If watching this dub-step blasting, Benzedrine-fueled trailer moves you toward a migraine, you might assume that you’re too old for Low-Level Festival. I mean, isn’t this the sort of thing you’d find on Snapchat, anyway? What’s it doing on a slow-load medium like YouTube? In a way, you’re right– Low-Level is incredibly future-oriented and nearly everyone involved is so now, in mind and body, that they make Tavi Gevinson look like the Cryptkeeper. They’re hyper-concerned with the latest existing technologies and the kind of people who can actually understand what the last wave of Millennials, or kids born after the year 2000 (i.e. literally cyborgs) are thinking. Of course, that’s not the whole story.
In fact, Low-Level fest is celebrating the entire trajectory of the Computer Age from the late 1970s to now. Meaning that it’s aesthetically informed equally by microprocessors, floppy discs, 8-bit music, MSDOS, and that very particular shade of PC-beige that turns a perfect scummy gray-green after repeated use (apparently, the hue is making a comeback), and everything from web-1.0 Angelfire sites to glitchy gifs and pixelated CGI of the ’90s, all the way up to our very VR’d present.
To bring some sort of linguistic sense to all this, the organizers have united under the theme of “retrofuturism.” Instead of tossing out the old in favor of the new and simply throwing away supposedly obsolete hardware and software alike, the Low-Level people think that it’s a good idea to honor our technological past. That doesn’t mean locking artifacts away in some temperature-controlled Museum of Old-Ass Technology, but really, truly making use of all the amazing stuff humans have made throughout the internet age to inform our ever-forward-pushing, innovative selves. “By combining, retooling, and synthesizing these elements, a better understanding of time may arise,” they write. “We believe that the retro-future is still ours to create.”
Don’t worry, this isn’t some Steampunk Ren-Faire. (C’mon we’d never lead you astray!). Instead, you can expect a sort of retro, glitchy sci-fi aesthetic when it comes to live music, tripped-out visuals, and video games galore. It’s a lot to take in, so to prevent an epic hard drive overload, we went ahead and sorted everything out for you.
The live music acts are the centerpiece of the fest and, as you might have guessed, there are plenty of chiptune artists at this thing. You’d be correct, but acts like Chipzel (London) have infused the genre with some unexpected elements. Her music’s filled with a more eclectic MIDI weirdness and her tracks are replete with a colorful array of sounds squeeze that seem to squeeze their way into starry-eyed compositions. She makes use of everything from a slick, digi-version of that weird, scratchy wooden fish instrument (those of us who were deemed to be lesser-musically-inclined as third graders will remember it fondly) and uplifting brass and big-band tuba boomers, to delicate percussive pulsing.
Producers like Mitomoro will bring the frenetic super-fast BPM of hardcore EDM. This artist’s stuff in particular is steeped in an uplifting cartoon-style dance music, informed by all-night arcade benders and glowsticks. While Zen Albatross (NYC) holds down the other end of the sonic emotional spectrum with his high-distortion, industrial-influenced tracks, which he describes as “massive black monoliths of low-fidelity dance floor anxiety.”
You couldn’t really do a fest like this with a straight face unless you included video games– as we know, a whole new kind of indie-gamer culture’s emerging (see: places like Babycastles) that’s more inclusive and diverse, and therefore way more interesting than first-person-shooter garbage (though, that has its place in our hearts occasionally too).
The Death By Audio Arcade is making a comeback as one of the video game curators at Low-Level, and they’re promising a “burly lineup of hectic multiplayer romps.” Games like Particle Mace, Slam City Oracles, Crystal Brawl, and Nothing Good Can Come From This have made the cut (and DBAA’s bringing many more too). And never fear, it’s not like they’re setting up a bunch of Xboxes and calling it a night, DBAA’s dragging their big ol’ old-school arcade style machines into the warehouse– the better to press your face up against the glass and play for hours and hours.
Your sensory overload will be complete with the visuals program at Low-Level. Several artists are participating, including Turnt Shoujo (whose purple-hued Tumblr will immediately put anything you’ve ever done on the internet to shame, and tbh I don’t think she’s even trying) and Magical Grill (aka animator Emily Kundrot who’s keen on hand-drawn, retro creations).
It’s all going down at The Muse, the circus school that started off in a Williamsburg space adjacent to Death By Audio, before getting kicked out to make way for by Vice’s impending Williamsburg takeover. They moved into an enormous Bushwick warehouse in December 2014 and opened the following spring after a crazy revamp that has allowed them to greatly expand their programming to include events like this one. The space may be outfitted with a professional stage, flying trapeze rigging, and big ass lights– the kind of performance-stuff you’re likely to find at places like House of Yes– but the Muse has managed to maintained a sort of rawness too.
Located at the end of very industrial roadway and bordered by traintracks and disused lots, it’s the perfect setting for Low-Level’s post-industrial, somewhat dystopian giant question mark. Like any good futurists, the Low-Level organizers have penned a manifesto: “As we look back on the years that have passed and wonder where they leave us. Neither shiny, idyllic utopias nor grim post-collapses have truly materialized, so we wonder now what future we have left to expect. What tale of tomorrow is left to be told by a world that should already be there?”
So inspiring, guys!
See the full lineup of artists here, keep in mind there are more TBA. Low-Level Festival, is happening at the Muse, Friday August 19 and Saturday August 20, 7 pm till late: advance tickets, $30 single day and $55 for the whole weekend, and individual passes at the door $36 per