Blip Festival 2011 - Festival Week on BTR


logo from

Koji Kondo admirers and 8-bit chip lovers come together this weekend at Eyebeam for the fifth annual Blip Festival, a giant three-day long music and performance arts event sponsored by music collective 8bitpeoples and non-profit arts organization, The Tank. The aim of the festival’s curators is to provide a snapshot of an exploding music and arts subculture that has adopted early generation video game and computer hardware as its primary medium and source of inspiration.

To many of the 8-bit accustomed ears of Generations X and Y, contemporary chiptune invokes the half joyous, half distressing memories of hours spent battling with friends and NPCs on old gaming systems. Accompanying these vintage bits and glitches are blurred snippets of the psychotic tantrums thrown in response to arduous Super Mario Bros levels, fits of joy over completed games, and the post-partum disorder that kicks in as the end game credits roll. This is the essence of hip nostalgia.

Nostalgia can only hold onto chiptune for so long, though, until the style spreads its wings and flees the Nintendo coop. Thursday night’s performer Zen Albatross tells BTR that some people, upon entering the chip show scene “immediately assume that everyone making this stuff is inspired by video games. I know people who don’t have much interest in games at all, but because of the aesthetic qualities, or process, or both,” musicians are attracted and eventually, he says, chiptune “becomes an implementation or aesthetic which can be applied to existing genres. It’s an interesting process to approach electronic music starting with this raw sound wave that you have to shape into something you like.”

The events schedule for the evenings of the festival is so rife with hyperactive, sugar-rush inspired artists names that, to the unacquainted chip-n00bs out there, it looks more like a dyslexic psychopath’s thought journal than a true calendar. Among the intentionally lowercased, the onomatopoeic, and the l33tspoken proper nouns are some great musicians, performers, and artists whose passions for Commodore 64s, Atari 2600s, and NES systems make for some fascinating genre mixing styles and crafts.

Classically trained piano player turned digital sounds explorer BubblyFish uses haunting synth backdrops and compelling bit tune drum patterns in her sometimes-schizophrenic compositions. Migrating Canadian Beastmode fashions his beats from the harsh samples of a Nintendo Gameboy, while Kyoto-based NNNNNNNNNN produces more traditional, Final Fantasy inspired epic battle scene tunes with his own Gameboy samples.

Then there are the sonic tinkerers and circuit benders like Ralp, who integrates traditionally housebound gaming hardware into the streets for improvised multiplayer 8-bit production shows.

Zen Albatross, who envisions a possible mainstream takeover of chip music in the near future, expands on the unexpected live incarnation of what was once considered a geeky hobby with an explanation of his typical performance strategy.

“Going into it as a performance you start to think of ways that you’re not just playing back your stuff. You can change parameters on instruments to adjust sound on the fly, attach other equipment. I have a bunch of preprogrammed loops, which I mix and match, fade in fade out, making it like a live remix.”

Think Girl Talk meets MPC 4000.

Tristan Perich, who plays Friday night, creates gorgeous, extended minimalist compositions that could belong to a Super Steve Reich Brothers video game soundtrack.

On Saturday afternoon, four chip musicians NO CARRIER, Party Time! Hexcellent!, and Batsly Adams, and Bucky will host an instructional NES programming workshop running from 1 PM to 5 PM. At noon the same day, Animal Style of 8bitpeoples hosts a workshop on chip music from a more theoretical approach in order to better familiarize attendees with the processes of chip musicians.

At the conclusion of each night, Babycastles in Williamsburg will be hosting arcade games, Indian food, and live music or DJ sets for festival-goers looking for more bit action late into the night.

On Sunday night the festival finishes at Public Assembly in Brooklyn with an official closing party, featuring surprise performances by select chip musicians from around the world.

Tickets ($51.70 for one festival pass, $20 single night) are only for sale online, and can be picked up at the will call window along with a wristband, both requiring separate trips each successive night. Though an inconvenience, it is a small price to pay to unwind with a relaxing round of Jesus vs. Dinosaurs at the Babycastles arcade in Williamsburg after a long day of reliving the 80s and 90s, 8-bit style.

Written By: Jakob Schnaidt