We’ve hit the boss level. Hally’s jumping around the stage like a hopped up game-show host, spitting out robotic vocals into a microphone. On the screen behind him, CHiKA’s visuals are spinning and pulsing a ride through letters spelling out his name. He’s wearing mirrored sunglasses and a red leather jacket, and his hair slicked back. He’s ripping through a manic set at the after-party for the second night of 2009’s Blip Festival, and a room full of the world’s greatest chip musicians is dancing like mad. As he breaks into the first verse of “Surfin’ USA”, riding a stream of chords that hit like power-ups, it’s impossible to grasp how music on hardware three-decades old (in this case a stack of customized Famicoms) could be fueling an orgy of pixels and square waves straight out of a William Gibson novel.
This is the fourth Blip Festival, the brainchild of 8bitpeoples, a chip music collective founded by Jeremiah Johnson (a.k.a. Nullsleep) in 1999 and co-administered by Josh Davis (a.k.a. Bit Shifter), and The Tank, a performance art space that’s been the heart of the New York chip music scene since 2002.