December 14, 2008

Live Review: 8-Bit Breakbeats and Heartbeats [Blipfest 2008]

This past Sunday I went to the 2nd annual chiptune festival Blipfest, nestled in the newly opened Bell House in Park Slope, Brooklyn. What is chiptune, you ask? Though I have heard of it in passing conversation, chiptune is an entire movement of artists that uses videogame systems of the 1980s, such as the Gameboy and NES, as musical instruments. Regardless of the type of music you play, be it electronic, punk or classical, as long as you utilize an archaic 8-bit gaming device as your central instrument, you are a chiptune musician.

Me, my cousin and a friend of his arrived at the Bellhouse at around 10 PM, just in time to see the next act perform, Anamanaguchi. Based in NYC, the group played a high energy setlist where 8-bit sounds brawled with live guitars, bass and drums, all the while psychedelic 8-bit visuals played in the background. I was able to snap a picture, albeit blurry one, of Anamanaguchi:

The next act we saw, USK, was a real treat. From Japan, this 8-bit madman hooked up four Gameboys to a mixer and began to play high-intensity breakcore. While the music itself was fascinating, USK was even more so. Clothed for a mid-90s warehouse rave, USK jumped and danced with reckless abandon, exhibiting a hyperactivity on par with the 8-bit music he squeezed out of his tiny mixer. At one point in the show, one of his Gameboys went dead, prompting the audience to sigh in discontent. However, as a nod to early videogaming, USK pulled out the Gameboy's cartridge, blew in it, plugged it back in, and continued playing his setlist of excitable 8-bit dance music. The crowd laughed as a result, remembering how early videogaming was defined by such an action. I snagged a picture of USK in action, though it's tough for it to do this crazed man any justice:

To our pleasant surprise, USK was then joined by Anamanaguchi. What followed was an all-out chiptune ravefest filled with body surfing, headbanging and just plain insanity:

While chiptune is undeniably gimmicky and nostalgic in a certain sense, it also is damn enjoyable to listen to. Being able to blast someone to the past as well as squeeze melodies from such a limited instrument is an impressive act for any music genre to accomplish. I will certainly be back for next year's event.

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