Live chip music experience by emily k feder
(Note: many of the hyperlinks connect directly to videos related to the topic, click to see)
MAGFest is infamous for its awesome three day weekend of video game rock concerts, but not quite as well known (and quickly gaining momentum) is the chip music showcase. The showcase ran on the main stage, beginning at noon on both Friday & Saturday of the festival. Many attendees are still in bed hung-over from the night before, leading to a slow build up, but by 2pm the room is filled with chip music fanatics from around the country to curious first-time listeners.
The main goal of the chip music showcase is to increase awareness of the largely underground live chip music scene & develop synergy with the VGM community (many of whom could be lovers of the music and just not realize it yet). The live chip scene isn’t necessarily what it appears from what many see from the online presence, where a lot of misconceptions of the music revolve around it being gimmicky 8-bit versions of popular music to being 8-bit elevator music. The live scene can range from rockstar to rave; from fist pumping to performance art. The MAGFest chip show was curated to showcase that diversity; not only in musical style but also by geographic base of operations. Eight performers were assembled from eight of the main cities that the chip scene is prevalent in to showcase that talent.
Another large element of the live chip music scene are live visualists. These people are performers too who don’t just work up a montage of video to play at the show. Using combinations of hacked console hardware, video mixers & computers; they provide a visual experience to accompany & enhance the musical performance & in many cases could be considered collaborators. Four veteran visualists were also invited to perform at MAGFest and showcase their talent on the huge three section screens on stage.
That all being said, the show this year was one of the most polished and highly produced live chip music experiences I have ever seen! A huge stage with the aforementioned video screens & a heavy-duty sound system gave the entire experience a total Rockstar feel! Dino Lionetti, professional sound engineer and co-organizer of Philadelphia’s 4-year running monthly chip music event, 8static, has an expert ear for how to mix live chip sound and was brought in to help make sure this show sounded the best it possibly could!
Inverse Phase launched the event at about quarter past noon on Friday. The doors were opened to allow excited fans waiting in the hallways to burst through and catch the “Mr. MAGFest” himself perform. Opening up with “Head Like I/O“, his Commodore 64 cover of the popular nine inch nails song, was a great move! The ominous visuals of Invaderbacca were already setting the mood, perfectly complementing the choice of songs! Waves of people were still entering the room just as the heavy bass lead kicked in (sounding absolutely amazing) and I knew we were in for a great show! Following up with “Atarible Lie” (a POKEY track & one of my personal favorite NIN songs) was pretty much mandatory and thanks to the baddass sound system, I had never heard it sound so good! The rest of his set continued to impress sneaking in a cover of a_rival‘s “8-bit pimp” and ending with fan-favorite, NES version of Cee Lo’s “Fuck You“.
Currently living in Baltimore, Inverse Phase has been a long time supporter of increasing chip-scene awareness amongst the VGM and convention circuits. He uses a hacked version of Soundtracker NG on his laptop to emulate accurately represented characteristics of specific chips such has the 2A03 (NES), POKEY (Atari 800) & SID (C64). Best known for his recent nine inch nails tribute album, “pretty eight machine” he also has written original music for game soundtracks such as “shuttle scuttle” on iOS. Invaderbacca (NYC) uses a circuit-bent NES Console with special-made reactive gloves to provide a unique live visual experience by mixing signals with a “dirty” video feed.
Next up was D&D Sluggers from Wilmington, NC. This hybrid-chip duo is all about maxing their live performance with additional instrumentation by using live guitar and keyboards, vocals (often harmonized) and electronic backup gear including DS & Gameboys! Their music has a very accessible feel that would attract fans beyond either VGM or chip music scenes with danceable funk-rock moments and catchy vocal harmonies. This was their first time at MAGFest and not likely their last! Celebrating his second year, Batsly Adams provided his diverse visual style during their set as seen here during their intense performance of “level up” from their first album.
The duo, comprised of Tim “Soultron” White & Charles-Kirk Dustin Overcash, program their music on LSDJ for Gameboy and Korg DS-10 on DS. Check out their last release, “This Album is a Party” on bandcamp. Batsly Adams is an electrical engineer from Long Island, Batsly has done numerous electronic projects for events such as Blip Festival and regularly performs live visuals using modded hardware such as the Sega Genesis console.
Danimal Cannon is no stranger to MAGFest; debuting his first live chip performance 2 years ago at MAGFest 9, he has played every year since! Danimal is pretty much the ultimate chip/VGM crossover performer due to being a member of staple MAGFest VGM bands Metroid Metal & ArmCannon. This definitely didn’t hurt his popularity and it showed, as by this time the room was bustling with hundreds of both chip scene and Danimal fans! Opening with the title track from his highly successful debut album, “Roots“, he quickly jumped into some much anticipated new material (chronos & rhapsody) from his (at the time) upcoming collaboration with Zef, “Parallel Processing“! The fantastic energy from both Danimal & the crowd, amazing visuals by Pixelseed & the ridiculous stage setup really showcased this man’s talent as a performer. Having seen Danimal perform live more times than he has himself, I can safely say this was one of his best shows! As you can see from these videos one of the key elements about seeing him live is how he often improvises much of the guitar work, making each show a unique experience!
Danimal is from Buffalo, NY and has not only toured with the Protomen and played most major chip music shows on the east coast, including 8static and Rochester Chip, he has also performed at national shows such as Blip Festival and PAX East. Being a skilled guitar soloist he is able to improvise over pre-written LSDJ tracks on his Gameboys. His new material, a collaboration with Zef, shows a heavier influence into industrial and dubstep genres. He also is left-handed. Pixelseed is from Baltimore, MD and was the main force behind Baltimore’s chip show, Byte Nyte. Blending circuit-bent console hardware, mixers and live footage, Pixelseed likes to make more of a statement with his visuals rather than just use abstract imagery.
Crashfaster closed out Friday’s show with a bang. Having a full band on stage is the way to do it too. Live drums and guitar accompany the venerable stage presence of frontman, Morgan Tucker and backup vocalist Keiko Takamura. Performing a mix of new, yet to be released material & originally solo tracks arranged for the band, Crashfaster mesmerized the audience with their trademark vocoder processed-vocals & dark, but hopeful music. Batsly Adams returned with more live visuals. We got to hear the track from their upcoming split-vinyl with The Glowing Stars & a beautifully re-arranged version of “Time” with Keiko on vocals! The show ended appropriately with their cover of party favorite, “Say it ain’t so” by Weezer followed by the grand exodus outside for lunch.
Coming all the way from San Francsico, Crashfaster is a huge part of the west coast chip scene. Morgan is the main organizer of Pulsewave SF & 8bitSF and also composer for Muteki Corporation‘s Dragon Fantasy series. Clearly influenced by industrial & EBM music of the 90s, Morgan has created his own style using MidiNES & various other classic chip hardware . Check out his debut release, “disconnect” on monobomb records!
Saturday opened with one of the most energetic performers in the chip music scene, Kris Keyser from Hoboken, NJ. Kris has been a mainstay of the NYC scene and wins the hearts of every audience I have seen him play to. Using only a single Gameboy with LSDJ, Kris puts on a solo show like no other via pure energy and charisma! Famous for his energetic dancing, jump kicks, spins and unplugging his Gameboy in the process, (something that did not happen this show!) Kris Keyser did not disappoint!
As of this time, Kris still hasn’t released his new album, but many of us are excited for that moment. Until then enjoy the few tracks he’s released on bandcamp or this compilation of live performances. Long time collaborator, Batsly Adams, provided accompanying genesis visuals during his set. This was a great wakeup call for the audience flowing into the room as Kris’s amazing, melodic dance jams spread energy throughout the crowd. By the time he played his final song, “Only“, the entire crowd was pumped up, leaving us all wont for more!
More would be delivered by Boston’s inimitable Br1ght Pr1mate! This dynamic duo, fresh off the release of their fantastic “Night Animals” album delivered a solid mix of album tracks like “SOURCE CODE” & “Hibernate“, a cover of Disasterpeace’s “Adventure (from Fez) and a new unreleased song! The visuals by Invaderbacca changed with the mood, something diverse in Br1ght Pr1mate’s music; a hybrid of sultry female vocals and LSDJ. After welcoming guest, Mega Ran and collaborating on a song together along with longtime friend Rekcahdam, they finished out their set with one of my favorite songs, “Hypnotized“!
James & Lydia, also organizers of Boston8bit, have released several albums to date. The success of “Night Animals” being a testament to three years of developing songs and high production values. Lydia’s powerful voice is proof that vocals can be done well in chip music if done right and doesn’t necessarily need to to limit the complexity of the music; as demonstrated by some incredible instrumental arrangements and breakdowns! Their fantastic stage chemistry & dynamic sense of style coupled with their professional live performance execution has catapulted them into the spotlight, transcending the fringes of the chip scene. Never afraid to experiment across genres and platforms, we should continue to see great things in the future from the Primates.
What happened next was one of those magic moments we all hope to see at live shows. The show was 15 minutes ahead of schedule and, after quickly rallying Paul and Roger, we were treated to a surprise Chipocrite set with drum accompaniment by Reckahdam!! These two had never collaborated previously, but being highly skilled live musicians they were able to signal each other while performing to play a pretty amazing mini-set! Pixelseed even managed to get live visuals going after the first song as they performed fan-favorite, “Mr. Knight is in the Building” with live drums for the first time ever!
Rekcahdam played a drum solo while Chipocrite loaded his final song, “Little Computer People“, part of the soundtrack for upcoming indie game, Dragon Runner! The result was pure magic and the looks on everyone’s faces was absolutely priceless! People walking past the room were poking their heads in to check out what was happening and the crowd doubled in size over the next 15 minutes! Both these guys currently live near Richmond, VA so we can hope for future collaborations between these two. In the meantime check out Chipocrite’s debut album, “Hit & Run“.
After that Madness, established composer and long-time MAGFest celebrity, Virt took the stage! Accompanied by CODA, Virt played his trademark, upbeat and funky brand of chiptune both playing love keyboard accompaniment! Virt’s music tends to have an epic soundtrack feel to it and the crowd adored it. The pair up was perfect for the show as it added a more jammy feel to the performance which heightened the audience’s enthusiasm!
Pixelseed’s glitchy backgrounds with old 50’s footage reels blended in was a great juxtaposition to Virt’s positive dance grooves. Coming all the way from LA, it’s always a treat to get to see Virt perform out on the east coast. CODA was a fantastic pair up as well, something maybe we will see more of in the future…
The moment many had been waiting for had come, Cheap Dinosaurs was the final set of the show and favorite of many. Many of the Shizz had gathered near front for their dance pit to form and many others had flocked to see these giants play. Philadelphia chip scene’s, Cheap Dinosaurs are a cerebral, psychedelic, progressive rock group that tap into that sense of wonder that even the most jaded still have buried within; as evidenced by the giddy looks of many around. The music is what I can best describe as the magical realism soundtrack of life.
Dino Lionetti, previously of Chromelodeon (a VGM pioneer), began Cheap Dinosaurs solo in 2008 and slowly began to add members to flesh out the sound. Currently comprised of Animal Style (guitar), Chipocrite (bass), an0va (guitar), Bucky (drums), Dan Tarng (guitar) & Dino (keys); this was one or the rare times that all six current members of the group were assembled, making this performance even more special!! They began the set with Shizz favorite, “Stroll” and rolled into several of their newer songs like “Thirteen” and “Johnny 5” before playing the classic “Tagalog” with new freakout segment in the middle!
NO CARRIER‘s amazing visuals are always perfect for these guys and he honestly should be considered the seventh member of the band (later honored by providing visuals for special guest Yuzo Koshiro!). Cheap Dinosaurs only played one cover this time, not of Koshiro’s “beatnik on a ship” from streets of rage as many would expect, but the ominously beautiful “Crisis” from obscure, Japanese game, YU-NO. They finished their set by playing a couple newer songs, “Miami” & one of my personal favorites, the extremely unusual, timing mind-fuck “2w3nty“.
Overall the show was a huge success, everyone who performed was fantastic. This was definitely the best chip show MAGFest has had yet! While there wasn’t enough time for everyone significant in the scene to play it was definitely a lineup that celebrated the diversity in the chip music scene that I hope will get more people interested who weren’t already.
If you want to watch the complete show, the entirety of it can be watched on this playlist via Chip Music Chronicle:
Check out more videos on Chip Music Chronicle;
documenting the live chip music scene since 2010!
Are you are interested in experiencing more live chip music in person? Check out 8static, philadelphia’s monthly chip music event; held the second saturday each month. Keep up to date with future 8static shows at:
If you were also at the show or enjoyed this recap, please share your experience or feelings in the comments below!