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8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk

Bliss comes in eight bits. Mario never needed more than that; nor did Zelda. German electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk were all but done by the time the Nintendo Entertainment System debuted in 1983, but they share striking similarities. Both humanized machines, thrived on minimalism, and launched entire genres. If a Nintendo game were made about the development of electronic pop music (fun as that sounds), Eight-Bit Operators would supply the soundtrack: fifteen artists arranged fifteen Kraftwerk songs on eight-bit microchip computers, handheld devices, and gaming consoles. The first few levels are easy, drawing from the band’s later, more accessible work, which presaged the arrival of synth-pop artists like Gary Numan and Depeche Mode. Material from Kraftwerk’s challenging first three records fill in the middle and final stages. In Level Fifteen, gwEm and Counter Reset perform a hyper live version of “The Man Machine” from Kraftwerk’s 1978 release of the same name. Finishing the sixty-minute compilation will never be as rewarding as defeating King Bowser, but it does offer a lesson in how much can be accomplished with so little.

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