For this interview I decided to chat with the organisers of MegaByte, a monthly clubbing event held in Manchester where they play Chiptune, original video game music and remixes plus more. Last month saw the 1st year anniversary since the start of the monthly parties, so now seemed like a good time to speak to the organisers about what it was like running the events and what plans they had for the future.
Where did the idea come from for MegaByte?
MegaByte had pretty humble beginnings really. I’d been running events and club nights for about 2 years when MegaByte came about, so had a fair bit of experience in organising and marketing things. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of putting on nights that were unique to the city, either in terms of the mix of music they played or their format.
On a particularly cold day in January 2011 I was playing Streets of Rage 2 on a battered old Mega Drive that I’d been given and had the somewhat random idea that the soundtrack would sound pretty damn good on a really big speaker system. That idea triggered a load of research and the formulation of the initial idea for the MegaByte club nights which kind of evolved from there really. Within a few weeks we’d managed to score a venue and were starting to plan and promote the night.
How much work was involved in getting it started?
Quite a bit really. Getting a venue was a bit of an initial struggle – when we pitched the idea to a few places they either gave us really blank looks or told us that it wasn’t commercially viable. It was a tough sell to people too. When you first tell someone that you’re putting on a night that plays music from video games and that’s produced on old game hardware they’re like “what?” We were really lucky with The Retro Bar who were really keen on the idea and wanted to offer us a slot specifically because we wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary.
Probably the hardest part though was the massive amount of background research we had to do – sorting through the masses and masses of game soundtracks and chiptunes to find club-friendly tracks and looking at the right way to promote the night so it hit the people who might be interested in what we were trying to do.
We figured from the offset that the night would either by the best thing ever or a massive failure but we kept at it, and the hard work has definitely paid off.
Have the monthly parties changed much over the course of the past year?
In some ways they have. We’d been slowly focussing the music we played a lot more towards the chiptune and video game soundtrack side of things since Autumn 2011, leaving out a lot of the j-pop and j-rock stuff we used to play. It wasn’t that we didn’t like it, but we didn’t know enough about it to do it justice really. The music has become steadily more ‘dancey’ until the night reached its’ current format with lots of very upbeat, dancefloor focussed tracks. We’ve also rebranded the night a couple of times leading up to our current ‘look’ which we’re really happy with.
What other events has MegaByte been (or is) involved with?
We’ve run parties at the ALCON and London Anime Convention events which were fun. We’re in talks at the moment about working with the Hi-Score Classic Arcade Tournament guys on doing an after party for them, hopefully heading up to Glasgow soon to play at 8 Bit Nights and we’re actually running an after party at an academic conference in Oxford in April that’s on music and video games. There’s a lot happening for Team MegaByte at the moment!
Do you think your work has helped spread awareness of chip music to a wider audience?
I certainly hope so. I’ve always observed that chiptune gigs are very niche affairs generally and that there are very few regular events in the UK. That surprised me, considering how accessible and fun the music itself is. We’ve always taken the approach of making the music at our parties very accessible to both fans of 8 bit music and people who are quite new to it; promoting the nights by describing to people the music we play and using characters and imagery that they can relate to in order to get it out there as widely as possible. I don’t think we’d have kept the night running unless we’d taken the approach of brainwashing, err, I mean introducing people to the 8 bit sound and then getting them hooked.
What have you been particularly proud of about MegaByte?
I think the thing that’s made me the most proud is the fact that we’re still running MegaByte, and that it’s still steadily growing in popularity and attendance. That alone is a massive achievement for something so specialist. It’s awesome that people really enjoy and get into what we’re doing too. I hadn’t expected our first night to go half as well as it did – it was really busy and a few people actually came up to us and said that they’d actually expected the night to be rubbish but had really enjoyed it and would definitely be back. We couldn’t ask for more really and went home on massive highs that night.
I’m also quite proud of how we’re building a new audience for the music we’re passionate about – it certainly deserves to be bigger in the UK than it is.
Do you have any plans or new ideas yet for the future?
SuperByte, our festival is pretty much taking up all our time at the moment! We’re hosting a lot more live sets as part of our club nights, partly because they always go down well with our crowd and partly because we want to do everything we can to support local and upcoming artists who might not get a lot of chances to perform live. There are a lot of people out there doing fantastic stuff and we want to give them the opportunity to get it heard by people who’ll appreciate it.
Can you tell us a bit about SuperByte for anyone who hasn’t heard about it yet?
Sure! SuperByte is an idea we can up with in late 2011. We wanted to do a big, chip and micromusic all day event similar in scale to the Blip Festival events and UltraChip up in Scotland, but based in Manchester.
SuperByte is, at its’ core, a whole day and night of live chipmusic, 8 bit and low-tech acts from the UK and overseas and a load of peripheral events that’ll be happening alongside the live music. We’ve got some fantastic people performing including the UK live debut of the legendary Dubmood who are travelling over from France, DeadBeatBlast from Canada and a load of UK-based artists including Chipzel, Superpowerless, Henry Homesweet, _ensnare_ and others who’ll be playing live sets.
Alongside the live sets we’ll be hosting a programme of events like retro gaming tournaments and contests, film screenings and a market so there’ll be lots going on. We’re putting a lot into the day and hoping to make it an annual event if it’s a success. It’s on Saturday September 1st and there are full details online at www.superbytefestival.co.uk
A big thank you to Adrian Thompson at MegaByte for taking the time to answer my questions. Click on the image below for details about the monthly parties and listen to the promo mix for a sample of what to expect.
If you would like more information then visit the MegaByte website.