Japanese electronic pop group YMCK formed in Tokyo in 2003 and quickly became flag carriers for Japanese chiptune, the electronic music subgenre based on eight-bit video game sounds. Consisting of vocalist Kurihara Midori, programmer Yokemura Takeshi, and video producer Nakamura Tomoyuki, the group combines the sounds of Nintendo game music with a kind of jazz-inflected pop that has its roots in the 1990s Shibuya-kei scene of artists like Flipper's Guitar, Cornelius, and Fantastic Plastic Machine. YMCK's first release was a self-released CD-R, which was later expanded to a full album released in 2004 on Usagi-Chang Records. This album, Family Music, was a respectable indie hit, selling over 25,000 copies and bringing them to the attention of overseas audiences and gaining them invitations to perform at festivals in Europe and Thailand.
Frustrated by the limitations of the existing synth sounds that the band had been using, Yokemura rejigged the way he made music in time for the group's second album, 2005's Family Racing, by writing his own synthesizer software, "the Magical Eight-Bit Plug," and making it available for fans to download for free from YMCK's website. While not a live band in the traditional sense (most of their live performance uses prerecorded sounds), they made further overseas festival appearances over the next year, returning to Thailand and making their first visit to the United States, with Family Music becoming the band's first U.S. release. YMCK's next move saw them sign a deal with major label Avex Trax, which released third album Family Genesis in January 2008. The album showcased the band's continually expanding range, the complexity of its arrangements, and the increasing breadth of sonic textures that Yokemura was able to get out of the simplistic retro synth effects that still formed the basis of the music. In 2008 YMCK made their second trip to the United States and also appeared at Japan's Rock in Japan Festival, which seemed to confirm their rising status as artists. ~ Ian Martin