December 5, 2006 8:07 PM | Simon Carless
[Here's the second part of the report into NYC's amazing Blip Festival for video game-ish chiptunes, as written up by Brian 'Click-Stick' Liloia - many thanks to both him and Matt Hawkins (who wrote the first part, and collated both!) for the great coverage, and to Nullsleep, Bitshifter, and everyone else who put together the fest in the first place.]
Seriously, though. It feels like chiptunes just got a major up in prominence, legitimacy, and respectability with the recent Blip Festival, a massive four day event with over 30 international chiptune artists blasting low tech bleeps and blurps against the walls of 15 Nassau Street in New York City. Never before has it felt so good to be a fan of low tech music. This was a hugely satisfying event in every sense of the word, and I’m incredibly happy for the folks involved in the festival for making it such a big success.
When all was said and done, after four days of nearly 24 hours total of incredible music, I didn’t want to even leave the place. I almost shed a tear when the final act wrapped. (Ok, I won’t overdo it beyond that..)
But anyway, let’s talk a bit about Friday and Saturday nights…
PHOTO: Phillip Torrone
Friday’s show forecasted the overall trend of Blip Festival, which meant that each night was to be progressively more crowded than the next. (Though, Sunday seemed about on par with Saturday, I think.)
The night started off strongly with a heart-thumping set by Rabato, one of many artists I have never heard previous to the fest. I can still feel his ‘Simachip’ beating against my body. His was the addictively dance-y style that sticks with you after the GameBoys have all been powered down, and he definitely left an impression with me. Continuing Rabato’s flow of high energy, Quarta330 delivered more crushing tunes with a similar big beat style. I know I’ll be looking to download some of his stuff in the near future. Breaking up the previous two heavy duty performances, Pepino, a quirky duo consisting of one Spanish native and his accompanying Japanese-born female vocalist, dished out pop-y charm, singing in English, Japanese, and Spanish. They were a real treat, and definitely broke up the night nicely with their light-hearted vocals and sweet, yet still very danceable melodies. Bonus points for tambourine banging.
Following them was another original act by Mark DeNardo, mixing acoustic guitar in with traditional GameBoy-style chip sounds. He reminded me of David Sugar of the UK, but still… that’s only because he too adapts an acoustic guitar into his music. It’s amazing how different the two are despite that similarity. (David Sugar did not actually play at BF, though.) Coova, a female performer from Japan settled the crowd down with some soothing, mellow, and smoothly paced sounds. But the pace quickly ramped up when Bit Shifter hit the stage and threw the crowd into a manic frenzy with massive, bassy beats typical of his hard-hitting chiptunes. Bit Shifter has always been a pleasure to watch with his addictive fist-pumping energy. He never really fails to deliver, and this time was no exception.
Next up was Herbert Weixelbaum, who remains a bit vague in my memory, probably because he was right before Random, one of my favorite strictly GameBoy-using artists, who delivered an extraordinary set of songs, putting the crowd into yet another wildfire. By the time he was through, the crowd was so riled up that Random played an extra song, and awesomely enough, it happened to be one of my favorites of his. Hell of a way to end the night.
Overall, Friday was a brilliant and exhaustingly good time, but only a sliver of the insanity that would go down on Saturday.
Saturday saw a massive influx of audience members, and the place was literally jammed with people. (When Matt and I later spoke with nullsleep on Sunday, he told us that 500 tickets were sold for that night - cripes on toast!) I was very excited to see people there that had no previous exposure to chiptunes. Many people got right into it, dancing their hearts away, while a few seemed simply intrigued by what was going on, and perhaps even confused. But, the crowd was a sure sign that the fairly heavy promotion did some good.
The night started off with a screening of Super Mario Movie, a hacked version of an actual Super Mario Bros. cart. It was quirky, but cool to see in action.
PHOTO: Phillip Torrone
The Depreciation Guild started the music ball rolling, and was probably a nice ease-in-er for all the chiptune newbians with their melodic guitar riffing overlaid on chip sounds. These guys had a very unique vibe, much more akin to rock than the more familiar dance-style chiptune flavors.
However, Aonami hit the stage afterwards and unleashed some very major, heavy duty hardcore-ish breakbeat style chip sounds. I don’t really know what you might call it, but it was definitely heavy. He was way different compared to when I last saw him a year ago (or probably longer ago than that by now) at the original Tank location on 42nd Street. All the while, he screamed and grunted in the mic, but unfortunately his yelling wasn’t audible because of mic problems. I really felt bad for him for expelling all that energy without the crowd being able to hear it… But, still a fun watch. Fun guy.
Massive, lurking, and hugely Swedish Covox was up next, and proved to be a big delight. I saw him at the same time as Aonami last year, and I was anxiously awaiting him again this time around. He’s so tall and lanky, and just watching him move around the stage is fun in itself, but his music is really top-notch, too. He whipped out classics like Summer Fruit Dance Party, and newer goodies like Jet Alone, which I was hugely excited to hear live. Overall, awesome stuff. And you gotta love his commentary in-between songs about the US and New York being “home of the disco gays”.
Next up was Bud Melvin, a banjo-toting chiptuner. (As if playing music off a GameBoy wasn’t weird enough, this guy goes and adds a banjo to the mix… what the hell.) He was definitely a riot and a fun listen. Entertaining for sure.
PHOTO: Phillip Torrone
Up next was Nullsleep (who somehow earned the title of Fucking Nullsleep for the evening, it seems), who of course delivered some crowd pleasers. As expected, he whipped out the traditional PC keyboard for the old classic song whose title of course totally escapes me now that I have to remember it. He surprised the crowd when he played a brand new Kraftwek cover, complete with funky robotic vocals. Again, Nullsleep is always a pleasure to watch and he never really fails to pack a wallop.
After Nullsleep came Hally, who again, I have never heard before, but delivered an amazing set. This guy was great, really. Epic dance-y stuff here, but very original and fresh. During his set, he demoed off the work of another artist on what I think was an MSX (I couldn’t understand exactly what he explained) that proved to be popular. Definitely another highlight of the evening. I’m gonna need to find his music online, too.
At this point, I think the crowd was way worn down, as about half the audience must have drifted out of the venue. And no surprise, since it must have been about 1:30 a.m. by this time. TouchBoy hit the stage and kept energy high for the remaining crowd with more big beats. I myself was fairly exhausted at this point and had to sit down towards the end of his set, unfortunately.
Finally, Kplecraft ended the night with more very original work featuring two members playing some kind of jazz saxophone-thingy and some hand drums (can you tell I’m not down with music terminology?) on top of chip sounds. Again, very original stuff here. I just wish I wasn’t so wiped out so that I could appreciate it a bit more, but it was exciting nonetheless.
Hell of a show, that Blip Festival. The entire fest felt like an unending high, with incredible and addictive energy on display throughout all four evenings. The whole thing was extremely well planned, and it was definitely sad to see it wrap. Let’s hope for an even bigger event next year.
Amazing work, guys and gals.