A Micro History of Demoscene Music

bughug#1 by Goto80


Most demoscene music is characteristic in that it's made by hand, distributed as semi-open source, and executed in real-time. Composers adapt to the technical limitations as well as the cultural conditions, where resources were often reserved for the visual content. For these purposes, demosceners refined the tracker-software, which is essentially a text-based step-sequencer with quick access to all sound parameters.

TEF GIGAMIX 2 House Acid amiga 1991 PART DEUX


The Amiga 500 (1987) was the first home computer that you could make chart hits with. The megamix was a popular form in the scene [see clip above] but used too much memory for demos. The so-called 'ST-01 style' used smaller samples bundled with the Soundtracker software.[1] In 1989, 4-mat cut out snippets of these samples and looped them, to make beeps. The term chipmusic was coined for this music, which flirted with C64-aesthetics and had a file size of about 15 kb, which made intro-coders happy.[2]

Meanwhile, several e.g. C64-musicians were striving away from 'chipmusic' towards e.g. industrial/rave, in line with the demoscene desire for transgression.[3] Some tried to mimic older styles such as jazz and funk [4] and what was known in the demoscene as 'doskpop' - something inbetween Jarre and Laserdance, very popular in the early 1990s demoscene.[5]

On the PC, demos became more similar to music videos or media art and some demoscene musicians were signed to labels (e.g. Brothomstates on Warp). Demos started to use MP3-audio, while other composers (again) preferred more restrictive settings like soundchips and tiny soft-synthesis.[6]

The musicdisk is an emblematic artifact of demoscene music. It's an executable file that contains music, graphics and texts generated in real-time. The songs are not linear recordings from A to B, but often contain loop-points so they can be heard forever.[7] A more obscure artifact is the tracker animation, that turns the score into an animation.

Tracker Animation "Mothership FTW"


Anders Carlsson (Goto80)


[1] Amegas by Karsten Obarski (Amiga Mod, 68kb, 1987)

[2] Paul the Penguin by Radix (Amiga Mod, 22kb, 1996). [On YouTube]

[3] Anal'ogue by Jeff (C64 Sid, 8kb, 1996)
Solved Track by Ed (C64 Sid, 5kb, 1996)

[4] Canal Green by Audiomonster (Amiga Mod, 140kb, 1993)
Gaia by 911 (Amiga Mod, 64kb, 1993)

[5] Doskpop-mix by Random (MP3, 2009)

[6] Ikadalawampu by Loonies (Amiga 4kb, 2010). [On YouTube]
Ameisen by Rrrola (MS-DOS, 32bytes, 2007). [On Vimeo]

[7] Bruno's Box 3 by Anarchy (Amiga, 1991). [On YouTube]
Crystal Symphonies by Phenomena/Rebels/Scoopex (Amiga 1991). [On YouTube]
Disco Calculi by Wrath Designs (C64 1997).