What a bleep! Salford synth enthusiast wants to get Chiptune ‘out in the open’

What happens if you cross modern dance music with the nostalgic and abrasive sounds that used to come out of your old Game Boy or Game Gear?

The answer is chiptune, a genre of synthesised electronic music which is gathering speed as thrillingly as Sonic the Hedgehog.

Its unique strain of bleeps and beats has been adopted by influential electronica acts like Crystal Castles and was the subject of Javier Polo’s documentary film Europe in 8 Bits, which was shown at the Royal Northern College of Music last year as part of the digital culture festival FutureEverything.

Now it is coming to Salford as chiptune enthusiast Richard Lewis is crowdfunding £500 via the website IndieGogo in order to host Chip Bit Day, an event dedicated to the genre due to take place at The Kings’ Arms on April 23.

While the venue is already secure, all of the money that Richard receives in the crowdfunder will go towards paying the musicians, in addition to rewards for backers and advertisements across Manchester.

Some of the current incentives include commemorative lanyards shaped like Game Boy cartridges and modified ‘instruments’ to encourage others to get involved with the genre themselves.

“I’ll probably be putting out new Game Boys tomorrow,” Richard teased MM.

An experienced graphic designer and a University of Salford graduate living in Irlams o’ th’ Height, Richard is also responsible for Chip! Bit! Sid!, a blog which is dedicated to reviewing music of the chiptune and synth genres.

He started the blog a few months after leaving indie record label We Are The Future!, at which, he had found himself increasingly listening to chiptune music and realising that the genre was under-represented, hence his reasons for starting the blog in April of last year.

“I used to look at Hype Machine [the music blog aggregator] quite a bit,” he said.

“I found that there were too many synth pop bands but there weren’t many chiptune bands. I just wanted chiptune out into the open really.

“I put out a promotional CD for Superbyte [a chiptune and 8-bit arts festival in Manchester], so I talked with all the bands and talked with the GameFace [Fab Radio’s weekly gaming show hosted by Graeme Booth] registration.

“It went really well and made £225.

“I got involved in that because they asked me if I wanted to come on and be interviewed for We Are the Future!

“After I came on I got asked on by Graeme about my blog. It went down really well so we ended up producing a monthly where I curated the music that I’d been reviewing on my blog.”

Musicians confirmed to perform at Chip Bit Day include Auracle, Euan Lynn and 2xAA, with potential others including J3WEL and Harley Rain should the crowdfunder be successful.

With Richard hoping to attract performers from all over England for the event, chiptune is clearly a widespread community nationally too.

“The majority of them I have met previously,” he said.

“Auracle is one guy that I literally work with at GameFace and lives just down the road from me in Salford.

“There’s quite a few outsiders – J3WEL comes from Southampton, Harley lives in Sheffield. We have two guys coming from Salford. We’ve got 2xAA who was on GameFace last week. Euan Lynn is coming from Newcastle.”

With its masses of cartridges and wires, it looks like you have to be technologically savvy to be able to play chiptune with the skill of artists like Auracle, who donated one of his Game Boys for the crowdfunder.

However, Richard was quick to reassure that it is relatively easy to get involved.

“There’s an app called Nanoloop that you can download on your phone on Android and you can play it directly on your phone,” he explained.

“A lot of people just do chiptune music using normal means (like computers) and that’s accepted as part of the community. I’ve seen people using old school keyboards from the 1980s.

“There are other ways as well. I’ve seen quite a few people doing music on their 3DS. Music manufacturers like Korg have started using software that you can download via WiiWare and you can download that on the shop.

“When I started doing chiptune it was just more on the Game Boy.

“I really like computer games and that was the reason I got into chiptune and started making it.

“Doing things on a phone I find really awkward but using a Game Boy just for making music is really quite accessible.

“You wouldn’t think that it is but you’ve got the buttons there so it’s a lot easier.”

With the cost of a Game Boy and a USB cartridge from Retrotowers amounting to around £50, the equipment to start playing chiptune is actually cheaper than the cost of your standard guitar or keyboard, so long as you have the know-how to use it.

The success of the concert is likely to dictate whether it gets a second airing next year, but Richard is feeling laidback ahead of it regardless.

“It’s more or less just to get to friends in the community together,” he said.

“But it’s always good to see what new people think of chiptune as well.”

If you would like to learn more about chiptune you can visit chipmusic.org or the GameFace website gamefaceshow.com.

Image courtesy of Lucius Kwok, with thanks.

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