May 6th saw the return of Chip Bit Day; a celebration of Chiptune organised by Richard Lewis who you might know as blogger ‘Chip! Bit! Sid!‘ or by his musical pseudonym ‘Jellyatrix.’ Primarily funded by fans using sites like Indiegogo, Chip Bit Day’s second year was just as popular as the debut! With a lineup including festival favourites such as HarleyLikesMusic, and plenty of free goodies from Game Boy cartridge stickers of the performing artists to delicious cake, crowdfunders definitely got plenty for their money. I arrived good and early on the Saturday afternoon, ready for the hard slog of an 8-hour Chiptune marathon to find a few others eager for the show to start.
In a solid upgrade since last year’s show, the opening slots were given to aspiring acts to introduce themselves to the community. In this case, France was represented to the Manchester crowd with Tuxic and Cyanide Dansen! I’ve followed both for some time and while Tuxic might be fairly new to LSDj, he brought some accomplished heavy metal-inspired beats to warm up the crowd. Cyanide Dansen is a little more experienced but I’m quite sure this was her first time playing in the UK. Her style was a little harder and technical than I was expecting after the cutesy style of her art and the music I’d heard beforehand. The final open-mic performer, Murrrlo, ended up performing a little later in the evening after some transport issues. She was well worth the wait, however, adopting her feline alter-ego for a set of dirty, heavy techno with the help of a kitty mask that ended up passed around the dancing crowd.
The “main” lineup featured a range of experience levels and genres across the UK (and French) scene, showcasing exciting new talent as well as seasoned pros. I have a lot of respect for that because while DunningKruger had played only one show before, and it was Nihilarc’s first ever, I heard a lot of great feedback and excitement after their sets. I was lucky enough to host DunningKruger’s debut at a BitNoise show in Manchester so I was already aware of his heavy dubstep style, but he’d clearly been working hard since then to bring new tracks and upgrades. I’m looking forward to seeing him on more shows soon! Nihilarc has been a regular on the GameFace radio playlist for a good while and I’d heard he was going to be incorporating a trombone in his set, but unfortunately that didn’t end up happening. His poppy, jazzy tracks hit the spot and got the crowd moving even without the brass, though. Festival slots are a great way to introduce up-and-coming talent, and newbies get some much-needed stage time. Win-win!
Even the show’s organiser managed to squeeze in a brief performance to help get the crowd moving, as it was announced that Jellyatrix was coming to an end and being re-invented as Kojin. The set featured some brand new music as well as some throwbacks to the “E-Numbers” EP released under the Jellyatrix name, with the new Kojin tracks demonstrating a more laid back synth-pop style that contrasted well with the progressive melodies of his previous project.
As the evening progressed, the musicians grew in experience and scope. As a relatively seasoned gig attendee, I was excited to see a few performers that I hadn’t caught before. I’d only heard a couple of Bubu tracks in researching before I set off for the venue, and his live set absolutely blew me away despite feeling cut short at only 20 minutes; I’d have preferred twice as much time! In the UK scene at least, it isn’t so common to see many effects used in performances outside of Kaos pads, but Bubu’s use of his mixer’s effects added depth and range to his atmospheric, chill-yet-euphoric brand of drum & bass. I took a little inspiration from the fact that he wasn’t afraid to leave plenty of space and moments of silence in his music, and the hook from ‘Ability‘ hit me right in the feels (I wasn’t even drunk!) I advise everyone to go listen to him right away. While Bubu was a stand-out set for me, the remaining acts were by no means missable.
I have to be honest; by halfway through the night I’d already had a few drinks and was definitely into the spirit of the event so my memory’s starting to fuzz slightly. Chip Bit Day was extremely well-attended for a relatively small venue in the basement of the Whiskey Jar pub in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The best estimates place attendance peaking around 80 people which is a great achievement! I even saw a few punters from the main pub experience that magical “Wait… Is that a Game Boy?” moment from the doorway before making their way inside to buy a ticket.
I’m a little envious of the people whose first experience of Chiptune music was the sugar-coated hardcore melodies and bouncy, pastel-outfitted dancing of Mizkai, perfectly encapsulating the way that niche performers are completely free to express themselves. She’s absolutely crazy, and I’m sure she’ll take that as a compliment. Definitely the most energetic set of the night, her dance routines encouraged the audience to get involved when, in her own words, “When you like someone, you’ve gotta throw a brick at them, that’s the way it goes, right?” In the chorus of ‘Throw My Brick,’ everybody joined in throwing imaginary bricks and alien-head balloons to show their love for the UK’s kawaii-est Chiptuner.
While the majority of Chip Bit Day’s acts used Game Boys for their music, Alex Lane came with something completely new and mind-blowing; A big part of his set involved a Commodore 64, hooked up to a MIDI guitar to control the bass behind his music. I got a special surprising during Alex’s set as he played one of my all-time favourite Chiptune tracks: ‘Momentum Space’ from the Cheapbeats=WIN compilation put out by this very group. Unfortunately he suffered a couple of technical troubles during the set, but he overcame them with the help of a backup gameboy and some replacement batteries to provide his signature down-tempo, bass-heavy tunes leading up to a truly Aussie finale; a cover version of ‘Men At Work’s Down Under!
The night reached peak out-there-ness with Space Candy‘s combination of modern internet-pop grooves, weaving between countless sample-driven genres. His style definitely appealed to those in the audience who weren’t as deep in the Chiptune scene as he primarily used Ableton and a MIDI controller to play his music. Of course, none of the core chip-crew could mind with so much energy being poured into the music! After several hours of dancing and drinking, Space Candy had my head spinning slightly but I could definitely get into it when the genre settled into a modern club groove, albeit laced with meme-tastic samples and airhorns showing a great sense of humour as well as musical talent.
For Astronauts and Satellites provided a little much-needed breathing room after the intensity of the previous sets, allowing the audience to be carried away in their beautifully atmospheric post-rock backed up with Game Boys and NES. For the first time all night I could take a seat for a couple of songs, close my eyes and just experience the music. I’ve been a huge FAAS fan since catching them at Superbyte a few years back and while at first I was a little sceptical about a relatively chilled-out vibe halfway through the night, it was the perfect counter-balance to let the crowd catch their breath and realise that Chiptune isn’t all rave music and that the Game Boy isn’t the be-all and end-all of the scene, it can be utilised like any other musical instrument.
I’d also like to take a moment here to commend the event’s visualist BZL for his work during FAAS’s set, sourcing and sequencing .gifs to set a scene of space travel and dystopia, helping the band tell a story through their music. Never forgot how important visuals are to a good, cohesive gig!
After a brief interval, Chip Bit Day’s club atmosphere got back underway with a bang, introducing a firm favourite of the UK live circuit; HarleyLikesMusic! His headline set at last year’s show went down so well, he was invited back to kick the party up a notch with some new material as well as his unique and pioneering tracks from “Game Changer.” The alien-head balloons were brought out in full force and the set saw headbanging, moshpits and the kind of bass that I’d never have thought could be produced with LSDj. According to his interview with GameFace, his latest EP “1.5” is more of a bridge leading to a fully-formed HarleyLikesMusic sound and I’m stoked to hear how he evolves when I already consider him a top-tier composer and sound designer.
Finally, to round off the night we saw a French duo that anybody who follows the Chiptunes=WIN Facebook group will know: one of France’s brightest rising stars, Pain Perdu provided the headline performance! I was lucky enough to catch the boys at a smaller charity gig in Sheffield just the week before, but it didn’t make the occasional any less special. With the extra space and volume headroom afforded to the larger venue, both the performers and the crowd could really let loose. Everybody was taken by the ultra-tight production and combination of slick drum & bass and solid four-to-the-floor grooves, especially the grand finale mashup of Thriller, Ghostbusters and a secret third addition that you’re best off discovering for yourself.
By the end of the set, everybody had spent the last of their energy, with the exception of BZL who, after an epic visualist session, jumped in to invite anyone brave enough to taken on an all-night rave afterparty until 8AM! I’m sure they had an amazing night, but by the 2AM close of Chip Bit Day 2017, I was more than ready for a well-earned slice of cake and a taxi home.
After two years of success, I’m hopeful that Chip Bit Day becomes a real staple of the UK’s Chiptune festival culture, following in Superbyte’s footsteps to keep Chiptune alive and loud in Manchester’s city centre. Here’s to next year, everybody!
Photos courtesy of Natalie Whitehurst.