Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet

How many of you have heard of chiptune or 8 bit music? Raise your hands. For those of you who didn’t raise your hands, you probably won’t care too much about this documentary unless you’re feeling especially adventurous or interested discovering new music. Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet is a film that explores the origins and future of 8 bit music via the 2006 Blip Festival (a music fest in NY comprised entirely of 8 bit musicians from around the world). For those curious as to what type of music this is, I shall quote the chiptune Wikipedia article: it’s “music written in sound formats where all the sounds are synthesized in realtime by a computer or video game console sound chip.” In simpler terms, it’s using an NES or GameBoy or similar video game system as an musical instrument. The result is music that sounds like it could be from an old video game but is usually more engaging and dance oriented. (Check out the 8 Bit Peoples website for lots of free 8 bit music.)

For those who are already fans of 8 bit music, Reformat The Planet will probably be a very exciting documentary, if only for the extensive footage from the 2006 Blip Festival held in New York. There are plenty of live performances ranging from chiptune veterans like Nullsleep and Bit Shifter plus newcomers like The Depreciation Guild and Anamanaguchi. Portions of the movie feature almost entire songs from these artists, merging documentary with music video. And the interviews with the musicians are fascinating, allowing us to discover how these people approach making chiptunes and where they think the future of the scene is headed.

Reformat The Planet does an excellent job of filming a 4 day music festival and using the footage to create an interesting and informative documentary about a mostly underground music scene. Instead of making a documentary about a specific festival or a new music genre, director Paul Owens does both and with great success. I can only assume Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet won’t resonate with the majority of people due to it being so niche, but those initially interested in the idea of making music with video game consoles will most likely be very pleased with the results.

Right now, Reformat The Planet is neither in theaters nor on DVD. It is currently streaming on Pitchfork.TV until the 21st, so check it out there if you’re interested. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to wait for a DVD release.


24 Hour Party People

24 Hour Party People is a crazy movie and not quite what I was expecting. When I heard the title and saw the psychedelic colors on the cover of the DVD, I immediately thought trippy rave movie, (similar to Groove). And when the opening credits came on, it seemed like I was right. I’m not really into that type of movie (mostly because I’m not really into that type of lifestyle) but a friend highly recommended it to me and it stars Steve Coogan (as Tony Wilson) so I knew it couldn’t be all bad, even if it was about ecstasy and disco balls. As it turns out, 24 Hour Party People is not about raves (well, not at first anyway) and it is a fantastic, albeit weird movie.

Party People is about the music scene in Manchester starting in the mid ’70s, told from the point of view of Tony Wilson, the guy who kick started the whole scene. This film utilizes some elements that I don’t normally like in a movie but for some reason or other, they worked out really well in this instance. For example, Steve Coogan, the narrator and the main character, didn’t do a voiceover for the narration. Instead, he would momentarily take himself out of the scene and look at the camera, addressing the viewer. Normally, that comes off as hokey and gimmicky, but Coogan (especially as Wilson) is perfectly suited to do just such a thing. Also, Party People was such a hectic, fast paced movie that it was jumping in and out and all over the place constantly so it never seemed out of place when Coogan would do such unusual narration.

Generally speaking, this is a movie that doesn’t sit perfectly in any genre. It’s part music movie, part biography, part comedy, part drama, with lots of other parts thrown in for good measure. Director Michael Winterbottom (who recently did A Mighty Heart with Angelina Jolie) seemed sure enough of what he wanted, and wasn’t particularly interested in making it flow smoothly. The biographical parts seemed almost secondary to the story. When Ian Curtis of Joy Division killed himself, we’re hardly given any rhyme or reason as to why it happened (if you’re interested in the rhyme and reasons, check out the new Ian Curtis biopic, Control, directed by Anton Corbijn). I think what we see in the movie as “important” is only what was important to Tony Wilson or Michael Winterbottom. Such as all of the quick scenes of Tony Wilson (a reporter for Granada Reports) at various locations, shooting stories and interviews. My personal favorite is when he’s talking to some sheep herder who is actually yelling orders at a duck (“Go left!”) while shaking a stick at it. The duck obeys and then herds the sheep. It’s hilarious and out of place, like most of the scenes in this movie. But when they’re strung together, they seem to be cohesive in some sort of indirect way.

24 Hour Party People is certainly not for everyone. I recommend having an interest in music history, especially ’80s British music. That will help. Also, if you’re a big fan of Steve Coogan (and why wouldn’t you be?) then this here is a 2 hour Steve Coogan marathon. I also definitely recommend not watching this if you already have a headache (like I did) because it will only make it worse. That being said, if you’ve got any two of the three, then make haste and watch this movie. You won’t regret it.