December 14, 2007 4:00 PM | Simon Carless
[For the second year running, the effusive Matthew 'Fort90' Hawkins has helped us out with an insanely detailed, awesome write-up of the Blip Festival, New York's premiere chiptune mashup insanity music fest. This year, it's so long that we're splitting it in twain - here's the first part, covering Nights 1 and 2. This second part deals with Nights 3 and 4 - avanti!]
I had planned on attending the workshops schedules for the early afternoon, to check out the history of and the how-to behind chiptunes, but the party simply knocked my ass out. I also missed an impromptu performance of Chibi-Tech jamming with Hally (the set I’m assuming that would have happened the night prior, time permitting). Damn…
Considering how epic night two was, one had to wonder if night three could keep up the pace, but before the music even started, you could feel the energy in the room; right off the bat, the place was packed (I’m not sure about the other nights, but Saturday night was confirmed to have sold out, with people being turned away at the door). It was a real circus; you had obvious chiptunes regulars brushing shoulders with curiosity seekers, with a healthy does of the art-farty crowd that frequents the area.
One woman was dressed like the Virgin Mary, another like some 80s glam starlet (with the huge hair, massive shoulder pads, and a gigantic silver belt buckle that had a big fish on it), and some group had tree branches with them (fans of Tree Wave perhaps?). The media was in full force, with G4 TV asking odd questions to whomever they could bother, and the Destructoid robot could be found as well. Oh, and that guy who dressed up as a Tetris piece from last time was back, but instead of being an L shape, he was just the long piece.
Performer 03.01: Markus Schrodt, from Austria, was to the eyes and ears. Armed with a C64, he was total Eurodance all the way. Carefree and fun are the best ways to describe both the man and his music, with quickly paced, and quick-witted compositions that got everyone in the dancing spirit almost immediately. A bold, yet very smart choice to kick off night three.
Performer 03.02: Brooklyn’s own Mark DeNardo is another guy whom I have seen multiple times, and not a single time has ever been the same. Mark is a man everyone needs to see... Why? Because he’s the future of rock, that’s why.
Mark’s music is challenging, so lazy people or dummies need not apply. It’s eclectic mix of rock, folks, soul,and kung fu fighting, with Mark doing guitar and PSP (which emulates the sounds of a Famicon), plus there’s always some other person doing something else. Last I saw him, he had a woman playing the violin, but tonight was a dude on drums. Oh, and there was also a teenager who both provided support and did interpretive dancing, that was either dressed as a member of Team Zissou or a wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.
Performer 03.03: Just as much as Mark is the future, the next act up, The Depreciation Guild, was clearly the next big thing. They’re as close to a “real-deal” mainstream act (i.e. marketable) as the fest, as well as the entire chiptunes scene has, as a whole; a two man-thing, you have two heart-throbs belting out chip-laden industrial rock songs and ballads as if they were in the industrial, post-punk/dream-pop scene, circa the 80s (I’ve heard them described as the chiptunes version of My Bloody Valentine, and its pretty app). Just close your eyes and you can imagine their video being in heavy rotation on 120 Minutes back when MTV actually played decent music vids.
The Depreciation Guild
Unfortunately, as was the case for many other acts thus far, technical issues reared its annoying head, and at times, the Guild sounded less than perfect. But when they were 100%, it was as if they were performing for a stadium, and on a card that could easily include My Chemical Romance or Postal Service, both of them opening, of course.
Performer 03.04: Treewave could be best described as the total package, as well as a complete treat to experience. The Texas-based outfit (which is normally a two person, man/woman combo, but the female half was absent… due to school commitments I hear... so it was just the dude that night) doesn’t just play songs, but paint grandiose, yet extremely sincere, almost intimate visual and soundscapes.
Somewhat known as “that chiptunes act that makes music with a (dot matrix) printer, Treewave takes everyone on a ride and tells a story, filled with peaks and valleys… the audio is supplied by a vast array of old hardware, including said printer, who is rightfully a star, and the visuals are told via a 2600. The combo gives Treewave the distinction of being the very definition of what electronic music is all about, yet at the same time, is damn emotional.
Performer 03.05: Its as if The Deprecation Guild and Treewave was some big set up, to make everyone feel all happy go lucky, and soft, and vulnerable, as if it was some big massive set-up by performer number four, Bit Shifter, to go in for the kill.
A complete 180 from the two previous acts in terms of tone and attitude, Bit Shifter was hard, heavy, with intentions that was deadly clear: he was there to make noise and make move asses across the dance floor. Of all the times I’ve seen him perform, that night’s performance ranks easily as one of the most intense. Also, it was perhaps his longest set with the shortest amount of songs. I think he played, maybe four songs? Basically, he hit just the right notes and had no release to release the buttons. It was as if the king was letting his subjects know who was in town (and the king description is more than appropriate, given that Bit Shifter, aka Josh Davis was one of the masterminds behind the event, along with Nullsleep).
Performer 03.06: And then came yet another wild man from the East (with an emphasis on the word “wild”); his name was Bokusatsu Shoujo Koubou, aka BSK. Imagine the scary, long haired girl from the Ring movies, but her older, ass-kicking bigger brother instead. Its as if his Game Boys were the gateway to some crazy, insane breakcore chiptune dimension that we couldn’t see, but only hear, and apparently, its hella LOUD; BSK would push buttons and get the melodies and beats started, then we would have his hands around, as if he was doing some wicked incantation, plus swing his head and hair round, and round, and round.
I think the amount of sweat given off by the people in the audience had to have measured in the tens of gallons. His beats were so rapid fire to the point that it was comical. And of course, when some technical flub came up, the crazy, shut up and take your medicine man became all eager to please and “Sorry! Sorry!” as he did his best to fix things ASAP. But yeah, one of the most intense sets of the entire four days, and that’s saying volumes.
Performer 03.07: And at long last, it was finally time for perhaps the most anticipated act of the entire event, the grand return to America of the German innovators of the scene, Bodenständig 2000. You get two, goofy and lovable guys, a handful of old hardware, some wacky stories, as well as a few jokes, plus an intoxicating blend of techno rave, Eurodance, and good old fashioned chiptunes.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment... maybe it was their opener, in which the song, sung without any accompanying chip-beat, starts off about a young boy that wants to be an astronaut, but after a space shuttle tragedy, his mother goes “Maybe we should reconsider this plan” and at which point, we hear a coarse, electronic voice state “THE UNIT WAS DESTROYED”, which carried over to the other cautionary tales, even if it was about an aardvark (or some other animal, I think) whose mother also asks to reconsider its chosen path in life.
Though also just as enchanting was their song about sex, which was accompanied by various phone sex ads supplied by teletype machines, which features ultra blocky, pixelated women, that was quite hot back in the day. But yeah, those two lovable dudes from Germany simply charmed the pants off of everyone, and got everyone in an awesome mood, enough to even placate the rowdy moshers.
Bodenständig 2000's pixel porn
Performer 03.08: For the third night, another: “How the in f*ck is the next guy next gonna to top that?!” And a valid concern, given how amazingly satisfying Bodenständig were. Unfortunately, so much so that a lot of people shuffled out immediately afterwards, though that might have something to do with the fact that it was crazy late; staying on schedule had been an issue the entire festival, but it was ridiculously so on night three. Well, the final performer for the evening was Huoratron, and those who left early, well... were clearly fools. And even I had doubts at first, but man, was I wrong.
Thank God Huoratron was just as evil as advertised. His site claims he’s from Finland, but I somehow don’t buy it; not from anywhere from this realm, at least. Hearing his music was like being in the middle of a battlefield. Helping to set the mood was his choice of background video, which was footage of bombs being dropped and stuff being blown up to smithereens. Which of course paled in comparison to the hypnotic looping vid of his scary visage, as he smiled with blood coming flowing form his mouth, or him getting punched in the face and sweat flying in all directions, in slow motion.
Huoratron’s set was loud and angry, to the point that it was almost abusive, but only because he loved us. And when he addressed the people, like the superior being that he was, as if he was a guiding light from either Heaven or Hell, it was with a gruff and angry voice, just like his music; when he called out Bit Shifter to come up on stage, one had to wonder if it was to hug him or rip his head off. You just didn’t know, and his devilish grin made it impossible to know what was going on.
Folks headbanged through his entire set, people who had never head banged before, those who neither had any previous interest, nor knew they were capable, such was the power of Huoratron, with the set culminating in a huge circle of people, holding hands and running around, for some reason. More than any other moment, one simply had to be there, for it was another high watermark for Blip Fest 2007.
After three solid nights of six hours of unrelenting chiptunes, there was still one more to go. Night four was for the diehards; those who still had the strength. It was particularly cold that evening as well, which was why the attendance was rather low compared to the previous nights, but still quite respectable.
I’ll admit it; I was dead tired by Sunday evening. Plus I had been more than satisfied, as was most of the people, plus everything as a whole had a definite “anything goes” attitude. It was time for Blip Fest to come to a raging climax...
Performer 04.01: Yet another from out of nowhere (well actually, another Italian on the card) performer, Postal_m@rket started off running and never stopped. Fast and furious, his songs, with its rather intricate, and all over the place compositions were also reminiscent of actual game music (its crazy to think that it wouldn’t be the case for all the performers, and perhaps it is the case, for those not versed with the field), and around the later parts of whatever game, or even the boss fights themselves. But for those of you who don’t compare each piece of music, whatever it may be, to Mega Man ditties, basically, everything had a very nice, retro flair.
Performer 04.02: Right off the back, 6955 provided the laughs, by correcting the announcer, who mistakenly called him 9655 or something. The fact that a tall white dude was also representing Japan was worth a few chuckles (he’s originally from Canada, but migrated to Tokyo to pursue… life).
Anyhow, 6955 was another pleasant surprise, with his mixture of ambience and noise, all neatly presented with a very experimental feel. Though the real star was his tool, which looked like nothing had ever seen; basically, he took a Famicom keyboard and it’s software and shoved it in the guts of an old Casio keyboard, which had a port made to accommodate a Famicom Basic cartridge.
6955's modified Casio
Performer 04.03: Once again, another local guy hit the stage, and easily the most criminally underrated one at that. This time it was Glomag, who always manages to impresses with an unpredictable array of haunting original melodies, tightly interwoven with brilliant covers. Its somewhat common in the chiptunes world… you’re just standing (or perhaps sitting) there, listening to an assortment of beeps and boops, then all of a sudden you find yourself going “Hey, wait a minute… isn’t that… HOLY SH*T IT IS!” And that was certainly the case when he brought Hotel California into the spotlight, with an awesome reinterpretation, which the long-played out classic has desperately needed. Though his take on the Kraftwerk standard, Pocket Calculator was just as sublime. In fact, as was the case with a few other local guys, but in Glomag’s case, perhaps a little bit more so; it was best, or at least my favorite performance from him thus far.
Glomag with his virtual self in the background
Performer 04.04: Two guys from Spain calling themselves Yes, Robot took the stage next. Basically, a double-trouble DJ combo that digitally scratched beats from Game Boys and were, more or less, the lives of the party. I could be wrong, but both seemed to be totally improvising and going about his own business, independent of the other, which probably meant they weren’t and were simply that good. It was a sight to see, and something to hear. Best surprise had to be when they busted out, in the middle of their frantic, party mix, a rendition of Close To You, which stopped everyone in their tracks to hold hands.
Performer 04.05: Straight outta Scotland came Firebrand Boy. Squarely in the “Jesus Christ, that guy is LOUD” category, and yet another super pleasant surprise, Firebrand Boy is folk/dance/chip explosion if there ever was one, and another instant crowd favorite. Again, words can’t express how insanely catchy his tunes were.
Performers 04.06: gwEm & Counter Reset are, to put it blunty, two bloody wankers from the UK. gwEm in particular appeared to be a mixture of Johnny Rotten, Elvis Costello, and that scrawny kid you knew in high school that didn’t give a rat’s ass about gym and cared only about sneaking in a quick game of Super Mario Land whenever he found the time. About as anti-heavy metal, to the point that they go full circle and does indeed become heavy metal, as you can get, both rocked out via guitar and I believe old Atari computers, with the highlight being a rousing, and somewhat off-key, rendition of Breaking the Law.
gwEm & Counter Reset
Performer 04.07: Of all the performers who got the worst of it when it came to technical difficulties, it had to be Sabrepulse. Basically, an angry short guy, as well as a hardcore, chiptune powerhouse, the dude simply could not sit still, as he jumped, and jumped, and jumped some more, through one intense composition after another. Unfortunately, his amazing display of Game Boy sound-stretching and stomping abilities were cut short when one of his LSDJ carts died on him, effectively wiping out half of his intended set list. Once word was given out, a crack team of other artist came to the stage, to investigate, and possibly salvage the situation, but alas, nothing was possible. One can only hope that he’ll be back next year, with all problems worked out...
Performer 04.08: Finally, the closing performer for Blip Fest 2007. It all came to an end here. And someone damn good was saved for last… the legendary Blasterhead, another huge name in the field. So much so that he doesn’t even have a description in the official Blip Fest site. Perhaps because everyone should already know his name? And they should.
Yet another non-assuming, quiet Japanese guy who let his music do all the speaking. Any last bit of energy the crowd had saved up was completely absorbed by his pulse-pounding, melodic, retro-rave Game Boy tracks. A fitting, an awesome note to end things on, one with plenty of base, distortion, and mixing…
And that was it! Blip Fest 2007, another one for the memory banks. History struck twice, as hard as it was to believe, and left everyone involved completely drained, and completely tone deaf. But more importantly, it proved a point... just as how no two people will make the same guitar sound alike, the same adage was proven for the Game Boy as well. Each and everyone one of those performers took sounds we all know and love, mostly from our childhoods, and made it their own, to produce something throughly unique, perhaps to create the music of the future.
Here’s to an outstanding musical event, one that won’t be topped till... Blip Fest 2008, naturally.
For information on the show, be sure to check out the official website, where each performer has links to their homepage, which is your best bet to get your hands on their music.
For the Blip Festival 2006 DVD, as well obtaining a legit copy of Little Sound DJ, plus additional information on the chiptune scene, be sure to head to 8bitpeoples for information.
[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]