Greetings, readers. Under normal circumstances, I’d have a review lined up as an article, and maybe even an interview to cap it off and give you folks a little bit of insight into the artist’s creative process. However, unforeseen hurdles caused me to scrap the review I had lined up, and I went into a creative slump. This article was supposed to publish two weeks ago today, for perspective, but now I’ve worked up the motivation to write again. So, rather than doing a traditional review or interview-review combination, I’d like to talk about something else: the community we’ve fostered for the last six or so years, and what it’s done for me in terms of my personal growth as both a writer and a human being. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Today, I finally got the chance to sit down with the man, the myth, the legend; Mr. Brandon L Hood aka “President Hoodie”, the founder of Chiptunes = WIN! Brandon has been helping us not only bring great chiptunes to the chipmusic community, but also moderating our community to be the best that it possibly can be.
Uh… Brandon L Hood, everyone.
I’ll skip the pleasantries and get right to the nitty gritty, and ask the hard hitting chiptune questions!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been over two years since Kubbi (Vegard Kummen) released his last full-length album, ‘Circuithead’, and just over a year since his legendary late-night live performance at MAGFest 12. Time sure does fly, and so does Kubbi. During the interim, the dynamic dragon whisperer has descended upon the Norwegian landscape in order to drop his most dramatic album to date, ‘Ember’.
(Movie trailer guy voice) In a state ruled by guitars, one determined president, his first lady, and 8 talented artists set upon an epic quest: to bring live chiptunes to Arkansas. Armed with gameboys, laptops, kazoos and cookies, they descended upon the Smoke & Barrel Tavern. Arkansas would never be the same.
That’s right friends, in what can be considered to be the first *official* Chiptunes = WIN live show (at least the first with ChipWIN in the show’s billing), history was made in Fayetteville on the night of Sunday, 3/23/14. Boasting a kickass roster of chip musicians with varying styles and hailing from parts far and wide, this event promised to be something truly special. Upon realizing that I was off from work on this day, and craving more live chipmusic since MAGFest 12, I knew that the 8 hour pilgrimage from my state of Louisiana had to be made. (Huge thanks to Leah Romero for the transportation, you rock!)
Arriving at the venue a bit early, we had time to get some drinks and prepare our bodies for a night of great tunes and friends. The anticipation was palpable. Then Hoodie, Erin and all of the artists involved arrived on the scene. In a flash, the barren table we’d been sitting at was transformed into a cornucopia of chipWIN merch: shirts, CD’s, flash drives, posters, buttons, stickers and cookies, highlighted with the most magnificent banner my eyes have ever seen. Even a NES was set up near the stage with a huge selection of games for everyone to enjoy. Needless to say, they didn’t fuck around!
First to take the stage was Orion Reilly. What first struck me about this particular chip musician was his setup; he used a laptop to provide the foundation for his tracks while simultaneously controlling a mixer and a full-sized M-Audio keyboard to perform the lead melodies. After a brief and unassuming introduction, he unleashed a jaw-dropping hour-long set upon the audience comprised of original tracks which can be found on his soundcloud as well as many tracks from his recently released Frogatto and Friends OST.
The second thing that struck me was that this guy has some serious skills! Offering up a highly technical baroque style that is unique to the scene, he is one of those artists with enviable ivory-tickling skills who makes it look easy, which it most certifiably is not! From the gorgeously ornamental ‘Demonic Baroque 2’, to the breezy and contemplative ‘Chiptune a la Fauré’, Orion Reilly turned me on to his sumptuous style of classical chipmusic as well as many others who were there to witness it.
This was confirmed to me when one of the locals walked up to me during the set and asked, “Have you ever listened to Bach?” “Yes,” I replied. “Sounds familiar, it’s really great,” he said, and turned to continue enjoying the show. Indeed, random guy. Indeed.
8 Bit Jin
Up next was another keyboard ninja, 8 Bit Jin, who flew all the way from Los Angeles to bring his jazz-infused chipmusic to the stage. 8 Bit Jin via 8bitLA is one of the main driving forces behind this show, meaning that if it wasn’t for his meeting up with Hoodie at Frequency 3.0, this event would not have happened, and for that he deserves huge thanks! His set consisted of a mix of cover songs as well as original tracks from his album ‘Millenium Bits’.
Now we’ve all heard 8 bit cover songs of varying degrees of quality, but 8 Bit Jin’s song selection and execution of these covers was truly remarkable. He nailed Big Band/Swing era classics such as Duke Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’, Louie Prima’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ and more with aplomb. The man has impeccable taste and really showcased his versatility by moving effortlessly between these unique cover songs to his own original house music that had the crowd cheering after every track. The tones of his lead instrument had a very jazzy, Rhodes-like quality to it which gave everyone no choice but to dance and swing.
8 Bit Jin’s set also featured a special, previously unannounced guest about 16 minutes in, hip-hop/nerdcore extraordinaire Lucio Baldomero! Lucio brought the house down with a stunning freestyle rap that had every head in the house bobbing. His impressive stream-of-consciousness performance added yet another layer of talent to the night’s already amazing lineup.
10 minutes and a round of Irish Car Bombs later, it was time for Kansas City native Thunder Fox to take the stage. Donning full fox regalia of a fuzzy tail and Kazoo Hero T-shirt, this young talent embarked upon a set which I can only describe as 100% FUN. In his live debut, Thunder Fox kicked off the foxiful festivities with ‘Dunce Dance’, a rousing electro-chip dance groove both calm and intense with seriously catchy beats. He then moved into infectious chipstep remakes of video game favorites such as Mega Man X Subterranean Base and the Super Mario Bros. theme. And then, it happened.
AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION! Handing out kazoos to every member of the audience, Thunder Fox led us through a rollicking kazoo-along to the carefree earworm ‘Party Stomp’, complete with cowbell. Add to the equation a room full of tipsy adults trying to keep up with the Benny Hill theme on kazoos as well as Barney’s ‘Apples and Bananas’ (yes, the dinosaur), and the picture becomes clear that this was one hell of a good time! Thunder Fox ended the performance with the sickest chipstep I have ever heard, inspired by Luigi’s Mansion and littered with humorous voice samples and cliffhanger drops. Seriously, we just had Mardi Gras down here in Louisiana, and Thunder Fox’s performance was 50x as fun.
Theory of N
In yet another previously unannounced, late addition to the show, Theory of N multiplied the WIN and then some. Theory of N performed a quick set that started out with his infamous track from ChipWIN Vol. 2, ‘Buttdawg Funk’. I’ve listened to this funktastic track so many times in its recorded form, and seeing it performed live was a huge treat indeed. This was merely a prelude however, as everyone was then privileged to experience the first public exposure to his excellent submission to the recently released compilation, ‘Chiptunes = #SrsBsns’. ‘Bow Chippa Bow Wow’ grabbed everyone by the loins and would not let go; there wasn’t a dry panty in the house by the time he was finished with this one. There’s no question in my mind that ‘Bow Chippa Bow Wow’ is chiptune’s ‘Bump N’ Grind’. (I’m obligated to give the disclaimer that 8bitLA and Chiptunes = WIN are not responsible for spontaneous pregnancy that may or may not occur from listening to Theory of N in a live or recorded setting.)
Bringing in awesome talent from the Mid-Western chipscene, AKADUNGEONMASTER embarked upon a rhythmically glitched-out journey. Hypnotically beautiful melodies merged with subdued percussion at first, then intermittently punctuated with powerfully experimental flourishes. His music gave an ambient sound-space to the night, and it was great to meet this guy after the show. He performs double duty as a dungeon master in real life, if you might not have guessed fro his stage name.
Getting to see Phonetic Hero’s first live show was a rewarding experience indeed. His video game-inspired tracks were some of the hardest-hitting that I’ve ever seen before. His set moved from fiercely melodic techno to groovy funk to straight up drum-n-bass. Phonetic Hero brings a strong, compelling energy to his live performance and his song structures and progressions are a force to reckoned with. Yet another incredibly talented young artist that makes me most excited for the future of chipmusic. I’m definitely looking forward to his future work, and If you haven’t yet picked up his album ‘Sliced Bread: UNCRUSTED!!’ on Bandcamp, you should seriously get on that.
I must admit that Awesome Force was also the driving force that pushed me over the edge to take the decision to take this trip to Arkansas and see this, well… AWESOME show! Having been a huge fan and friend of his, and having had my mind previously blown already by his cosmically destructive drum-n-bass, the thought of NOT seeing him crush it in Arkansas just did not compute. Of course he did not disappoint.
Lifting off with ‘The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean’, Awesome Force instantly engaged the audience in a time when more people than ever are coming to see and appreciate our place in the cosmos. Moving into the the sublimely revelatory ‘The Story of Everything and How it Will End’, it felt like I was living inside the physical embodiment of his ‘Live at BRKFest’ album, which I consider to be one of the finest live chiptune albums to ever be recorded. Awesome Force ended the night with a sonically intense and blisteringly emotional track in honor of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. If you EVER get the chance to see the incredible amounts of power that he can pull from a Game Boy, take it!
And thus ends the story of how chiptunes conquered Arkansas, a pleasantly surprising lightning strike of an event. But fear not! If you missed this show, it has been confirmed by Da Prez that with ChipWIN, lightning will indeed strike twice! Oh yes, there WILL be another Fayetteville show. You’ll just have to keep it locked here on the blog, and when it strikes, be sure to come out and have an incredible time. Honestly though, it’s worth the trip just for the hugs and cookies you’ll get from Chip Mama.
HUGE THANKS to Jason Roop for documenting the full footage of the performances!
So, as MAGFest came and went, I found myself suffering from PMD (Post MAGFest Depression). The reality of finally meeting all of my friends that I’d been talking to for months face-to-face, being able to spend quality time with them, and then each going our separate ways so soon was disheartening. While it certainly felt like forever waiting for MAGFest to finally descend, it concluded way faster than I was ready for. Leaving the Gaylord left a huge hole in my heart; I soon realized that the friends I met at MAG were ones that I wouldn’t see again for another year.
….Until the final days before Frequency 3.0. Soon, my PMD was a thing of the past—I was now just days away from co-hosting one of the largest (if not only) chiptune festivals on the west coast with my cohorts (Kevin Martinez, Jesse Avila, Tim Abad, Jamie Cristal, and Jonathan Pendergrass) in 8bitLA. While months of planning, logistics, and chats back and forth on Facebook seemed daunting and tiresome, Frequency 3.0 was finally becoming a reality.My passion for chiptune soon blossomed in an almost out of control measurement after I was asked to join 8bitLA in August 2013, and it was no longer just myself being interested in the music and culture—it bloomed into wanting to represent the ‘chipmunity’ that I’ve been passionate about for so long for no payment in return other than kind words, hugs, and thank you’s for the best weekend of someone’s life.
While my fondest memories of Frequency 3.0 were certainly eating delicious food, which included ramen in Little Tokyo with Hoodie, Kevin ‘Wizwars’ Martinez, and Steven ‘The Syntax Sin Tax’ Hendren, Snap Chattingan0va before load-in/tuning in to the LONELYROLLINGSTARSlistening party on Arecibo Radio, playing the showcased indie games (‘Mega Girl.git’, ‘Keys of Rage’, ‘Dodge Club Party’, and ‘DarkEdeNight’) and the gaijin Little Tokyo ‘romaine the streets’ takeover and purikura photo booth mob, nothing can quite express the spaghetti I spilt over such quality artists that performed. While I had no doubt that Frequency 3.0 would be awesome, I still can’t get over how incredible and eclectic the music was over the span of three days. Whether the Frequency-goer wanted a mixture of electrochip and drum ‘n bass (Mike Bleeds), progchip and progmetal (Buried For A Day), or straight up shoegaze (Meishi Smile), each of the 20+ performers really outdid themselves and made the event one of the SOLE contenders for the best weekend of my life… EVER. If you didn’t go, you certainly missed out, but that’s OKAY! There is a Vimeo video of Day 1 here, and two week archived streams available here (Day 2) and here (Day 3) as it took place in Downtown Los Angeles at the Smell for you to watch until your heart’s content.
While there was PLENTY of weekend chip performances that blew my socks right off my feet, my top three acts (in no particular order) are as follows:
What can I say? I have had a soft spot for this quartet since ‘Further’ was released November 19. If you remember my previous article, ‘Further’ is an album quite unlike I’ve heard before, and the four of them very appropriately preformed a majority of the tracks from this album. Their performance was absolutely mind blowing—their LIVE stage presence was accompanied with bouncy and melodic rhythms, as well as a wide range of styles and techniques through the blend of complimentary vocals very similar to that of the album itself (seriously, they must be wizards to be able to achieve such mastery.) The coolest thing ever? The four of them are the sweetest, most humble people you’ll ever meet, and I am very delighted to have had the honor of meeting them! If you missed them at Frequency 3.0, crashfaster is making an appearance at Rockage 3.0 in San Jose on February 7, as well as at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on February 10.
2. Slime Girls
Blending a fusion of digital punk rock and head-bopping chiptune, Slime Girls (headed by ‘Pedro Invader’) from San Juan Bautista, California, combines Nintendo Gameboys, guitars and energetic drums to create fast, melancholy surf jams and danceable ska music tied very neatly together with melodic chip. Gaining influences from Bomb the Music Industry!, The Flaming Lips, Perfume, and The Aquabats, Slime Girls is anything you’ve ever dreamed of, and quite literally, personifies anime. Therefore it was no surprise that the Slime Girls had cosplayers in attendance. With visuals created by Eliot Lash, the three of them rocked the closing night until 1:10 in the morning without a single person dropping off from exhaustion (seriously, they were all too busy not trying to break something from crowd surfing or launching an anime body pillow in the air.) If you happen to be in San Jose, California around February 7, they are also playing at Rockage 3.0 and I assure your they will NOT disappoint. Hell, they’re even Danimal Cannon certified:
WOW. What a performance! I’ve seen Virt play a handful of times before, but this past performance at Frequency 3.0 was SO MAGICAL. While the dance floor was quite literally packed, claustrophobia couldn’t lay a finger on everyone who was sardined together during his set. Playing tracks from FX4 (including ‘Incident Zero’) and Mighty Switch Force 2, his performance was an absolute treat in that most of the tunes from FX4 were never meant to be performed live as some of the parts are too complex (seriously, this dude never ceases to amaze me.) Virt’s stellar performance of combining his versatile, charismatic style through’ big’ harmonious compositions left his fingers feeling the repercussions:
The greatest thing ever? That special, sneak peak, never before seen ‘Shovel Knight’ video game trailer that he wrote the music for. Oh man.. I’m excited just thinking about it!
If you were unable to attend Frequency 3.0 this year, make sure you can make it out next year (same venue!) on May 22-24, 2015. 8bitLA is already in the works of planning 4.0 with more information to be released as time progresses. Feel free to join the 8bitLA Facebook group, follow us on Twitter or Instagram, or download the artist sampler here if you’re suffering from Frequency feels very similar to how the rest of us on the team are.
That’s all folks! Until next time! Professor Oakes signing off!