts again (often at a faster tempo). Using a programmable instrument lets Damon create lines which are faster and more complex than an ordinary guitarist would be able to manage.
However, by nature of their instrumentation, they are very much a live band. The crowd they draw dances deliriously, then stumbles outside the venue to smoke madly and collapse from exhaustion and euphoria. Starscream usually plays the “all age” circuit (The Tank, Cakeshop, Don Hill’s, Southpaw, etc.) as well as various unofficial organized events. They have just released a full length album entitled Ghost//Stars. You can check them out on Myspace- /starscreamnewyork.
First published in The New York Optimist