The term “Chiptune” refers to electronic music which is composed and performed in real time on an older, 8-bit era video game sound chip (Usually a Gameboy). Somewhat surprisingly, the music works, even outside of the realm of retro/kitsch. Paul Owens’ Chiptune documentary Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet celebrated its world premiere Saturday night at the Dobie Theater’s kickass Egyptian room, as part of the 2008 SXSW festival. On Sunday morning I sat down for a chat with Owens in the lobby of Austin’s palatial Four Seasons hotel.
Collider: What was your initial connection to the Chip Music scene?
Paul Owens: Two years ago, we didn’t have any connection at all. We read about the scene, we lived in New York and we were like, lets go to a show and check it out. So, we went and it was kind of beyond what we had expected. When we first heard about it, we were like, that sounds kind of boring or only a novelty, but I think that once you start to get into it, you kind of realize that it doesn’t even matter that it’s on a Gameboy; that it’s just really good music.
Collider: What lead you, from that initial exposure, to decide to make a film?
Paul Owens: It was pretty much immediate, it was like, this would make a great film. Over time, we got to know more people and we saw more connections to like the past of the scene or the future of the scene and where it’s been and where its going it kind of clicked a little better.
Collider: And how long did it take from that decision to make the film, to actually completing it?
Paul Owens: About two years.
Collider: What are your plans with the film at this point? Are you seeking distribution?
Paul Owens: Yeah, I mean, it’s cool just for audiences to finally get to see it, obviously we’d like for as many people as possible to see the movie. So, distribution, yeah, sounds good. (Laughs)
Collider: And was your intention to introduce Chip music to a whole new audience?
Paul Owens: Yeah. I definitely think that we’ve made a movie that anyone can like. We’ve shown it to grandmothers, parents, people who don’t like games, people who don’t listen to music, and I think there is something in there for anyone to appreciate. It’s not really for gamers, per se, although I think they’ll get the biggest kick out of it.
Collider: So, if I have seen the film and I am not familiar with Chip music, and I want to start to get into the scene a bit more myself, what is a good place to start?
Collider: To what extent do you think that new media and the internet have helped to sort of spread this scene?
Paul Owens: Well, the internet is pretty integral actually, because it’s a world-wide scene, people do it all over the world, there’s not a country that doesn’t have a few of these people doing it, so Reformat the planet really is a good title for it. The thing that has really connected it in a way; where people can post their songs, you know a guy in Tokyo can post a song and I can be “Oh this is great”. It is very immediate. Yeah, it wouldn’t have happened without the internet.
Collider: And, to what extent are you using the Internet to promote your film?
Paul Owens: Well, we have been covering the chip scene, like I said, for the past two years and every time that we shoot a show or do anything we post it online and get it out there, as much as we can, I mean the audience is limited but hopefully this festival will give some more exposure because there is so much material on the internet, you can never look at everything; it’s just too much.
Collider: So, where do you see the scene going in the next five to ten years?
Paul Owens: Good question. I think that it’s getting bigger and bigger every year. Every show there’s more and more people there. The last show there was a record attendance. More people than ever. I think with the movie, hopefully, more and more people (will discover it). There’s a lot of people who, if only they knew about it, they would be fans. We show it to some people and immediately they get it and they’re hooked for life, so it’s something that could have limitless potential I think.
Collider: Is Chip Music playing any part in the SXSW Music Festival?
Paul Owens: Yes. We have about nine people from the movie performing in Austin as part of the music festival on Saturday the 15th at the Molotov Lounge.
Collider: Last question. What is your favorite 8-Bit era game?
Paul Owens: Oh wow. Game or Soundtrack?
Collider: Well, soundtrack was going to be the next question, so either or both.
Paul Owens: I really like the Castlevania games. Game and soundtrack. Although, Mega Man is good too, but I think I have to go with Castlevania.
For more information, including a trailer, visit http://www.reformattheplanet.com/