Video Burnout (Dub Version) by Little Toni Marsh. Prism Records, 1983.
This week we’re looking at Video Burnout, an odd little boogie number that doesn’t really stand out in it’s own right, but which represents very well a micro genre that sprang up in the early eighties which I’m going to take the liberty of retrospectively christening: Atari Funk. With the rise of the Commodore, the NES, the Atari and the Amstrad at the dawn of the eighties, a whole generation of kids became obsessed with little blocks of pixels moving about on screen, they were affordable enough for a lot of families to buy consoles for their own homes and those that couldn’t afford it could go to the multitude of video game arcades, which had become the new hang out of choice for cool kids in massive trainers and questionable knitwear/shell suits. It was what you’d call an old fashioned ‘craze‘ and the effects of this new technology burned it’s way into the cultural world, with films like Tron cropping up, but most noticeably, it had an effect on music.
Technology and music have always had a tight relationship, and the eighties were a high point – with all the rapid development in synthesizer and drum machine production, the first wave of computers being used to sequence music etc. Not only is music production tied into technology, but the actual subject matter of music often responds to technological advancements too – the attitude of the blues, for example, underwent a huge paradigm shift when the guitars became electrified and amplified in the sixties. And so, too, in the eighties – when the pomp and grandour of the disco orchestra gave way to the home studio of synths and sequencers, the attitude of a lot of music, as well as the sound, changed. If you listen to a LOT of electronic music over the last decade or so, there’s an emphasis on clicky, glitchy sounds that reference the digital world, the internet, mobile phones etc. There’s the whole chip tune scene too, from a generation showing nostalgia for the 8 bit sounds that surrounded them growing up. Anyway, this is fast becoming a mangled thesis (too much coffee), but the point is – music responds to, and is influenced by, technology. Video Burnout was one example of ‘Atari Funk’, there was also Video Games by Ronnie Jones, Video Queen by Chocolate Milk and Video Baby by The Earons along with many others. They all featured sound fx that referenced computer games, and vocals that commented on the new obsession.
Video Burnout is my favourite of the bunch, produced by Mark Ligget who also produced stuff by Shannon and a lot of Freestyle: the more latin, more high energy and unhinged sister of boogie funk. The mix was touched by the hand of John Morales, a master in his own right, and the track came out on Prism records, which put out some amazing boogie and disco including Geraldine Hunt’s perennial classic ‘Can’t Fake The Feeling’, Warp 9’s ‘Light Years’, and which eventually went on to become Hip Hop label Cold Chillin. The production on Video Burnout is crisp and sharp, and the track has an eerie feel to it, something a bit post armageddon. The vocoder refrain: ‘Where do you go, when the arcades close?’ has a strange robotic sadness to it, that sets off the cheesy ish synths a treat, and Little Toni Marsh’s off key vocal ‘I’m burning ow-ow-ow-ow-ow out’ always makes me laugh, like a kid who’s been playing Pele’s soccer for 32 hours straight and has completely lost the plot. It’s an Atari Funk banger.