12/05/2006

“Is That A F*cking Game Boy I Hear?!?!” – Blip Festival 2006 (nights 1 & 4)

by Matthew Hawkins

This past Thursday was the opening night of the very first Blip Festival, perhaps the biggest, and baddest, assemblage of chiptunes musicians ever to grace a single stage anywhere in the world. As expected, it all went down at The Tank, which has become the home for Game Boy music in the Big Apple.

And this time around, the Tank offered a proper stage, worthy of such a grand event. The non-profit outfit that offers a space for all forms of art and artists in NYC has always provided excellent chiptunes shows, but their venues have never been one might hope for. But given how small and financially strapped the organization is (hence they hopping around town) one can’t complain. Oh, and the fact that they have the guts to get behind as something as insane as the Blip Fest, on top of their monthly chiptunes offerings, has to be respected. But there were absolutely no complaints this around; my literally dropped when I saw the stage and gigantic pixel light wall in the background. Very nice… And the sound would prove to be just as fantastic. Damn near perfect even.

NIGHT 1

My first stop was the merch table. Jeremiah, aka Nullsleep, aka the brains behind the entire fest, and his girlfriend were running things, with a bunch of mini CD-Rs by various artists from the fest. Though the centerpiece was the brand new 50th release by the 8bit peoples label, represented as a double CD release (with even more songs available on the web). Oh, and some nifty shirts too.

PHOTO: Phillip Torrone

A little past eight, the first performer hit the stage, and it was virt, whom many know and love. And as expected, his set was melodic, jazzy, and pretty rocking. For this evening, he primarily stuck with an electric guitar hooked up to a keyboard, hooked up to an old PowerBook G3 (at times we had one hand on the strings, another on the keyboard keys… has to be seen to believed). His music could be best described as being very much like the first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game (it was his fave soundtrack as a kid after all), with some obvious bits of Castlevania here and there. One of the quotes of night had to be near the end of his set when someone yelled out “Play ten more songs!!!”

PHOTO: Matthew Hawkins

The crowd was pretty decent for the first night. A good turn out, especially for a Thursday evening. Aside from friends, I saw a lot of familiar faces, many of them chiptune diehards that come out to each and every show. There was also this gang of crazy rave-type kids, just dancing around, flailing their arms and shit. Like all ravers, they were fun to watch… at first. Then they got kinda annoying, but hey, shows bring out those types of folks. I recall seeing early on that one had a almost bottle of Jim Beam, hence all the energy.

Back to the show… next was Receptors, who used various Game Boys (an old Brick Boy, a GBA SP, even a Game Boy Micro) to drive his beats, and some sort of voice modulator for the singing. Most of its was trance-y stuff, which I’m not normally into, but the Nanoloop songs in the middle at the end were simply superb. I had no idea the GB could produce such ambient sounds.

PHOTO: Matthew Hawkins

Third up was another NYC fave, Glomag, and another Game Boy guy. Once again, the guy delivered the goods, that being a nice mix of semi-trancy and very dancy originals and covers, all with his usual cool, casual, and sometimes joke-cracking self.

PHOTO: Becky Stern

Fourth up was Starpause, a guy I had never heard of before. His tunes, also via Game Boy, were hard and heavy… very dancehall, almost Reggie-like… and believe it or not, quite sexy. If you ever want to have hot sex with a girl (or guy) to chiptunes music, Starpause is the guy you need to have qued up. The performance itself is hard to describe… the guy just exuded energy, raw, and once again, quite sexual. But the set was particularly enjoyable simply because it was obvious that Starpause himself was having the time of his life. He was also the very first recipient of Josh, aka Bit Shifter‘s nervous “Umm… dude, you’re awesome and all, but we’ve got like three hundred other bands behind you” look from the side of the stage.

PHOTO: Matthew Hawkins

It was also around this time that the ravers were starting to make their presence be known. I had been up front for virt and Receptors and watched them make their way to the front. For Glomag and Starpause, I stepped back a bit, to avoid the flailing arms (I’m pretty sure they weren’t just drunk, but if they weren’t also on ecstasy then… wow). But for the next guy up, x|k, I simply had to be close to the stage.

One of the guys had a video camera, who then turned and asked if I could tape the performance for him. He wanted to dance and didn’t want to be burdened with handling a camera. At this point, I was already annoyed by his friends, but he seemed the nicest one of the them all, plus when he went “I’m gonna YouTube it tomorrow!” I figured, well, it would be nice for the rest of the world to see what they were missing, so I agreed. He even let me take a few swigs off his beer, which was nice (even though it was Budweiser).

x|k was simply insane. And his loud and crazy hard techno/trance set, driven by the Midines, a device of his own creation (its basically a modified NES cartridge that enables MIDI controls of the system’s sound chip, which has been used by many chiptunes world round) simply tore the roof open.

PHOTO: Irene Kaoru

Unfortunately for myself, I really couldn’t enjoy the performance since I was playing camera man… which in itself wasn’t so bad, but the same guy who asked me was so out of control with his “dancing” that he ended up punching me in the nuts about five times (not hard, just grazing, but still). Not to mention all the times him and his cronies stomped on my feet, again accidental, but still highly annoying, or how he fell on me, which knocked me over, but thankfully people caught me. I was so fucking pissed that I felt like smashing his camera to bits, but didn’t. Instead, after the performance, I handed the camera back to him and gave him a sarcastic “gee, that was fucking enjoyable” snarky response. Afterwards, while grabbing some fresh air, the dude tried to apologize, and even offered to let me punch him the nuts, but instead I just brushed him off to talk with virt, in an attempt to look all cool. Cuz there’s nuthin cooler than acting like king shit of fuck mountain when you’ve got important business things to talk with a chiptunes maestro, like asking if he’s ever seen Turkish Star Trek.

Next was Goto80, one of the folks that I was most psyched about checking out the festival for. And the man from Sweden did not disappoint; Gotto80′s style and sounds are all over the map, and pushed the Commodore 64 sound chip to its breathtaking limits. The man is response for “Fantasy”, perhaps the greatest chiptune song ever, which is about a girl falling in love with her computer, and who professes her mad lust for the machine by asking it to be inside of her, literally. So I was happy when Goto80 was closing up his set and asked the audience for a request, Nullsleep yelled out “FANTASY!!!” But since he was by himself, Goto80 had to do the female part himself, which totally added a different flavor to the song. Totally awesome nonetheless.

The 7th act up was Tugboat, who accompanies his own beeps and boops (composed beforehand on a NES I believe… could be wrong) with live drumming. Virtually every song is strung together, in a medley fashion, which means zero pauses between songs, which there were plenty of. There were originals and a few covers here there, with my fave being Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. The guy is a nonstop ball of energy, the kind that makes you rock, but every couple minutes or so, you just have to stop and look at the guy to go “wow”. Though the best part might have been before the music started, when he got “interrupted by a phone call from his parents, who basically sounded like the parents do in the Charlie Brown cartoons except, you know, chiptune-y.

PHOTO: Irene Kaoru

The last act for the night, who hit the stage near 1 was Chibi-Tech. I had never heard of the guy, and the only thing information I had on the guy was via the Blip Fest’s website which described him as “a mysterious Filipino-American from California out on a mission: to turn the Nintendo Entertainment System into a singing superstar! “ The guy was an absolute trip; he actually didn’t “play” any of his music; it simply ran off of his iBook, while he just stood there and “danced” around the stage, occasionally lip-synching the lyrics to his songs, which was completely unintelligible. He also addressed the crowd a few times, and again, I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. But that was part of the charm. He even jumped up and down and basically acted like a totally lovable goofball. I heard that he was supposed to perform in a dress (apparently he’s a big-time Cosplayer), but his hair and make-up guy couldn’t make it, so that plan was scrapped. Bummer.

Night one ended with the mysterious voice that introduced all the acts throughout the fest saying “Only 25 more sets to go!”

NIGHT 4

PHOTO: Matthew Hawkins

As mentioned previously, I couldn’t make the second or third nights due to personal commitments. When I arrived at the Tank early Sunday evening, I caught up with Brian and he gave me the low-down on what I had missed (I already knew that Hally was the big hit of the previous night). I also heard that the place was insanely packed; Jeremiah would tell me that they sold 500 tickets that night alone, though the place never had that many people in in at any single time. When I asked what the crowd was like, there were apparently a lot of fresh faces, mostly hipsters, perhaps drawn in by the various media coverage leading up to the event, primarily from the Village Voice and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. When I asked Brian what they thought of it, primarily if they seemed to dig what they saw and heard, he mentioned that many of them were totally confused, with a definite “WTF” look on their faces. But apparently a few from the main influx liked what they heard and decided to stick till the end of the night, which was nice.

And when I arrived, things did feel a bit different. Instead of just the diehards, one’s who had been there since night one, I saw some new faces, mostly hipsters. Lots of cute hipster girls really. And lots, and lots of bloggers.

I also asked Jeremiah about the show itself, the planning and all that jazz. I had first heard about the Blip Fest in early August, on our way to Otakon, but it was still just some crazy idea (hence why he asked me not to say anything). I simply figured that he had been working on it from that point on ever since, but in reality, things only started to move in early September, just three months ago. But things then moved very fast. Much like his previous crazy ideas, such as the world tour that him and Josh embarked on just earlier in the year, the plan was to ask each and every great chip musician to come to NYC for the event, but due to an extremely restrictive budget (translation: none), every performer would have to pay for their own airfare and accommodations. The most that could be promised would be $50-$100, and it was hoped that performers would come for the love of performing. And as evidenced by awe-inspiring line-up, hope paid off, with people lining up for the chance to be part of the show. And thankfully, the healthy ticket sales not only ensured a far healthier pay-off for each artist, but ensured that there would be a Blip Fest 2007.

When I asked if there was any possible way to top this year’s show, Jeremiah gave that same sly smile that I’ve grown used to and replied with “yes”, he does indeed have an idea, which he claimed no one had previously thought of before, and that if him and Josh could pull it off, it would be simply epic. And given their track record, there is no doubt that Jeremiah can make chiptune history once again.

I had also heard from the previous night that Bud Melvin was pretty amazing too, who accompanied his chip compositions with a banjo (and also had a pretty awesome beard). Anyway, onto that evening’s show…

First man up was Saitone, who’s apparently one of the very first indie chiptune artists to hail from Japan. His opener was a great kick-off to the evening, which played around with the Game Boy power on chime. The set was a great mix of jazzy, dancy techno that just got more and more intense as he went on, culminating in an absolutely mind-blowlingly awesome pair of Namco remixes, featuring Xevious and Dig Dug (I’m sorry, but I am a total bitch when it comes to Xevious remixes).

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

Next was another act from the east Portalenz. The only way I can describe them would be to imagine a pair of out of control Japanese punk kids, thrashing about on stage, in midst of either of ecstasy and/or a heart attack, with a Game Boy crazy glued to their hands, which happened to also be hot-wired into their brains. They were totally nuts.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

Third up was Jeroen Tel, hailing from the Netherlands. The only thing I knew about this guy was that he was the guy who created the music to the Sega arcade classic Afterburner, which meant I liked him before I even heard any of his music. And by the end, I had a new object of a bro-mance. The guy was simply amazing, simply put. His entire set was just one non-stop killer Euro dance cut after another, much of which sounded like a Commodore 64 chip trying to best to create Genesis music (parts of it was VERY Yuzo Koshiro-ish), and succeeding brilliantly. I swear, I could have listened to his stuff all night long.

PHOTO: A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

Next was perhaps the headliner for the entire fest, the one group everyone had been waiting for, and a major reason why, all of a sudden, the place was overflowing with tons of cute girls: YMCK, the pop darlings of the chiptunes world. Their entire act was very Japanese, which I guess is hardly surprising since they are from Japan after-all, but still… it was all very elegant, very formal, yet still very lighthearted and charming, with that patented ultra bubbly/happy/shiny esthetic that everyone knows and loves from the land of Hello Kitty. Basically, one guy plays music with a keyboard attached to a Famicom, as does another girl with the same set-up, both dressed in very sharp black suits, with white shirts and red ties, while a girl dressed in an outfit with the same white and red (Famicom themed) dress who looks straight out of an anime does the lead vocals and dances around, looking insanely cute and stuff.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

Listening to their wonderfully poppy melodies is one thing, but their live act elevates the music to a whole different level; each song has an accompanying bit of animation, which is insanely cute and awesome.

PHOTO: Matthew Hawkins

At one point, they interrupted the music to present a special message from a friend from outer space. The friend ended up being Darth Vader, and on screen was an image from some old NES game, with a cheesy NES rendition of the Vader theme (and even cheesier NES driven Vader breathing sound effects). He didn’t really do anything but just stand there, and yet it was still so amazing. Never before have I ever been to a rock concert, chiptune or not, in which I heard more audible “awwww”s.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

The next act was another hometown favorite, Bubblyfish. I’ve seen her perform a few times now, and each performance has been radically different from each other, even though her tools (she’s another Game Boy-er) is more or less the same each time. This might be due to the nature of her highly improvisational performance methodology.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

It was during her set that I decided to use the bathroom. I was afraid that once YMCK had exited the stage, so would a majority of the crowd, but many had decided to stick around for the rest of the show thankfully (though a few of the ultra cutsey girls did leave… you know, it being a school night and all). While standing in line to use the facilities, I ended up striking a conversation with a guy from Texas. He was with Element Labs, which was the group that had provided the fest with the ultra hawt pixel backdrop. Apparently it had shipped via the back of a truck from Texas, specifically for the show, and it would be heading back the very next day. Anyway, really nice guy.

Performer number 6 was Neil Voss, who was provided the the suave, rock star contingency for the fest. His set I guess could be best described as 80′s power rock, or something in that vein. Voss is most known for his work in Tetrisphere and The New Tetris, and anyone that’s played those fame will agree that they probably feature the absolute best soundtracks ever to be heard coming from an N64. Voss apparently used to play live on a regular basis but stopped a few years ago for whatever reason, and is also quite show, which was clearly evident (he also looked pretty frustrated by the end… I believe he was having some technical problems with the vocals). But the crowd loved him (especially the ladies) and unbeknownst to him, played the role of the rock star hear throb that doesn’t want to be one with total perfection.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

Lucky number 7 that evening was Tristan Perich, who’s another hard guy to pin down. Part avant guard rock star, part inventor, Tristan’s also drums to pre-composed chip songs. But the reason why he calls his music one-bit is because all the sounds are produced from a very striped down chip-set of his own creation that looks like a bunch of random bits glued inside a CD jewel case. Yet another energetic set, from the guy that loves his crowd, so much so that half way through he insisted on playing in the thick of them, by bringing his entire drum set down with him.

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

The 8th and final act for the evening, as well as the last act of the fest were the kids that are alright, Anamanaguchi. I guess you could say that Pete, the band’s front guy, and I have become friends, ever since I was able to grab a Wii for him the night the system launched. He even thanked me on stage, which was nice. To start off their set, he asked the audience for an early 90′s theme song to cover, and I yelled out Twin Peaks, and a lot of folks around me were in total agreement. Pete said that Twin Peaks did indeed have a great theme, but Growing Pains’ was better, which they immediately began to play. I’m pretty sure Pete didn’t hear my demands that I wanted the Wii back. Anyway, their set was the perfect closer to an amazing event: pure, unbridled indie rock fused with unstoppable NES beats. They totally rocked the crowd and also had a massive contingency of cute girls going nuts for them as well. And good for them, they’re nice guys, and every rock band needs groupies (btw, sorry for beating the cute girls angle to death, but trust me, after going to chiptunes shows for about three years now, its nice to see the opposite sex there at the end of the night, instead of a bunch of sweaty gamer/music dorks… no offense guys).

PHOTO: Brian Liloia

And yeah… that was it. Blip Fest 2006. It came, it saw, it beeped. Very loudly.

PHOTO: Phillip Torrone

UPDATE: So Brian was gracious enough to provide his rundown of nights 2 & 3. Check it out!

  • http://www.bunkerforums.com Llydis

    Damn, I totally would love to see a chip tunes show. Too bad Bakersfield isn’t exactly a bastion for music that doesn’t involve Country. Or Korn.

  • http://www.vitaminsteve.com Steve Flack

    Is the video game industry looking at SDCC to replace E3?

    http://comics212.net/2006_12_01_archive.shtml#116529770745216300

    -Steve!

  • http://www.pepinismo.net/ ale/pepino

    Hey this is a very complete report! I’ve enjoyed a lot reading it.

    But there’s this thingie about YMCK.
    The second guy in a black suit isn’t a girl! It’s Nakamura, who is playing keyboard too and is the man (yeah, actually a man) behind those lovely visuals.

  • http://www.fort90.com Matt

    Seriously? Oops! To be honest, I actually thought Nakamura was a guy as well, but really couldn’t tell. And I especially feel bad/stupid since I’m half Asian myself! My bad, and thanks for the clarification.

    Oh, and I’m really sorry that I missed you play (you were on Saturday, right?). My friends who saw you were totally raving about your performance! Hopefully your site will have some downloads so I check out what you guys sound like…

  • Pingback: old man rafferty ??? » Blog Archive » Beepy shit.

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