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MAGFest 13: Recap

MAGFest 13: Recap

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It’s time, once again, for the MAGFest recap. Every year we try to present a small sample of what we experienced at the Music and Gaming Festival. This year’s MAGFest was a little different from previous years. The event not only took place later in the month of January, it also conflicted with the new PAX South event down in Texas. This unintended scheduling dilemma left potential attendees and guests torn between the two events. While it would have been fun to check out the latest addition to the PAX convention circuit, MAGFest has always been the traditional destination for members of the Original Sound Version team. This brings us to today’s recap of the events of MAGFest 13. While it’s impossible for us to experience and cover every panel and concert that the festival has to offer, we always like to provide a glimpse of the madness and excitement that is MAGFest. With that said, here is my brief recap of MAGFest 13.

The opening day of MAGFest officially starts in the late morning, but the first official panel is the “State of the MAGFest Address.” This is actually a very laid back event. Rather than having any official speeches or opening ceremony, this is a simple discussion about what MAGFest is, how it all started, and some of the ground rules for attendees. The panel is presented by the people who started MAGFest and who continue to see that it runs smoothly each year. It’s a great panel to start out with, especially for newcomers to the festival. I always bring any first timers I know, as it really helps set the expectations and the mood for the rest of the weekend. MAGFest is just an awesome party, run by some incredibly passionate people, and the “State of the MAGFest Address” is always a great way to start the weekend.

Each year, MAGFest invites a number of game composers to discuss their work and sometimes even perform on stage. This year’s headliners were Yuu Miyake and Yoshihito Yano, the composers for the Katamari series. On Saturday morning a Q&A session was held for fans to meet the two composers and ask them questions. Many of the audience’s questions focussed on how they decided on the various styles of music for the games, and how they approached creating some of fan’s favorite pieces. Miyake and Yano seemed to enjoy themselves and even got the audience to participate in a sing-along of “Katamari Nah-Nah,” the Katamari theme song. Later that evening the Lonely Rolling Stars, a Katamari cover band, performed onstage and were joined by Yano for part of the performance.

Miyake had his own DJ session later that same night. He had a simple set up for his performance, with just a small mixing unit and computer at a table onstage. Performing under his stage name Eutron, his material covered a handful of Namco tunes, including the original PAC-MAN melody, but primarily focussed on the music of Katamari Damancy. The covers included “Katamari Nah-Nah,” “Fugue #7777,” and a chiptune variation of “Gin & Tonic & Red Red Roses.” The audience had a real blast, cheering him on through every song, and joined in another sing-along of the title “Katamari Nah-Nah“ track. For his final encore, Miyake performed a remix of music from the Ridge Racer and Tekken games.

(Yuu “Eutron” Miyake performing at MAGFest 13)

Another special music guest at MAGFest 13 was Jake “Virt” Kaufman. While he participated in some panels, including a composer Q&A, he also performed as part of Mainstage Chiptune showcase. One of the more interesting projects that he brought to the festival though was NUREN, a virtual reality rock opera. If you haven’t heard of NUREN, it’s a new VR experience that incorporates music by Kaufman and animated visuals by Jesse Seely and a collection of other artists. I got to try a demo of the title at the MAGFest marketplace, and it was an impressive experience. It really felt like you were in the middle of a really cool music video/ light show. The project will also feature some special guest composers, including Vince DiCola and Chris Huelsbeck.  I’ve had a handful of experiences with VR before but this is one of the few new projects that has gotten me excited about the new tech. Jake and Jesse have recently run a successful Kickstarter for this new project,  and it’s something I’m looking forward to experiencing when it’s completed.

Of course the visiting game composers make up only a small portion of the music acts at MAGFest. A majority of the performances are by cover bands and groups that perform video game inspired music. I’ve already mentioned the Lonely Rolling Stars and their performance with Yano, and there were a handful of other great acts that I got to see this year.

One of the first groups I went to see for MAGFest 13 was the Triforce Quartet. Much to my surprise, there was a massive line to get into the performance. I’m not used to seeing so many people my age showing this much enthusiasm for chamber music, even if it’s covering classic game tunes. The quartet drew an impressive crowd and I’m glad to see so many people taking an interest in a classical music ensemble. They played a number of medleys from different game series including Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, and a Final Fantasy boss theme medley. The quartet also performed a few more times out in the main lobby of the convention center during the course of the week, with each performance containing some new material. Each piece had excellent arrangements and it was great hearing some classic game tunes performed by this small ensemble.

(Triforce Quartet on the MAGFest Main Stage)

The next set of acts that I saw were part of the new MAG Prom. This is a recent tradition that began last year at MAGFest 12. Two groups perform for a special concert event. The MAG Prom does not require you to dress up for the event, but you can if you want to anyway. Much like last year, a handful of prom goers attended with their dates in tuxes and gowns. It was interesting to see a mix of regularly dressed attendees mixed with people in their prom getups and the cosplayers.

The two bands playing for this year’s MAG Prom were two acts that I had yet to see in a live concert setting. These were none other than Professor Shyguy followed by The Protomen. I actually enjoy going into a lot of concerts for acts I’ve never seen, with no previous exposure to their work. I like being surprised and it’s nice to occasionally have no preconceptions for what I’m going to experience. I wanted this to be my first impression of these acts and I can honestly say I was not disappointed.

Professor Shyguy was up first, presenting a set of chiptune style covers of popular tunes that were from outside the videogame music genre. Songs in his repertoire for the evening featured a number of 80’s hits including Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round,” and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. He had a one-man-band setup for his performance, with just an electric guitar, his computer, a mic, and a keyboard. The chiptune sounds and instruments all blended quite well and the overall sound worked perfectly with the 80’s source material. The final piece for his performance was a direct Back to the Future reference. If you haven’t heard from everyone else on the internet yet, 2015 is the year the characters from Back to the Future travel to, when they go into the future. In honor of this, Professor Shyguy’s final cover was of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” This really got the crowd going and was the perfect piece to end the set and the first half of the MAG Prom.

(Professor Shyguy performing at MAG Prom)

Up next for the MAG Prom were The Protomen. Again, keeping to my routine of not spoiling myself, I only looked up a little information about them before attending. After going to MAGFest for a few years, I have to say this was easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen at MAGFest. I wish I had checked out this group’s performances and work sooner, especially since they have had previous performances at MAGFest and PAX. The nine member group opened up with an amazing cover of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” and easily got the entire audience into singing the chorus along with the band. As with Professor Shyguy this was a full 80’s cover prom performance. This concert event could have easily been called the Back to the Future Prom, considering a fair number of covers by The Protomen came straight from the movie’s soundtrack. Other notable covers for the evening were “The Power of Love,” “Ballroom Blitz,” and “Danger Zone.” To complete the Back to the Future theme, The Protomen temporarily turned the MAG Prom into The Enchantment Under the Sea dance, complete with the selecting of a prom queen and a performance of “Earth Angel.” This inevitably led to the evening’s second performance of “Johnny B. Goode.” Despite already hearing a cover of the same song only minutes before, everyone really got into the spirit and rocked out to this second rendition. This was an amazing set from The Protomen and I am still kicking myself for not checking out this group earlier.

(The Protomen recreating the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance)

There were a lot of other music acts that I wish I had the chance to check out at MAGFest 13. As with any MAGFest, it’s impossible to see and attend everything, and there’s always a ton of great bands and artists that you’ll potentially miss. Still, it was great catching what concerts I could.

One of the final things that I enjoyed seeing at MAGFest was the Indie Game Showcase. It’s something that’s continued to grow and this year was no exception. Some games I had seen before like Tumbleweed Express, a tower defense rail shooter hybrid, but there were games I’d never heard of before attending this festival. Some of the highlights for me included Magnetic By Nature, a 2d platformer that has players use magnetic polarity to navigate; Dr. Spacezoo, a top-down arcade shooter where you to save animals from corrupt robots; and Super Galaxy Squadron, a retro style space shmup. The increase in new games on display is an encouraging sign and I hope that this trend continues at future MAGFest events.

MAGFest 13 was another great opportunity to see some great game music composers, check out new game projects, and discover groups and artists that I had never seen or heard before. While it’s always impossible to see and do everything that’s on offer at each MAGFest, it’s always a fun time, especially for fans of game music. If you’ve never checked out this festival before and are a fan of game music and great game music covers, you owe it to yourself to check out MAGFest and the other events that the MAGFest group runs throughout the year. Hopefully we’ve provided a small glimpse into what goes on at the festival. You can check out more about MAGFest at their main site. This year was a great time and I’m looking forward to next year’s festivities.

Did you get the chance to attend MAGFest 13? Did you have a favorite panel or performance while you were there? If so, let us know what some of the highlights for you were in the comments below.

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