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San Jose Rockage Festival Brings Old-School Gaming and Chip Music to Silicon Valley

In Culture, Music
Rockage Festival

The Rockage festival combines gaming and chip music to Landmark Ballroom in San Jose's this Saturday and Sunday.

Andy Kuntz remembers when arcade games suddenly became the hottest nostalgia item in Silicon Valley. It was during the dotcom boom, when the coin-op craze was gone and seemingly forgotten, and home consoles already ruled the video-game industry.

Kuntz and his brother, Chris, were running T Minus One, a company that rents, sells and services arcade games and pinball machines around the Bay Area. They had seen their business model shift dramatically as interest in classic arcade games dwindled. But nobody had counted on the impact all those hours and quarters spent in arcades had made on the new tech workforce.

“These startup companies were just giving money away,” says Kuntz. “You had all these nerds who had grown up playing Ms. Pac Man, and now they had a ton of money to spend. All of a sudden they’re making $80,000, $90,000 a year, and they’ve got all this money to blow. They didn’t go buy sports cars. They bought games.”

Kuntz has long been bringing arcade games and pinball machines to California Extreme, the coin-op gaming convention now in its 16th year in Silicon Valley. And he will also be bringing games to Rockage, the first Bay Area festival to combine old-school gaming with chiptune, or chip music. This underground subculture born  from video-game nostalgia incorporates the sounds and themes from classic games, and is often played on actual video-game equipment, usually Game Boys.

Held at the Landmark Ballroom in San Jose Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 11-12, the event will feature 20 bands and 50 classic arcade games on nonstop free play, as well as 10 console setups.

The live music lineup combines indie-rock headliners like Tera Melos, Slackers’ lead singer Vic Ruggiero and Kepi Ghoulie with several acts that have come out of the Bay Area’s thriving chiptune scene.

“If I had to pick a spot for something like this, it would have to be Japan or here,” says Kuntz of Rockage. “This is where it all started. This is where Atari and all these companies were born.”

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