Posts tagged ‘NYC’

Clap your hands say meh

Earlier this month I dropped my remaining vacation days a 5-day jaunt in Brooklyn during which I attended the Blip Festival, an event whose praises I cannot sing loud or long enough. But as my hearing returned to full capacity, so did my sense of reality and perspective over what had just taken place.

I’ve listened to electronic music nearly all my life and grew up on Nintendo. The mental library of earthly sounds I’ve accumulated over the years contains it’s fair share of lo-fi bloops, bleeps, snaps and peeps. Nonetheless, this was essentially my first experience with the artists and music that define what some would call the chip music or chiptunes scene, a music genre that seems to define itself more by hardware and production aesthetic than by the nature of the music. That is to say that over the course of the festival we were treated to a variety music – pop, rock, hip-hop, reggae, house, ebm/futurepop, idm, breakcore, industrial and every grey area in between – that was apparently all under the umbrella of chiptune.

bloop bloop bleep bleep

That’s Glomag, and yes, that is indeed a Nintendo Game Boy in his hands. The original big honking Game Boy at that, and it’s fitted with one of those screen-brightening and -enlarging doodads. Chip music essentially involves repurposing archaic computer hardware into instruments. Most commonly, this means game consoles, and this in turn most commonly means the Nintendo Game Boy. Of the 40-some-odd artists at Blip, I’d estimate about 95% of them used the Game Boy in some form, and about 75% used it as the sole instrument in their ensemble. A lot of these guys had pretty tricked out Game Boys, like two-tone cases with custom-installed back-lit screens. Once in a while you’d see someone using a Game Boy SP or PSP and you knew they were totally style-fakers. In any event, though photos of the previous two festivals led me to believe we’d see some, there was no truly inventive use of hardware a la James Houston‘s Big Ideas:

In days of yore, electronic musicians often used keyboards, live drums and/or guitars, turntables, theramins, effects pedals, and a bevy of other instruments that involve some sort of physical exertion and performance in their live acts. Those days are largely gone; today, most electronic shows involve some laptop button-pushing, knob-tweaking, fader-flicking and not much more.

So creep with me, if you will, and imagine standing in a crowd of unkempt 20-somethings staring at another unkempt 20-something on stage, garishly dressed, hunched over with Game Boy in hand, queuing tracks and adjusting parameters, intermittently taking a break to fist-pump, thrash about, or gesture awkwardly in some other manner to express his excitement and passion for the music he’s not quite actually playing. It is a very arresting experience to say the least.

I have a back-up NES so I can spike one when I lose.

Believe it or not, there was some dancing, some awkward spastic nerd dancing. And if the music is good and the crowd is good and the dancing is good, then, performance be damned, it’s still a good time. But as you might imagine there was a large contingent just sort of standing there, barely nodding their heads like you do when you don’t want to seem not into the show. What up with that? What were these guys doing at the bloop bleep show? I mean, they’re not partying, not drinking, not molesting women and surely not appreciating the skill of the performance. I’m sure some might take exception, but as a former DJ and musician, a player of video games and a one-time-owner of a Game Boy, I can proclaim with confidence that it’s not that difficult to do and not at all impressive to behold.

What ever happened to showmanship? Say what you will about misogynistic epic metal, but Manowar knew how to put on a fucking show. Guitars would be played in every position imaginable: over the head, behind the back, between the legs, shared betwixt two people. I saw their bassist solo for like 10 goddamn minutes and then proceed to break those absurdly thick strings with his bare hands, one by one. Even if you weren’t that into the music or interested in slamming your fragile body into a crowd of strangers, you still had to be impressed with Manowar. Virtuosity, showmanship, leather codpieces. There is no substitute:

Showmanship is not to be confused with spectacle. One of the better acts at Blip, a duo from Barcelona called Meneo, was sheer spectacle. Don’t misunderstand, they were awesome and everyone had a blast, but their set was all about on-stage antics that involved wrestling, nudity, toilet paper and hiding microphones in various locations inside pants. The guy on the Game Boy came up to me, snatched the ear plugs from my ears and ate them. They didn’t bring that keytar, just leggings and unrestrained Dadaist energy. But for the people in the audience who weren’t that into the music, weren’t dancing and weren’t drinking, they had to have been outrageously uncomfortable during that set.

The other component to Blip, and to most live music of any genre these days, is the visual display that accompanies the performance. It was in this aspect that Blip seemed really appealing when I first heard of it but also fell the most flat in actuality. Last year, the fest had several projection screens and this video screen with ridiculously oversized pixels which produced a look that was really complimentary to the music. Geneva’s Mapping Festival uses all kinds of inventive displays each year – note the translucent curtains for floating projections. The Copenhagen Mikrodisko takes an even more lo-fi approach that still has a wonderful aesthetic. So you can imagine my disappointment when this year’s Blip had a single projection screen behind the stage and nothing more. Granted, the set-up is only as good as the VJs and animators who show their work. Some of the musicians, namely Meneo, Anamanaguchi, and m-.-n did their own visuals or had animators do stuff just for them, which were usually pretty good, and a couple of the guys in the small line-up of VJs that worked with the rest of the acts were okay, but a lot of the time the screen just looked like it was displaying a broken VCR.

Until now, I didn’t realize this was, you know, a thing, chip music, as in deserving of its own scene and word and all. As far as I know, lo-fi electronic video game-ish sounds have been used in music for quite a while but perhaps more sparingly than in this case. This album got a lot of good press when it dropped almost two years ago, but think about how superfluous it is to have bloop-bleep computer music covered by musicians using even more bloopy-bleepy computers. Don’t get me wrong, I heart Kraftwerk. And I like these 8 bit guys. They put on a decent show. I would just maybe take issue with the claim, as they make in 2 Player Productions’ chiptune documentary Reformat The Planet, which was screened at Blip and apparently got a nod at SXSW, that they’re doing something entirely new and revolutionary when what they’re really up to is more or less bizarre bordering on Luddite. This is more a critique of the film and not the musicians, but it seems as if the filmmakers focused on the contemporary NYC scene not because they’re trying to illustrate via microcosm but simply because that’s where they are and that’s who their friends are so that’s who they have access to. They treat Blip as just that – an isolated event – and don’t really touch on the international scene or put chiptunes in the context of the history of electronic music. I would take up that crusade but that’s not really my job or the point of Redikulus. My job is just to draw attention to silly shit, and I believe my work here is done.

– posted by RussellMania3000

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December 31, 2008 at 5:34 PM 2 comments

Takin’ it to the streets

harings handiwork

haring's handiwork

I’ve mentioned a love for Keith Haring, already. My elementary art school teacher told me that when he was still in Kutztown, you would see his chalk drawings on the sidewalk at the university. Now, who really knows if thats true. When Haring moved to NYC he started gaining recognition by doing chalk drawings on the blank advertising boards in the subway.

poster boy's handiwork

poster boy's handiwork

This summer I was visiting New York, and had a good chuckle at the above mutilated subway poster. My friend pointed out that there was someone who does this on the regular. I was pleasantly suprised to find Poster Boy’s Flickr page today. I was amazed that he knew where the faces underneath were, although he may have in fact put them on top. I didn’t have much time to inspect. Fortunately there’s a video that shows him at work. A razor blade. I’m still impressed.

Shepard Fairey was the first street artist who I got into. I actually just wanted to be in Andre the Giant’s posse. He’s truly evolved into a respected artist with a popular design studio. What’s suprising is that those who chose to deface walls and subways actually turn out to be talented and intelligent individuals. Banksy is another artist I really enjoy. He had a popular show in NYC recently. I don’t know who was first, Banksy or Alexandre Orion, but I think Orion takes the cake.

This type of work always makes me happy. People who are happy to just make art without soaking or basking in recognition. It’s the antithesis of crud like reality television. These public artists might have 15 minutes of fame, but they could really care less. I loved hearing about the commotion that the Adult Swim neon ads caused. I try to read as much as I possible can written on the stalls in the bathrooms of my favorite dives. Whether its a declaration of love, or a curse to someone’s tiny dick, perhaps even the phone number of a good time. I love me a good anonymous statement. The Poster Project is trying to be a little more positive with its reach and statement.

Now if only we can figure out ways to cut up internet advertising and grafitti banner ads. Or a way to just blow up myspace’s filth.

-posted by samsquared

December 19, 2008 at 9:47 PM Leave a comment


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