This upcoming Friday/Saturday/Sunday is Memorial Day weekend, and New Yorkers especially will have plenty of options at their disposal. Here's a suggestion: the 6th annual Blip Festival.
You say you've never heard of the Blip Festival? Let me explain.
What's the Blip Festival?
Simply put, for the past five years, Blip Fest has become the grandest stage of them all as far 8-bit music is concerned. There have been several offshoots in Japan, Europe, and Australia. But Blip Fest New York, the original, is still considered the best.
It's basically where established giants from the world of chiptunes live up to their hype, and where the stars of tomorrow are discovered, all over the course of a sweaty and deafening three day span.
And what are chiptunes?
In a nutshell, Chiptunes are original music performed via old-school video game hardware.
One instrument of choice is the original Game Boy, which runs special music authoring software (Little Sound DJ is the most popular). The original NES is well-represented, along with slightly newer gear, like the SNES or Genesis, and sometimes truly classic platforms, including old Atari computers and Commodores.
Some performers choose to add "real" instruments to the mix, while others simply rely upon an assortment of Game Boys. A few handhelds might lay down the basic beats, while another is manipulated on the spot for the live audience. This is where the performative aspects of chiptune music really kick in.
So... you're watching someone play a Game Boy on stage?
Yes. And it is awesome. As crazy as it sounds, this music simply sounds better live. It's also especially appropriate to experience chiptune music in New York City, since that's where the modern chip movement got its start.
The Blip Festival is the brainchild of Nullsleep and Bit Shifter, two NYC-based chip artists who founded 8bitpeoples, a collective that has unified and defined the contemporary chip scene. They teamed up with The Tank, an NYC-based non-profit founded in 2006 to provide a space for all kinds of emerging forms of art (including chiptunes).
There are now several regular chiptunes showcases across the tri-state area. But if you are going to just one chiptune event, Blip Festival should be it.
Okay, I'm sold! But I'm woefully unfamiliar with chiptunes.
It doesn't matter. There's plenty of resources that will help you get up to speed (like the 8bitpeoples discography, and True Chip Till Death another great source for chip related news). But it's almost better to go in blindly.
Expect the unexpected. Many assume that everything will sound like a video game soundtrack, which is the biggest mistake one can make about 8-bit music. You'll be amazed by the range and depth of music that is made possible with simple beeps and boops.
Here are some names to keep pay attention to anyway: Nullsleep and Bit Shifter, the aforementioned godfathers of the NYC chip scene, along with several other hometown boys, like Zen Albatross and Infinity Shred. The latter used to be known as Starscream, but had to change their name when some goth band with the same (Transformers-inspired) moniker protested.
There's also George & Jonathan, whose 2010 "The Best Music" is still widely recognized as one of the best chiptunes releases in the past five years. Plus you have plenty of international talent, though the word on the street concerns Kodek, which marks the first time a chiptuner from Latvia will grace the Blip stage, and is expected to blow it up real good.
Is the Blip Festival just music?
Nope. In addition to live music, there are several satellite events. Saturday afternoon is the book release party for Chiptography, by Marjorie Becker, who has become the most widely recognized and celebrated photographer of that world (one of her photos appears at the top of this post). It might also be the first published collection of chiptunes related photography, period.
On both Saturday and Sunday, workshops will teach festival-goers how to create chiptunes for themselves. Tonight (thursday) is an open mic, and on Monday is the after-party, which an impressive line-up of its own, including Luke Silas, aka Knife City, who is mostly known for being the drummer for the teen heartthrob/chiptunes sensation Anamanaguchi.
To find out more, as well as to purchase tickets for Blip Festival itself (for either each individual night, or three-day passes), simply head on over to the official Blip Festival website. And for those who can't make it, no worries, because Kotaku will be there to provide blow-by-blow reporting.