No nostalgia required: Bit Brigade reimagines your childhood

by Ryan Snyder

Children of the ‘80s, there’s a certain reflection of your 10-year-old self on the face of Noah McCarthy. Seated in a floor-level chair on stage Wednesday night at the Blind Tiger, the light of a 14-inch television flickered across his face as he calmly pounded away on the six-button controller of the original Nintendo Entertainment System just after 1 a.m. The de facto front man of the lyricless 8-bit soundtrack recreationists from Athens, Bit Brigade, he’s the epitome of sangfroid in recline.

Live-scoring classic titles like Wednesday night’s selections of the original Castlevania and Contra aren’t exactly new phenomena in music, though it is only recently that video-game composers have been duly acknowledged for what is more frequently counted as brilliant work. From Boston power-metal outfit Powerglove to the London Philharmonic, unique interpretations from the nearly bottomless creative pool are surfacing all the time. The London Philharmonic doesn’t, however, have a Noah McCarthy.

To put it in perspective, even Jimmy in The Wizard couldn’t get out of the first stage of Contra without taking an alien bullet to the dome, and no Nintendo Power game counselor could walk you through with such cruel efficiency. Not only did McCarthy run through the entire game untouched, with no need of the 30 lives code, he did it on such a razor-thin margin of error that you’re forced to revisit your 10-year-old self and reassess why it took you umpteen tries to get past the armored cars in the Snow Field level. And he did it, astoundingly, in less than 20 minutes. There was no backtracking, no breathers, no screwing around with the stupid laser or fire gun, just a relentless, forward assault Meanwhile, the members of Cinemechanica and We Versus the Shark who comprise the band turned the subtle, one-dimensional compositions of Kazuki Muraoka and Castlevania’s Kinuyo Yamashita into a savagely indelicate prog assault that magnifies the nuances of every individual stage. The turned the opening leitmotif of Castlevania into a sinister bit of Candlemass-inspired doom metal, their musical range extending to the hyper grooves in Contra’s first stage filtered through the Adrian Belew dictum.

As loud and distracting as it was, McCarthy executed the game to almost mathematical perfection, from shaming Castlevania’s opening demo sequence with an effortless dispatching of the problematic bone dragon in stage 12 to downing Dracula in an absolute minimum of movements. It’s easy to assume that nostalgia is the driving force behind watching someone else play video games and hear the soundtracks turned up to 11, but honestly, your 10-year-old self was never, ever this good.