LM: Can you give us a history of the Vancouver Chipmusic Society?
VCMS: For the last few years, I (Bryan) had been going to and occasionally performing at chiptune shows and festivals around the world in key cities that had developed a critical mass of chiptune enthusiasts – but I would usually return home to Vancouver lamenting that no such scene existed here.
I had since then been quietly keeping tabs on the few local chiptune artists and enthusiasts I did stumble across, in the hopes of starting a local scene when the time was right. It wasn’t until Spring of 2016 that I decided there were enough interested people to warrant putting together a team and organizing a Vancouver-based chip show.
We ended up having the first installment of our chiptune concert series (dubbed “OVERFLOW”) on September 2016. We had another edition of the show in March of this year, and of course, our third show is happening next Wednesday. The response has been pretty great, and just by virtue of the show existing we were surprised to see some talented local chiptune musicians being drawn out of the woodwork – artists that we otherwise wouldn’t even have known about! So we’re very humbled to see the beginnings of this kind of community take shape, simply because we decided to take matters into our own hands.
LMM: Is there a community mandate?
VCMS: Our goal is basically to be true to the chip music art form and culture as it exists today – many of our organizers have been to chip shows elsewhere around the world and we want to preserve the feel of those shows while putting our own unique spin on it. We feel that central to these events is the celebration of the independent/DIY aesthetic, as well as a certain streak of counter-culturalism – the use of these obsolete machines to make fresh and original music is in some ways a statement about freeing oneself from the latest economic/technological trends.
We also feel like this is music that anybody can enjoy, regardless of whether they know anything about video games or not. So we try not to present our events as gaming-themed, although such associations are unavoidable – it’s really more about appreciating the purity of sounds that don’t sound like any classic human-made instrument and could be enjoyed in their own context, free from the computer/video game connections.
At a more abstract level, these events about celebrating how skillful leverage of heavy restrictions can lead to some really compelling forms of art. You’ll see this in the masterfully-done pixel art for some of the games we’re showcasing, as well as much of the live music, much of which is made using sound chips capable of only 3 or 4 sounds/tones at a time.
LMM: How many members do you have currently?
VCMS: We’re not actually structured like a club with memberships or anything like that – our organizational structure consists of about 5 or so members, mostly fellow artists, that have offered to help with all the logistical stuff needed to put on events like shows and workshops. We also have a few enthusiastic friends who have been great with volunteering at our events, but beyond that, that’s about it.
In terms of show turn out, we’ve averaged about 60 attendees, which is actually quite decent for a chip show!
LMM: How did you get into Chip music?
VCMS: When I was younger, I would spend lots of time collecting and listening to executable computer music (.MOD files) that I would find online. These types of music files contained all the song data and instrument sounds – it blew my mind to be able to SEE the music on the screen instead of just listening to it. Much of this music was actually some of the first chip music that existed.
In about 2007 or so I discovered that there were communities around the world that still enjoyed listening to and writing this sort of music, even to the point of organizing shows and festivals. Many of those artists were using Game Boys and other hardware to write and perform their music, and when I looked more closely at how it worked, I realized that it was actually pretty easy to learn. I’ve since been writing chip music under the pseudonym “bryface“.
LMM: If someone wanted to get into Chip music as an artist what would you need?
VCMS: Most of the relevant software is either free or insanely affordable. Famitracker (which you can use to write hardware-accurate NES music) is freeware. Little Sound DJ, which can run on a real Nintendo Game Boy via special flash cartridges, costs only ~$2 for a license – but you can run it on a software-emulated version of a Game Boy. If you’re not interested in achieving dogged hardware accuracy, there are many audio plugins that emulate the basic sound chip waveforms which you can load up on typical Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, for use either by themselves or to be incorporated with other software instruments.
LMM: Who are your current “Chip” favorite artists?
VCMS: It’s a pretty varied and extensive list so I couldn’t possibly name them all. But I would wholeheartedly recommend xyce, cTrix, HarleyLikesMusic, RoccoW, Fearofdark, Saitone, and chibi-tech among a zillion others – I would say that represents a pretty meaty cross-section of many chip-related sub genres including demoscene, acid, funk, pop, IDM and electro.
One interesting detail about the above artists that I’ve met or shared the stage with the vast majority of them in person in the last couple of years, at the various chip shows and festivals that have happened around the world. That hopefully helps to illustrate how surprisingly close-knit this global scene is, even though many of us live on completely different continents.
LMM: And finally who is your favorite non “Chip” artist?
VCMS: Oof, that’s a really hard question to answer, again because my musical tastes are as eclectic and transient as they come! But just recently I went with a friend of mine to a Jacob Collier one-man live performance – if you’ve ever seen his viral videos where he layers dozens of takes of his vocals over top of instrumental layers that he also himself performs right from his room, then you’ll have an idea of his staggering musical talent. If anybody deserves more attention diverted their way for their talent and hard work, it’s that kid.
You can check out some great Chip artists at the Vancouver Chipmusic Society‘s event Overflow #002: Mega Ran + Sammus, Together We Are Robots & MORE which will be at The Fox Cabaret on August 30th, 2017 from 7:30 PM – 11:30 PM tickets are $15 online/early bird and $20 at the door. The event is 19+. You can get tickets here!