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The world's biggest chiptune festival takes its final bow in Tokyo

At the last Blip Festival, a scene looks back — and moves forward

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Blip Fest Tokyo
Blip Fest Tokyo

Like any good music scene, chip music is a movement with a philosophy. Rooted in the aesthetics of classic video games and competitive computer graphics demos, the contents of that philosophy vary from person to person. To me it’s always been about the idea that our technology is only as useful as we make it; that our fetishization of the new and the shiny has blinded us from the dormant capability and beauty sitting right in front of us, sleeping inside our once-cherished childhood toys. More importantly, it’s also about the diversity of ideas that emerge from that ambiguous ethos. And there’s nowhere that variety is more pronounced than at Blip Festival, the largest chip music festival on the planet.

Started seven years ago by a tiny group of devotees in New York City, Blip Festival has put hundreds of performers in front of roaring crowds at 11 festivals across four continents. The music here doesn’t fit snugly into any kind of category or genre — it ranges from delightfully absurd to spellbinding and sublime; from low-fi trance and punk rock to country-western, J-pop, and everything in between. It’s been the subject of a full-length documentary, Reformat The Planet; an anything-goes celebration of high quality, low-tech audiovisual splendor that has inspired countless offshoot events around the world.

The music ranges from delightfully absurd to spellbinding and sublime

So when it was announced this year that Blip would be holding its final event in Tokyo, Japan, I couldn't help but feel a little ambivalent. In forums and elsewhere, many contended with the realization that something so foundational to chip music would soon be gone. In another sense, it was a relief, a sign that it's time for chip music to stand on its own two legs. In many ways it already has, bolstered in part by the announcement of a brand new international festival, Square Sounds. Whatever the case, it wasn't something I was planning to miss.

One of my initial thoughts upon arriving was how weird it is to see the people you're used to seeing in dark, loud venues at different dark, loud venues on the other side of the planet. Maybe it was the jetlag, but when you go to enough shows in enough cities, you get the sense that the world is a much smaller place. Sure, there are more strangers, the beer is a little watery, and the signs are in a language you can't read, but the bright lights and blaring music somehow enhance that feeling of a "shared experience" that makes you feel like you are a part of something.

In the end, all "scenes" are destined to fade into the ether sooner or later, and chip music is no exception. But for Blip Fest, the comforting fact that there are those like me who would fly halfway around the world to bear witness speaks strongly of whatever comes next.

Photos by Joshua Kopstein and Emi Spicer

Blip Festival Tokyo 2012


Festival-goers navigate the darkened streets after a special Blip kick-off party in Shibuya.
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