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Do You Know Your Chiptunes?

Whether the art form is film, music or some experimental amalgam of the two, SXSW’s leading contributors make room for it.

That fact became especially clear on Wednesday night, when Austin’s old Salvation Army story adjacent to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar hosted a showcase of the highly distinctive music genre known as chiptunes — a style characterized by the use of 8-bit sounds culled from old videogame systems.

Chiptunes has been slowly gaining momentum in underground music scenes around the world. Though technically not hosted by the conference, the chiptunes show had plenty of connections to the festival itself: Last year, SXSW screened "Reformat the Planet," a documentary about the chiptunes scene, and the movie’s cinematographer, Asif Siddiky, shot last night’s performances.

The show, titled "Datapop 2009," was hosted by Champion Scion and organized by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League, one of the primary contributors to Austin’s film culture. League got the idea for Datapop in early December, while attending Blip Festival, the annual event for chiptunes artists held in New York City. "That night, the idea for this event was born," he said.

League wears many hats these days. In addition to programming the city’s other major festival, Fantastic Fest, he has recently become involved with local politics by launching a campaign to elect city council member Brewster McCracken as Austin’s mayor.

However, even League’s activism relates to his other activities: McCracken has proposed "exempting SXSW events and venues from the sound ordinance" in addition to other pro-music initiatives, the most audacious of which
involves the construction of a massive recording space that can also house traveling musicians.

"I‘ve pledged my total support to Brewster," League said in a statement posted to McCracken’s website. League also co-hosted a recent screening of Austin-based filmmaker’s hit movie "Dazed and Confused" for supporters of McCracken’s candidacy.