The ambient hut: Kobold:

The village in the frozen mountains

The description for this release ends with the sentence “short dungeon-pop compositions in 16-bit style and magic melodies that will transport you straight when you was young and carefree” (typo retained for clarity). Never has a blurb for an album been more nakedly honest. Kobold resides in that corner of dungeon where the geek takes their gloves off, proudly defending its original purpose as a soundtrack to fantasy RPGs. Musically it sits at a crossroads between dungeon synth and chiptune, a soundtrack to a video game that doesn’t exists, save for fragments of memory, lovingly reassembled into imagined pasts. A collection of all the warmest, fuzziest recollections held dearest by its target audience toward classic choose-your-own-adventure games from the retro-times.

From a critical perspective, this is a tree so weighted by its low hanging fruit that one barely knows where to start. But since nostalgia is not just a theme but the entire reason for projects like this to exist, pointing this out is redundant. What’s perhaps more noteworthy about ‘The village in the frozen mountains’ is the bizarre intersection of distinct but harmonious desires playing out across the music.

This is a conceptually dense attempt at wish fulfilment, the loaded and coded contexts surrounding this tape – when set against the naked musical content – feels like a chapter in the Rough Guide book to dungeon synth, offering a clear and concise psychological account of the genre’s population and where their chief preoccupations lie.

What’s perhaps most ironic here is the fact that ever since the social category existed in the common vernacular, the definition of geek has always included them being early adopters of new technological and scientific developments. Early video gaming is one area where this expressed itself, slowly evolving in tandem with the internet arriving in every home and the background chat of online forums, this allowed self-identifying geeks to combine a love of new tech with fantasy world-building escapism. A closed and esoteric craft that allowed them access to secret knowledge shut off from mainstream individuals who made up the physically threatening outside world.

Flash forward to the 2020s and geek culture is all but synonymous with pop culture, or at least a significant arm of pop culture. The fantasy and sci-fi genres dominate film and TV and a good portion of mainstream discourse. IT is no longer some arcane body of knowledge under the exclusive remit of those able to make a life’s work out of plumbing its mysteries. The lifestyle of ensconcing oneself off from society in order to gain cryptic technological wisdom has now been monopolised by corporations owned by jock billionaires or the tech-bros of Silicon Valley.

A deliberately self-limiting project like Kobold is therefore not just a simple case of nostalgia. Or a yearning for a time when your days floated by under hours of responsibility free D&D. It is also an attempt to reset the scales in favour of pure geekdom. To make geek culture obscure again.

It is for this reason that upon listening to ‘The village in the frozen mountains’ we get the sense that all is not well in the dungeon synth community. The arm of its lineage that sprung from retro video game music is pushing back against the coffee house dungeon synthers who steep the genre in high-class irony and faux attempts at artiness.  

Kobold want to push back at these mainstreamers. They may have repackaged themselves as “quirky”, but they are tourists not residents of Fort Geek. To be truly weird is to have no other choice. And purest dungeon synth is not just weird, but free of the postmodern bells and whistles clogging up much of modern dungeon synth. Kobold wishes to maintain this territory as a closely guarded pocket of eccentricity. A time when the high fantasy aspirations of geekdom far outstripped technology’s ability to express such flights of fancy.

The chiptune play, the hand drawn cover art, the accompanying text providing exposition as to where you are in the D&D quest, all speak of a yearning for a time both limited and limiting, where the ontological barriers of material, technological, and economic conditions were a challenge and not a constraint, a challenge to better our imaginations to the point where irony becomes superfluous. The Weird (capital W) rebuts the clutter of in-crowd memetic feedback loops along with their ambiguous attitudes toward metrics of quality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: