How software piracy spawned an electronic music subculture

  • Binayak Dasgupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 21, 2015 15:21 IST

Remember the time software was prohibitively expensive and almost every geek you knew recommended you ‘crack’ your way into being updated with, say, the latest version of Microsoft Office or the pro version of Winamp?

That era of online piracy was, as it turns out, was bedrock for a style of what is now possibly the largest growing genre of music: Electronic.

Music blog Nest HQ traced the history of the often quirky, but undeniably creative origins of the music on key generators (keygens). Keygens, for the uninitiated, are small programs usually developed by ‘crack’ teams that generate an unlock code to (illegally) turn trial software into full versions. Beginning in the late '80s, crack teams started to put audio ‘intros’ as a way to establish their identity, the blog explained.

“The intros were each crack team’s signature, and as the scene grew, artists making these signatures started looking at ‘intros’ as a new form of standalone audio and visual expression,” it says.

The music was produced on software called Trackers – the earliest of electronic music production platforms.

From there on spawned the Demoscene – an underground geek art subculture producing small, self-contained computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations. Demoscene competitions brought together people showing off their programming, artistic, and musical skills.

Seventeen years ago, it was something like this:

Today, they incorporate more intricate 3D-modelling (thanks to better software and more powerful systems) and music that sounds close to more popular electronic music genres such as this: ;

Possibly the most significant example is that of Axwell, one of the trio that formed the hugely popular Swedish House Mafia. Axwell, the on-stage moniker of Swedish DJ Axel Christofer Hedfors, was preceded by Quazar – an artist whose music figured on some of the keygens.

The direct descendent of that music culture is a genre now known as Chiptune Music, a style counted as influences by present electronic music icons like DeadMau5.

Check out the full Nest HQ blog post here. It's a fascinating read.

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