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Freq.Fest.Norcal: Chiptune At Art Boutiki

In Music
Playing Along: Crystal Monster performed at Freq.Fest.v.4.0 in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Playing Along: Crystal Monster performed at Freq.Fest.v.4.0 in Los Angeles earlier this year.

For six years, Kevin Martinez slaved over his Nintendo Entertainment System and Gameboy. Chopping up the buzzes, bleeps and bloops, and painstakingly pasting them together with crunchy explosions, cooing laser beam blasts and sawtooth synths until he had something entirely new.

But by 2006, Martinez was feeling that the scene he loved—“chiptune,” as it is commonly called—was drying up. So, in the same way he had compiled his collages of 8-bit sound, he pieced together a collection of like-minded musicians and bands for his very own, two-day chiptune festival. He called it “Frequency.”

“The first Frequency was a joke,” says Martinez, who performs under the moniker Wizwars. “The first night had 15 paying customers. The second had 20. I did it in a little art space—a week later it got shut down because one of the people living there was selling drugs.”

While the first Frequency—or Freq.Fest, as it has come to be known—didn’t sell many tickets, one of the attendees, Jesse Avila, saw great potential in Martinez’s concept.

Avila and Martinez hit it off immediately, and decided to work together on the second Frequency, which they held in January 2013. The second time around Freq.Fest drew 120 people each night. The pair also formed 8BitLA, a collective of artists and musicians focused on producing chiptune music, pixelart and other creative 8-bit endeavors. They regularly organize chip shows and other events under the umbrella of the broader 8-bit scene.

This Friday and Saturday Avila and Martinez bring Freq.Fest to Northern California. Co-sponsored by their sister organization, 8BitSF, the event will be held at Art Boutiki.

The chip scene in general has evolved a lot over the past decade. Most of the chip musicians started out playing electronic music which relied heavily on Gameboys as the primary instrument, Martinez’s band, The Kevin Gnartinez Band, included. Now many groups within the chiptune scene have expanded their sounds significantly—a fact made apparent by Freq.Fest’s lineup: The Kevin Gnartinez band mixes chip with pop-punk; Curious Quail plays indie-folk with subtle 8-bit flourishes; and San Francisco’s Crashfaster are essentially industrial rock with just a hint of the chip sound.

“You find a bunch of bands that are not stylistically or musically similar at all, but we all have something in common,” Martinez says. “I think there’s something for everyone, and Frequency celebrates the diversity of what chiptune can be.”

Freq.Fest.Norcal will be held this weekend, Sept. 11-12, at the SLG Art Boutiki.

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