I’ve spent the past few months in North America, and I’ve been to a few chip-events around New York, Philadelphia, Californa and Montréal. I’ve understood more about how subcultures work differently in USA compared to Europe, and I thought I’d write some of those thoughts down here.
The chipscene is definitely not about platform fetish anymore. It’s okay to use whatever hardware or software you want. I’ve written about this before, but it dawned on me even more here in North America. Nowadays chipmusic is not about hardware, and it’s not even necessarily about the sounds or the aesthetics – genre. It’s about the culture. When I wrote about “chipmusic as culture” here 9 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be the primary one by 2016.
My understanding is that platform fetishism was stronger in USA than in Europe. USA seems to like gimmicks and heroes, so there was a love affair with the idea of Gameboy musicians hacking techno-consumerism. Some years into the new millenium, USA – with Blip Festival and 8bitpeoples and 8bitcollective – started to take over after Europe as the prime place for chipmusic.
In Europe the scene slowly changed. Fewer releases and less parties. Less action in online forums. Some started to look into new music gear and genres, while others stuck with the old platforms. Not a dramatic change from before. But the feeling of community was not really there anymore. At least that is my impression, retrospectively.
In USA though, the sense of community definitely seems to be there even if the scene is less popular these days. I had many discussions about this (hello Chris), and I think it echoes the difference in how USA and Europe finances culture. In a welfare state citizens can live their life around the idea that the state takes care of you. Or at least that it’s supposed to. In USA, you can’t really do that. So the local or cultural community is much more important than in (Northern/Western) Europe. In New York you see posters about “supporting your community” while in London you see posters about “destroying capitalism”.
In California, where Los Angeles bombards the area with dreams of commercial success, someone told me that if chipmusic doesn’t draw a crowd we should “change or die”. (I should mention that it was said in a conversation about venues closing down due to increased rents.) So, this idea sounds too market-driven for welfarean Europeans, but it’s not like the European states are great at supporting underground venues either, right?
I talked to Dino in Cheap Dinosaurs, who made the point that the chipscene has matured. It’s gone beyond technofetishisms, beyond simplistic genre definitions, to form something bigger than that. And I think he has a point. It’s some kind of post-chiptune – not as “after” but as something that wouldn’t have existed without chiptune.
I met Dino at 8static fest, just after Donald Trump had won the election. And there was definitely a sense of community and unity in the air. People joined in to scream F**K into the microphone, and they talked about keeping each other safe from hate crimes. And the music that was played was definitely not just chiptoonz.
Maybe Europeans can learn something from the Americans who have managed to build communities despite of some pretty rough circumstances. And Americans can probably learn something from the Europeans who have created movements that are larger than just a community. Desperate times call for desperate measures! ;)
So yeah, this is just one story about this. If you want to expand or destroy it, feel free to comment. I’m off to Latin America. Let’s see what we can learn there!