Is there a band better suited to the 8-bit treatment than Kraftwerk? It’s hard to imagine one. The German electronic trio’s spacey, dread-infested synthscapes have been influencing DJs and other electronica-minded musicians for over 30 years, since Kraftwerk debuted in 1970. On the album 8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk, 15 classic Kraftwerk tracks are reinterpreted by “some of the 8-bit scene’s best innovators.” It’s a match made in beep/boop heaven.
The 8-Bit Operators are musicians who take pieces of lo-bit gaming technology — think the innards of the original Nintendo Operating System that create all the magic — and compose music that sounds like long-lost soundtracks to old Nintendo games. In this case, they reconceived Kraftwerk’s music in this way and, in fact, some of the best tracks on the compilation are the ones that sound the most like they belong playing behind an old game.
Covox’s deliberate, ethereal take on “Computer Love” sounds like it came straight out of one of the first three “Mega Man” games. Nullsleep’s “The Model,” with its chunky beats and static-y atmosphere has the feel of one of the nighttime levels from “Rad Racer.” David E Sugar’s version of “Radioactivity” could be a club remix of something from “Double Dragon.” “Trans-Europe Express” as interpreted by Receptors takes low-fi electronic explosions, squeaks, and short bursts of zaps, and mixes them with foreboding, tin-can vocals, creating a futuristic sound that could easily work on “Metroid.”
Some of the artists on 8-Bit Operators take their task a step further. Oliver Wittchow’s “Kristallo” begins with what sounds like the sound of an old video game character moving, that bloopy, bouncy shuffle sound, mixes it with the sparkly ting of Link from “The Legend of Zelda” collecting a Rupee, loops them together with the snare of a drum machine , adds incidental touches throughout — a whoosh of a Mario jump, the high-higher-highest pitched boop-boop-boops of a power up — and makes Kraftwerk’s song his. “Kristallo” could be the soundtrack to a video game, but it works just as well as a crazy cool interpretation of a song from a crazy cool band.
8-Bit Operators will please fans of the 8-bit sound as well as those who are into Kraftwerk. While the songs on the disc retain enough of Kraftwerk’s influence to be recognizable, the 15 artists included on the compilation admirably step up to the challenge of making music that originally sounded alien to another place altogether.