In the summer of 1981 a mysterious game appeared in a local arcade in Portland, Oregon. ‘Polybius’, as it was called, proved to be extremely popular with the local youth in the Pacific Northwest town. Teens would line up outside of the arcade before opening and a line would continue till closing. Kids obsessed over the adventure and intrigue-filled game, almost to the point that it seemed they were becoming addicted to dropping coins in the game’s slot.
Within a month of the game mysteriously arriving it disappears without a trace. There were reports of teens suffering from night terrors, seizures, insomnia, and even hallucinations from playing the game. There were also reports of mysterious men in black showing up after closing and entering the arcade and “messing” with Polybius(this was an account by a local tavern owner that “moved away” overnight.)
Forty years later background music from Polybius has emerged mysteriously, seemingly from its maker Sinneslochen Inc(possibly a whistleblower?) These digital tapes have been restored into an audio companion piece by music historian/producer Deadly Avenger. Burning Witches Records proudly presents these audio artifacts in digital and and analog form(cassette and vinyl) for your curiosity and pleasure. But beware what curiosity did to the cat.
Over 19 audio cues we get a firsthand look into this mysterious arcade game that overtook a community and disappeared before another coin could be dropped. We are gifted a step back into time with glorious late 70s/early 80s electro sound nuggets, ala Kraftwerk, OMD, Gary Numan, and of course the dawn of the age of video game music. Musically speaking Polybius was highly advanced and ahead of its time, pulling the player in with its hypnotic synth tones and buzzing square waves.
“VECTOR LABS_OS>” with its buzzing, glitching electronics and primitive percussive beat sounds like the dawn of both video game soundtracks and also DIY electronic music. “ALTERED STATE” seems almost too sophisticated for 1981, more deep space drift than RPG. But with the game and the hold it had on its unsuspecting players who knows where the technology came from that created these sounds.
The music as a whole has an early industrial lean to it. “POLYBIUS” sounds like Kraftwerk kicking it with Nitzer Ebb, while “CODEK” finds us hearing early Ministry somehow channeling Cluster. “Protocol 77” buzzes and hums till a hard electro beat comes in like a synthetic heart beat.
I think I’d keep throwing coins in just to hear the music, honestly.
There’s a seediness and darkness here, though. You feel as if you’re unlocking some kind of alternate reality while listening. A portal into someting that shouldn’t be explored. Some level of the subconscious that opens us to influence and lack of inhibition. It’s there. I feel it listening to these tracks. Something beckoning me. Something….luring me in.
Why Portland, Oregon? Why does Polybius show up in this seemingly free-thinking Pacific Northwest town? Well, ever think about how many cults popped up in and around Portland and Oregon itself back in the 70s and 80s? Maybe there’s a susceptibility to mind control, and who or what that decided to leave Polybius for the masses knew this was prime real estate for mind control and some sort of sociological experiment. Whatever it was, Polybius left its mark.
There’s a part of me that wishes I’d been about 12 or 13-years old growing up in Portland in 1981. To have the chance to drop a coin in that sleek machine called Polybius and take the journey would have been amazing. Instead I was 9-years old living in the Midwest and geeking out over Tron in the Oswego Grocery Mart in 1983. No night terrors or hallucinations, just a lot of churches and Johnny Couger.
But thanks to Deadly Avenger and Burning Witches Records I can throw on some headphones and pretend. I feel like I’m there right now.
Polybius is available right now via Burning Witches Records. Buy it here.