SXSW Review: Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet

Blip Festival: Reformat the PlanetBlip Festival: Reformat the Planet combines both visually arresting graphics and chest thumping musical sequences to bring us closer to an underground music scene. This has easily become my favorite film of the year. The film is a visceral experience that grabs you by the collar and yells, “Hey! Watch, listen and enjoy.”

Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet is a feature length documentary which delves into the movement known as ChipTunes, a vibrant underground scene based around creating new, original music using old video game hardware. Familiar devices such as the Nintendo Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System are pushed in new directions with startling results. Using New York as a microcosm for a larger global movement, Reformat the Planet maps out the genesis of the first annual Blip Festival, a four day celebration of over 30 international artists exploring the untapped potential of low-bit video game consoles. With floor-stomping rhythms and fist-waving melodies, trailblazers of the ChipTune idiom descend upon Manhattan to pen a new chapter in the history of electronic music.

It would be very easy to look from the outside and call this “just a video game movie”, just as you might call the ChipTune music scene “Just video game music.” Once you have experienced this film though, it will be much easier to look past the retro novelty of the scene and enjoy it as an up-close account of a musical sub-culture revolution. The revolution is compared to that of the Punk scene of the mid 1970’s in which the movement was lashing out at classic rock and polished sound. These performers are lashing out at the high resolution world, and using very primitive tools to create a new expression of music.

With the use of Ninetendo Game Boys and other various electronics, the performers in the ChipTune scene are maximizing the range of their instruments. If anything, this film has caused me to think differently about the resources that we have available, and how they may actually be impairing our creativity. There could probably be many more modern day Van Goghs or Picassos had photoshop or digital imaging never come into play. These performers are evolving their tools and expanding their canvas to new possibilities.

The only weakness of the film lies in the fact that with any creative expression, you will have some experimentation that just does not translate well to all crowds. While most people will be impressed and moved by some of the musical arrangements, some will just interpret some of this innovation as noise. This film will undoubtedly be appreciated by the gaming community. What most would not expect though, is that this is one of the best music documentaries I have seen in years. It will be interesting to see the impact that this film will make on its subjects, and how audiences will embrace ChipTunes. Reformat the Planet is highly recommended in my book.

Grade: A

Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet is not yet rated. It is directed by Paul Owens, produced by Paul Levering, with Asif Siddiky as cinematographer. More information can be found on the film’s official website 2playerproductions.com.

Check out the Reformat the Planet Trailer:

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