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Video Game-Oriented Music Festival Rockage Returns For Its Fifth Year

In Music
WHAT'S IN A NAME: The L.A.-based Fartbarf are playing this year’s Rockage 5.0—a chiptune music-oriented festival.

WHAT'S IN A NAME: The L.A.-based Fartbarf are playing this year’s Rockage 5.0—a chiptune music-oriented festival.

It’s doubtful that any of us ’80s babies realized it at the time, but we soaked up a lot more than words like “shoryuken” and meme-worthy phrases, like “all your base are belong to us,” while we sat cross-legged on the floor, frantically tapping our plastic Nintendo and Sega controllers.

It would seem that our tiny, developing brains—hyped up on sugar-laden cereal—were absorbing the soundtracks to our favorite video game titles. And now, fully grown men and women all over the country are picking up guitars, keyboards, drum kits, and, in some cases, Game Boys, to pay homage to these iconic melodies from the Reagan and Bush I years.

The Rockage 5.0 festival, slated to take place March 11-13 at venues all over San Jose, corrals a cohort of musical groups that specialize in either reproducing the music of Zelda, Mega Man, Super Mario Bros. and the like—or else take cues from those crunchy, 8-bit synth sounds.

There are 17 bands performing over the course of three days at The Ritz, Café Stritch, SoFA Market, AFK Gamer Lounge and the lobby of Metro’s downtown headquarters. That’s a lot of music in a very short period of time—it’s enough to vex even the most seasoned music festivalgoer. But instead of throwing your Wiimote at the nearest screen, or punching your neighbor in the arm, like you used to do when your younger brother beat you at NBA Jam, take a deep breath. We’re here to help you prioritize.

Here are six bands you’ll definitely want to check out at this year’s Rockage.

Bit Brigade
This quartet is so serious about replicating the experience of their favorite video game titles that they’re actually a quintet. Which is to say, that in addition to drums, bass and two guitarists, Bit Brigade also have a full time game-player in their lineup. Noah McCarthy blasts through levels of Metroid and Mega-Man while the band “meticulously replicates every musical cue, cutscene and boss battle in perfect synchronization.”

COLA
In addition to all the chiptune groups at this year’s Rockage, there are also a few straightforward rock & roll groups. And few San Jose bands do straightforward rock & roll like Cola.

Fartbarf
With a name like Fartbarf, it’s pretty apparent what you’re gonna get. Except not. Rather than being a group of greasy-faced adolescents who ran out of good ideas for what to name their band, Fartbarf is a trio of Cro-Magnon mask-wearing analog modular synth enthusiasts who sound a lot like a drunker (a much, much drunker) Tobacco—with live drumming and an obsession for chiptune flourishes.

Vector Hold
The genre known as chiptune, is also commonly called 8-bit music and sometimes “Nintendocore.” But for Vector Hold—a.k.a. Pete Rice, bassist for local stoner metal trio, Forgotten Gods, it’s all about the 16-bit sounds of the Sega Genesis … and the buzzy, lo-fi synths of John Carpenter films.

Hawk Jones
Given their traditional rock instrumentation—guitar, bass and drums—and their tendency to lapse into spacy, feedback-and-delay squalls, it would at first seem that Hawk Jones, like Cola, are outliers in a festival stacked to the brim with bands who take so much inspiration from the world of early console game soundtracks. But when you consider the Tera Melos-esque angularity of their rhythms and guitar lines, it makes sense. The limitations of 8- and 16-bit chips is precisely what gave the music that crystalline feel. These local boys simply replicate that ping-ponging sharpness with strings, membranophones and the chips inside their effects pedals.

Nick Reinhart
This guitarist and bandleader also produces music that recalls the wild and spastic sounds of Tera Melos—probably because he co-founded the group. The Sacramento band’s frontman gets far noisier and stranger than he ever did with Tera Melos. His cracked-out attempts at free jazz run parallel to the tunes of fellow Sacto psychos, Hella. And, like Hawk Jones, the music he creates may not have a direct connection to video games, though he certainly makes a valiant effort at sonically representing the explosive, synaptic bursts so many of us experienced as children—zonked on Lucky Charms, staring at the cathode ray tube and rubbing our thumbs raw on those tiny, red A and B buttons and black D-pad.

Rockage 5.0 plays on Mar 11-13, Various Times, $30 at Multiple Venues, San Jose.

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