16 BIT SESSIONS #5: Fucked Up – Queen of Hearts

16 BIT SESSIONS is where James tries to figure out all this Mega Drive music business by covering songs and trying out different sounds. This time, it’s a cover of Queen of Hearts by a rad Toronto band called Fucked Up.

Quick reminder up top about our upcoming no-cover show on 16th March at the Horseshoe Tavern!

How do you make a Sega Genesis song out of hardcore vocals? The short answer is that you can’t. But it’s fun to try! Anyone who tells you screaming isn’t a musical practice is full of it – it’s chromatic, for sure. It’s impossible to pin individual notes to it – and for this song I tried. But musicality is there in frequencies – a thousand notes at once making a unique kind of white noise. It’s pitched and dynamic. Add good lyrics, rhythm and passion and you’ve got something special.

But I don’t have words to make a Sega Genesis cover. It’s technically possible to make a Mega Drive sing words – and the entire point of this series is to help me get better at my own craft – that’s a whole other ball game, and one I’m not ready for yet. I tried the noise channel of the Genesis chip and it was too monosyllabic, too far in the other direction.

I solved it the only way I know how – by finding the rhythm and filling it with samples of people either throwing punches or getting the shit kicked into them from games such as Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2. It came out as a kind of Simlish-sounding language and it takes a little getting used to but it makes me laugh and I kinda love it.

There’s a lot to say and that has been said about Fucked Up, but the most important thing is that they’re a great band. They’re not afraid of anything – they’ll create whatever they want, and as someone who’s decided at 27 to spend a good deal of his free time (and lose a bit of his money) making Mega Drive songs, these artists are important. That the album this track opens, David Comes To Life, is a concept album that deals with concept albums as a theme and is set in my home country of England is a bonus – especially as I start to experiment with narrative forms of songwriting myself and explore how I can make that work for us. But at the core of it, Fucked Up is a great band and this is a great song. The soaring chorus line, heard in this cover in square wave form, is one of the best hooks of the last five years.

The quick nature of these covers means I’m always making things that are less than perfect – I would have liked to add some more punch to the bass if I could, and there was a temptation there to make this cover much more abrasive – the Genesis is capable of some brutal, grinding sounds befitting of a punk rock band. But time limits and forcing myself to be less precious about my output is a positive thing – I found the balance of this track was best when it plays less like a metallic juggernaut and more like an unexpectedly badass kids’ game. Sort of like a grey-sky platformer, or if Mortal Kombat was held on Yoshi’s Island. Admit it – you’d play that game!

Here’s the original!

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