Third annual 8static Fest rocks Unitarian Church with . . . Game Boy?

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Virt at the 2014 8static Festival which is set to take place Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 15-17) at the First Unitarian Church. (Credit: Marjorie Becker/Chiptography.)

Philadelphia instrumentalists Joey Mariano and Paul Weinstein are both well-versed in the world of music. They both perform in bands. They both enjoy jazz.

Their preferred instrument of choice?

The Nintendo Game Boy.

Yes, that Game Boy, one of the first world-smash handheld games, dominating the late 1990s with its then-cool (now minuscule and outmoded) 8-bit technology.

"It's weird when you're riding the bus and making music," Mariano, 35, said. "People look at you kind of funny, like, 'What's that guy doing with a Game Boy?' "

Mariano and Weinstein are connoisseurs of "chiptune," the name for a genre of original music created using old video-game hardware. They're two of the minds behind the 8static Festival - Philly's premier chiptune festival and one of the largest of its kind in North America.

Thursday through Saturday, the third annual chiptune gathering returns to the First Unitarian Church. The festival boasts three nights of nostalgia-infused melodies produced by 30 national and international electronic musicians and visual artists.

Past festivals have attracted crowds of about 300, drawn to the music for its "accessibility," Mariano said.

"You can be a non-instrumentalist and still make music," Mariano said. "We've had guys that were on stage in a wheelchair. You don't need to have coordination. It's kind of nerd music in that way."

Chiptune music was born with the personal computer revolution, when people began to manipulate sound chips in small, handheld devices to create original melodies. Since then, the repurposed instruments (or "toys," as Weinstein likes to call them) have garnered an underground subculture of loyal fans.

"We're basically making music with our trash," Mariano said. "Because people throw these Game Boys out all the time, which is a huge shame, but that's the cool thing, too. It's kind of punk in that way."

Weinstein and Mariano are members of 8static, a Philadelphia organization that has hosted frequent chip-music events since 2008.

The first 8static Festival, held in 2013, was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that collected more than $11,000. In 2014, the festival won a Philadelphia Geek Award for event of the year.

"It's a lot of fun," Weinstein said. "We're getting people from all over the world to come and play and see all these people that you may have heard online but have never been able to see live."

Besides being event organizers, Mariano and Weinstein will also bring some of their own music to the festival.

Mariano, also known as nml (for "Animal") styl, will perform Saturday night, and Weinstein, 32, will perform as Chipocrite on Thursday. Both will make second appearances on Saturday night as members of the progressive-rock chiptune band Cheap Dinosaurs.

The festival will also feature names like Bit Shifter, a New York artist who has performed internationally; producer Random from Stockholm; and local artists like Trey Frey and Storm Blooper.

Frey, 23, has brought his dancey, lo-fi chip music to the 8static Festival for three years. Before he moved to Philadelphia four months ago, he traveled from West Virginia to perform.

"These kind of large-scale chip music events bring people from all over," Frey said. "It's kind of like a big reunion for us. It's validating in a way."

To create his music, Frey uses a program popular on the chiptune scene called Little Sound Dj, a sequencer that allows users to transform the Game Boy into a "full-fledged music work station."

"I fell in love with working within limitations of the old technology," Frey said. "Working within a small palette and within a program that's so limited, it forces me to be creative."

Frey is headlining the festival on Friday night. Attendees can expect some crowd-surfing and moshing at the all-ages festival.

Despite the emergence and popularity of similar-sounding genres, like electronic dance music, techno, and house music, Mariano and Weinstein plan to continue the 8static Festival for years to come.

"This obsolete culture is something that's really fun for me to kind of dance around with," Mariano said. "If you're a nerd, you feel kind of obsolete sometimes. So in a way, you're kind of taking that back and turning it on its head and making something beautiful out of it."

csasko@philly.com


FESTIVAL

Third annual

8static Chiptune Fest

 

DJ sets at 6 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St.

Tickets: $20 a day, $50 for three-day ticket. Information: 215-563-3980, 8staticfestival.com