Think you’ve got dance music covered? Think again. Liverpool-based CalmDownKidder might just teach you a few new moves. James Bentley’s label-cum-gig nights champions the city’s resurgent chipmusic scene, bridging the worlds of gaming and raving with a roster of thrillingly inventive acts. From Japanese ‘rave dance pop’ to ‘breakcore insanity’ chipmusic has all the bases covered. Forget your DS, this is as 3D as gaming gets.

Bentley’s Chipfests regularly show up our more traditional club nights for the four-to-the-floor dinosaurs they’re sometimes wont to be. Chipmusic – the creation of original music on various old school computers and gaming devices – might have started live as a homage to the Commodore and Game Boy, but these days it’s at the forefront of electronic music, used by some of the world’s most innovative and thrilling producers and performers (Robyn’s a fan, so that’s instant validation in our books).

Think it’s all geeks and gamers? Forget it. These are some of the sweatiest, most euphoric nights in town.

For Chipfest 6, Bentley’s secured the services of iconic game composer Tim Wright (main pic – who composed music for Lemmings, Wipeout, Shadow of the Beast…). Playing under his CoLD SToRAGE moniker, this will be Wright’s first live gig in over 20 years. A show of respect for Bentley’s devotion to the cause.

How healthy is the chip music scene in Liverpool right now?

James: It’s looking pretty bright at the moment! I’ve been discovering a few local acts recently, it appears our little scene is growing and flourishing by the week! I’ve been putting on shows of this nature since 2007, and whilst there has been a variance in attending numbers, this number has been growing with each gig though, so I’m hoping loads of people will come and party with us!

What about upcoming talent? Who’s making good stuff?

I’ll list four from the local scene, as I believe they’re always due a shoutout!

Chipzel has recently moved over from Northern Ireland, she makes dance tunes on a Game Boy, and has played the prestigious Blip Festival in New York, and is also playing ChipFest 6.

Poisoncut is a new one I’ve discovered recently, and he’s even made a soundtrack to an iPhone game coming out soon!

Groovemaster303 is another local guy, making funky jams on Sega consoles!

Last but not least, I make music under the moniker The Tin Foil Hat Brigade  – punk/noisy pop with one man, a Game Boy and a mic.

What’s chip music doing right now – how’s it blending old school aesthetics with nu school breaks and beats?

Chipmusic seems to be constantly threatening to explode onto the music scene, and there’s currently small little bits leaking out, such as Timbaland nicking chipmusic to use on Nelly Furtado tracks, and many acts mixing square waves and chipmusic style effects (such as Unicorn Kid, Drums of Death etc) with more mainstream music to great effect! Anamanaguchi, who mix a full live band with a Nintendo Entertainment System, have recently composed the soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim vs The World video game, and they seem to be getting bigger and bigger!

There’s a few chipmusic acts who make dubstep, the best one being Sheffield man HarleyLikesMusic, who creates his unique stylings using the Nintendo DS! There’s also Monster! Monster! and Cheapshot who are giving dubstep acts a good run for their money!

What can we expect on the night?

There’s an act to suit everyone – from the dubstep style of HarleyLikesMusic, to the harder dance noise making of Comptroller and DS-10 Dominator. After that, it’s onto the sugary sweet pop/dance of Chipzel! BSK and Maru, who are coming all the way from Japan, are stopping at Liverpool (one of only two UK dates) make the most intense dance music you’ve ever heard, and then last but not least, VGM legend CoLD SToRAGE is coming to the stage for the first time in over twenty years! He’s told me there’ll be a mix of new and some of the old game tunes, it’s going to be a really exciting event! Basically, if you like electronic dance music, you’re going to love this event!

And we spoke to CoLD SToRAGE, aka Tim Wright, ahead of his rare appearance in town, too.

How have you seen the scene develop over the past twenty years – are we in a golden era, or do you hark back to the glory days?

Tim: I still find it weird that the kit I used to play games on is now just the flotsam & jetsam of eBay, and it’s all happened in what seems like the blink of an eye. But it’s great that they are seeing a new lease of life in the hands of talented musicians and hardware modders. I guess things just change so quickly in the world of electronics? What takes 50-60 years to become ‘vintage’ in the case of cars or clothing only takes a few years when it comes to gaming hardware.

Every era has its golden aspect, and I think the scene at the moment is finally flourishing into the semi-mainstream, with more people enjoying what’s on offer. Over the past 5 years or so I’ve heard more and more use of chip sounds in mainstream Dance and R&B music. It’s not surprising to hear a 6581 sound in a track, or three note arpeggios played with a pulse wave. Most of the big name producers are using these sounds in their work.

When I was involved in the C64 demo scene, there wasn’t really a concept of just showing off your music per se. The music was always part of a complete demo. Even if it was a music demo, there would be supporting graphics or a greetings scroller. People just listening to the music for the sake of it probably began with the AMIGA for me. There was a definite bridging of worlds there, because people who would never have considered listening to chiptunes were happy to listen to chopped up music samples, or sampled instruments coming from the AMIGA. In fact, I recall a track getting into the charts composed using two AMIGAs, which kinda proves the point.

It was a few years after this before the next generation of youngsters re-discovered the old hardware and what it could do in terms of music. These kids had grown up hearing Nintendo music while playing games in junior school, and that vibe had become part of their psyche. Taking that music a step further was pretty logical really, using Gameboys and discovering older stuff like the SID chip and the NES chip.

So no, I wouldn’t say I hark back… there’s far too much exciting stuff going on right now!

Is it about the gadgets, or the music? or both?

It’s always about the music. A gadget is just a lump of plastic and silicon. You need a skilled musician, or in most cases with chip stuff an engineer to get these things to sound great. It’s about certain sounds too… low resolution waveforms, the inherent noise, arpeggios and pulse width modulation, in fact, a lot of over the top modulation and crazy experimentation. Combining sounds from different sound chips and consoles makes for a rich canvas too, so it’s good to see people blending sounds.

There are so many talented modders out there, and they keep adding new devices to the list of musical weaponry… it’s not just about home computers, handheld or consoles, it can be anything electronic that can be persuaded into giving out some kind of audio.

Have technological advances made chip culture more of a ‘live’ experience? What can we expect from your live set?As you know, this is my first live performance in quite some time. The last thing I did live was playing keyboards in a cover band, so to be thrust into the limelight of the current scene is a bit terrifying really! I was 50/50 about doing it at all, as I have been asked before, but with it being local and more and more people egging me on to do it, I eventually caved in…In terms of my set, I’m still playing around with ideas. I did a practice gig at a friend’s Birthday party this weekend, and that went down quite well. They were mostly into seriously dark metal, so I was amazed they didn’t hate my set! They’re all into their games though, so I think that’s where the crossover worked for me. I played 50% cover versions (Erasure’s Little Respect, M.J.’s Thriller and some J.M. Jarre) in a chiptune style to try to win them over and it seemed to work. People were even dancing by the end of my set, which was a relief.

I don’t think I’ll need to do that for Chipfest 6 though, as I’m hoping to stick to my original work. As for hardware, it’ll probably be a laptop and a MIDI Keyboard. I’m not really set-up to use 3 Gameboys and a C64, something like that would take a lot more preparation, and at the end of the day, I think people would want me to be ‘me’, rather than trying to emulate other people in the scene. I was tempted to rig up my AMIGA for the gig, but my old A1200 is feeling it’s age, so I wouldn’t want to count on it and have it fail!

What are you proudest of in your career?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I’ve had such a fortunate working life so far. Not everyone can say they’ve managed to (mostly) do what they love for a job. I’d probably say the launch of MUSICtm  – Music Creation for PlayStation. Designing and developing that ‘game’ was all-consuming. I didn’t sleep, go home, or think about anything else for nearly nine months. It didn’t do my personal life much good, and that’s when my son was born too, so it was really stressful and awkward, but rewarding in so many ways. That time in my life was such a roller coaster, but the final product was something that changed so many people’s lives in ways I couldn’t have imagined – including my own.

Designing and developing music creation software on consoles, handhelds and PC has been a good 50% of my career so far, and it’s something that most people don’t know that much about, or don’t associate me with. They generally know me as Tim Wright who composed the music for Lemmings, or CoLD SToRAGE who wrote the music for Wipeout, but from 1997 to 2007 I spent most of my working days developing the MUSIC / MTV Music Generator / eJay products.

What games stand out, currently, for their chip samples or soundtracks?

I don’t have any particular favourite just now, but I’m really enjoying hearing a revival of chip style tracks in loads of iOS and Android games. The whole ‘back bedroom’ developer vibe is alive and well again, and I really think this will be the last time we see it happen.

I recently composed the soundtrack for a retro game called Gravity Crash for PS3 and PSP, and the musical style was almost chiptune on steroids, so that was great fun to do. I’m also making good use of the SID Player on my Android phone to listen to all the great demo scene music that’s out there just now, with a new wave of people writing inspiring and innovative tracks using a real C64 or GoatTracker on a PC. Great stuff!

CoLD SToRAGE / Maru / BSK (pic 2)/ DS-10 Dominator /
HarleyLikesMusic / Comptroller (pic 3)/ Chipzel

Saturday 27th August, 20:30 doors open, £5
Bier Keller, Dale Street/Stanley Street, Liverpool

Full details available @ http://calmdownkidder.com/chipfest6/

Main pic: Tim Wright
Pic three: James Bentley