How Exciting!!Excellent’s Jasmine McElroy Became an Emo-Chiptune Pioneer

“This is an emo band rather than a video game band.”

The sound that greets you from the speakers upon pressing play on exciting!!excellent!!’s new album, You Will Watch Me Die, is startlingly original. Jasmine McElroy’s vocals sound like they were ripped from a pop-punk or emo song and mashed up with the sound of someone speed-running through an old Nintendo game.

But the 32-year-old, who’s lived in Portland since 2019, didn’t necessarily set out to be an emo-chiptune pioneer. “It was more of a practical idea,” says McElroy, who discovered Little Sound DJ—which allows musicians to use a GameBoy as a music controller to produce vintage sounds—after her old band had broken up and she was waiting to start a new project.

“And then, of course, the pandemic happens and I’m not going to be starting a band for a whole minute,” McElroy adds. “So I decided, well, maybe I’ll just lean into this.”

Exciting!!excellent!! isn’t the first project to mash up emo with bleeps and bloops. McElroy shares a label (Lonely Ghost Records) with Billings, Mont., band Hey, ily!, whose music she’s covered and whose Internet Breath EP attempted a similar fusion.

While those bands at least adhere to a basic guitar-bass-drums rock band structure, the current instrumental setup for exciting!!excellent!! consists of one guitar and one GameBoy—”although I’ve been thinking lately about incorporating a second GameBoy,” McElroy says.

She has less nostalgia for the sounds she uses than many potential listeners. McElroy was never much of a gamer, and her favorite video game music is the Banjo-Kazooie soundtrack, which sounds almost nothing like the music that exciting!!excellent!! makes.

“I feel like it’s kind of freeing,” McElroy says of her lack of direct influence from video game scores. “I don’t really see that as a weakness, I see that as a strength. And this is why I’m always very insistent that this is an emo band rather than a video game band.”

McElroy had an itinerant childhood as the daughter of a Marine. She’s lived in California, Virginia and Michigan, though she was born in Texas and considers it home. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest in 2019 with her husband, she lived in Austin and played in a pop-punk band she prefers not to talk about (“everyone in the scene kind of hated us.”)

Despite Austin’s reputation as a hub for live music, McElroy found the local do-it-yourself emo scene lacking. Yet after moving to Portland, she was greeted on the other side of the pandemic by one of the country’s most eclectic young rock scenes.

“I would even say that we’re in the midst of an emo resurgence here,” McElroy says. Bug Seance, Mauve, Simple Shapes, Simpleton, and Swiss Army Wife are only a few of the names she cites in reference to this rising wave of new Portland bands.

McElroy is both a participant and a social locus in the scene. She occasionally turns her home in Southeast into a house venue called the Sarah Douglas Home for Wayward Bugs & Squirrels, where she frequently performs and hosts touring and local bands.

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, McElroy will perform at all-ages local hub Honey Latte Cafe. She also has a weekend tour planned with Utah band Summer 2000, which will kick off at the Sarah Douglas Home on Friday, Oct. 20, and continue in Seattle and Olympia.

“I originally only planned for this project to be a vehicle for me to play some shows up here in a new city and meet other musicians to form another band with,” she says. “But people ended up liking this, so I’m just going to stick with it for as long as that’s the case.”

SEE IT: Exciting!!excellent!! plays the Honey Latte Cafe, 1033 SE Main St., 7 pm Tuesday, Oct. 10. $12. All ages.

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