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

In Culture, Music

Soundscapes

Morgan Tucker remembers seeing Esquivel play in 2009, at a show Tucker was producing in San Francisco that featured several chiptune artists.

Glowing Stars

DIFFERENT 'TUNES Lizzie Cuevas and Matthew Payne of Glowing Stars incorporate live instruments into their chiptune songs but also use a Game Boy.

“It was mind-blowing,” Tucker recalls. “They made anything I was doing pale in comparison. The really sad thing was there were like 10 people there. The people who were there were really into it, but I had this vision of these artists getting bummed out and not making this music anymore because they’d feel like it wasn’t worth it.

“I really decided then and there that not only did these guys deserve to feel like the rock stars that they truly were, but that people needed to hear this music. That was the point at which I devoted a lot of time and effort and money into promoting big chip shows.”

Along with showcasing local artists, Tucker brought to the area acts like Anamanaguchi, who gave chiptune a huge visibility boost when they had their music used in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Tucker formed the chiptune organization 8 Bit SF, and his efforts are the reason he’s credited with making the Bay Area arguably the top region in the country for chiptune, despite the fact that it was largely an East Coast phenomenon when it started a decade ago
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“Morgan was a big reason why. He always organized the shows, and he sort of became the hub,” says Esquivel.

“What I didn’t realize at the time was that San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the Bay Area in general, are the perfect place for this music to take hold. You’ve got a lot of people who work in tech and who have common backgrounds in that they grew up with these games,” says Tucker.

“There is a nostalgic element that’s something we all share. It’s something that was able to take hold and catch on.”

Tucker will perform at Rockage, too, under the banner of his project Crashfaster. He is also undergoing a bit of a metamorphosis; last year he went from performing solo to playing live with a band.

“I think what you’re seeing is people want to branch out a little bit,” Tucker explains. “They don’t want to be pigeonholed. I think for me, chiptune was a great musical renaissance, in that it really refocused me as a musician.”

What had happened, he says, is “I had gotten really into creating my own synthesizer sounds and things like that, and you can spend weeks tweaking and making really cool soundscapes. But then you don’t have any music to show for it.

“When I really started diving into the chiptune stuff, the setup is so simple that it forces you to focus on the composition and what you’re doing, in a way that really reignited my passion for writing music. Not to sound cheesy or trite, but it’s really been life-changing for me.”

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