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The Thermals, Minibosses, Gnarboots, Many More To Play Fourth Annual Rockage Festival At SJSU

In Music
Rockage 4.0 will feature video game music, video games and good old fashioned indie rock.

Rockage 4.0 will feature video game music, video games and good old fashioned indie rock.

Every February for for the past three years, longtime local music promoter Eric Fanali has devoted all his energy to wrangling nerds—herding a large and disparate group of indie rockers, chiptune artists and video game fanatics into the same place for a weekend-long video game and music festival known as Rockage. His job description does not entail micromanaging what they do once they get there, however. Half the fun of Rockage comes from the chaotic and unexpected interactions that inevitably take place.

And besides, in many cases, Fanali says he just doesn’t want to know.

“I don’t want to be liable,” Fanali jokes, as he considers what the weirdo, anti-band duo Gnarboots might have in store for their Rockage 4.0 set. Last year it involved an Elvis impersonator and reams of toilet paper. This year, rumors abound, though no one really knows what’s going to happen—least of all the band, which consists of an iPod and two longtime musicians who intentionally don’t practice.

“We’re shaking you out of your band expectations,” says Aaron Carnes, one half of Gnarboots and Metro contributor. “It’s unusual and jarring in a fun way.”

It would seem that the Gnarboots philosophy lines up pretty neatly with Fanali’s. A spirit of spontaneity informs the planned (and unplanned) collaborations that result from cramming 42 bands full of talented and obsessive (often one and the same) folks into one room full of old-school arcade games and letting it rip.

Fanali recalls a scene from a previous year: local video-game-jazz-jammers Super Soul Bros. were backing rappers Boboso and Mega Ran when they suddenly broke into an impromptu cover of a song from the 1997 Playstation rhythm game, PaRappa the Rapper.

Not all of the groups have direct ties to video game music. Festival headliners, The Thermals, for one, are a Portland-based indie punk band with roots in the South Bay. The band is, however, super into retro arcade games. “Galaga is my favorite, I’ll never stop playing Galaga,” says singer and guitarist Hutch Harris, noting that bassist Kathy Foster likes Centipede and drummer Westin Glass has professed his love for Burger Time—an obscure 1982 arcade game based around assembling massive hamburgers.

And actually, The Thermals’ latest album, Desperate Ground, may have a deeper connection to retro arcade. “Not a plot, but this theme, this story running through Desperate Ground,” Harris says. “The story was this loner, lost in the woods, being hunted. Wes and I were playing so much Galaga when we were working on Desperate Ground, Galaga kind of fit into that theme. Like, someone who had gone rogue from the army was killing all alone. In Galaga, you don’t know who the hell you are.”

The Thermals have roots in the South Bay and love 'Galaga.'

The Thermals have roots in the South Bay and love ‘Galaga.’

The other headliners, Bit Brigade and Minibosses, are direct video game music bands. Bit Brigade will be debuting their soundtrack for the original NES Metroid at Rockage.

The Minibosses were one of the first bands to seriously cover video game music, and have been building a cult following since they began playing NES covers in 1999. “They’re so good,” Fanali raves. “They don’t need to prove anything.” The band is planning a collaborative set with Gnarboots, entitled “Gnarbosses.”

Much of the rest of the line-up will be recognizable to local music fans: indie rockers Curious Quail, The Albert Square and Zen Zenith, chiptune acts Crashfaster, The Mineral Kingdom and Petriform, plus some out-of-towners like The Y Axes and Sacramento-based sister punk duo Dog Party.

Bands are pitching in to run parts of the event as well. Zen Zenith will be hosting the table top/board game area, in addition to running a live Dungeons and Dragons game. The Super Soul Bros. are managing one of the stages, on top of their four scheduled sets. “It’s a community where everyone joins in,” Fanali says.

Fanali, who’s been booking shows for the past 18 years in the Bay Area, has self-funded (and lost money on) Rockage each year. This year, a similar festival out of Maryland, MAGfest, is co-sponsoring the festival, hoping to gain a foothold for a West Coast version MAGWest. “I’d like to expand Rockage every year even with MagWEST around,” says Fanali. “But I don’t want it to be a giant 10,000-plus festival. I like to keep it more intimate where you have a chance to meet everybody. I like the opportunity to socially game with these people.”

Rockage 4.0 runs from Friday, Feb. 6 through Sunday, Feb. 8 at various venues around San Jose State University. More info.

Check out “Pillar of Salt” by The Thermals:

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