8 Bits from Blip Festival: 17-19.Dec.2009 – Brooklyn

There were many wonderful things about this year’s installment of the Blip Festival, the flagship annual gathering of electronica enthusiasts who write their songs using ancient video game hardware, but I’ll artificially limit myself here so we can all pretend I came up with a clever angle on this review (glomag and Psilodump, in particular, get the short end of this deal—sorry, guys). Thus, 8 Bits from Blip:

Fighter X dancing: Youngish probably-hipster dudes in tight pants and floppy hair shoveling out manic, skittering Game Boy duels. Even if they sometimes came across as a sort of sleazy fun-loving Europop compared to their fellow performers (hey, there’s a place for that stuff too), the lengthy continuous set was very impressive, as was their tendency to abandon tending to the devices and instead jump around the stage or go crowd surfing, especially given that they have such small memory banks. The Game Boys, I mean.

Starscream’s guitar envy: Dramatic drums/whatever duo who chased after rock instead of electronica with towering constructions that substituted digital buzzes for actual guitar parts more successfully than anyone else on the lineup.

Bit Shifter, photo by barbara-n

Singing along with Bit Shifter: Chiptune music revels somewhat in its obscurity, which is very real, so while crowding onlookers onto the stage to sing along with a Misfits cover is all well and good and fun and crazy, the real weight was behind the lead melody in “Reformat The Planet,” also the title of the Blip documentary film—it came as much from from the audience as from the speakers.

little-scale’s lesson plans: The “mad professor” vibe came about because he took to the stage wearing a suit and started with sequences which were among the most abstract yet, many seemingly built on noise rather than sound. Later pieces were particularly excellent, crammed with gripping pulses and melodies, but never quite felt familiar: in the shadow of those first few rounds, it always seemed like the bottom could drop out again at any moment.

Puppetry with Rainbow Dragoneyes: General bananas-going and spirited dancing (we will file headbanging there as well, loosely), probably because there wasn’t much else for him to do once he’d booted up his laptop and launched what I suspect might have been Mega Man’s workout playlist. It’s always a tough sell, the whole prerecorded-concert thing, but Dragoneyes actually went over pretty well, due in equal parts to his own flailing-melody ADHD and to the accompanying visuals.

The C-Men’s doodles: Every musical performance at Blip is paired with a spectacular customized projection designed by animators and visual artists, often abstract or geometric or pixelated video game sprites, but the C-Men stole the show with their stylized iconography (during glomag’s set) and their deranged comics (for Rainbow Dragoneyes). It’s hard to pluck a favorite moment of audio from the festival’s performances, but images? No question—cartoon sperm cell wearing a military helmet, by a mile.

Hunting the Hunters: Probably the real score of the weekend—two Japanese women, standing stoic and statuesque in their matching white jumpsuits and playing gorgeous crystalline minimalism which made every breath count. Exasperatingly tense, and also addictively so; now I can’t find their music for sale online anywhere, which isn’t helping matters at all.

David Sugar’s virtuosity: The UK veteran is worth discussing here because of more than just his suspenders; his set probably stood out most because of its balance of guitar-based singer-songwriter tunes with piercing drum and bass (imagine that first David Gray album with seven drum machines instead of one), but several tunes veered solidly toward the latter. That’s where Sugar shone—many Blippers end up playing back sequences (hello, Dragoneyes), thus the heavy reliance on visuals (hello, C-Men), but Sugar was the one who most appeared to actually be doing something— turning knobs, mashing buttons, even swapping cartridges mid-song to make certain everyone knew his music was about more than just the tools.