MAGFest, for the uninitiated, is the best place on the planet. It’s an acronym for Music and Gaming Festival, held just outside of Washington, DC in Maryland. It’s the largest festival in the world that focuses on video game inspired bands and musicians.
This year was my fifth consecutive year attending MAGFest. The music directors offered me an incredible opportunity; to forego my usual hour-long DJ set to program up my own three hour electronic music event on the main stage. For months we bounced ideas back and forth, ultimately landing on a modern spin on a classic format, the DJ Battle.
The battle format is simple enough, each DJ sets up their equipment beforehand and creates a short set that exemplifies their style. While this format has existed in hiphop for decades, it’s rarely seen in Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and had never been attempted in the video game music community. With the help of my record label, GameChops, I combed through the MAGFest DJ applicants to create an ensemble lineup that would best represent the diversity of EDM / VGM performers.
Benjamin Briggs – Electro house producer with a tendency towards chiptunes. Streams video games on Twitch.tv and takes fan-requests for remixes.
bLiNd – Video game trance remixer with pumping beats and exceptional mixes, bLiNd has been producing for sixteen years.
Grimecraft – Futuristic trap and bass music producer and a video game developer for Square Enix
Flexstyle – Overclocked Remixer who’s contributed to countless projects on OCRemix
Totentanz – World-touring DJ of hardstyle with a classical video game influence.
Dj CUTMAN – That’s me.
So I had found the DJs, but preparation didn’t end there. I reached out to renown comic artist Thor Thorvaldson to create illustrated versions of each DJ in the style of a Mega Man character. I used Thor’s artwork to create a quick design like a fighting game’s Character Select screen. There was an incredible response to our artwork, so I adapted it into the poster design you see here. We printed a limited run and hung them up around MAGFest the day of the show.
Taking inspiration from the Chiptune community, which features live circuit-bent visuals, I reached out to Baltimore-based Pixel Seed to create live visuals for each DJ.
I sent him Thor’s artwork, along with Soundcloud links for each performer. The day of the show, he came backstage with a suitcase. When he opened it up, I was in awe. Video mixers, a hacked nintendo, custom controllers and feedback monitors were meticulously arranged in this unsuspecting container. He threw up up on a table, plugged in his powercord and the entire rig illuminated.
As the DJ battle approached, my heart pounded through my chest. Thankfully, MAGFest has a brilliant stage-manager affectionally referred to as “Angel” and an on-point security team who kept everything running smoothly. With low-light and a restless crowd, we hooked up all six DJs.
Pixel Seed was hooked into the massive 31ft projector screen, testing his glittering visuals and super-imposing Thor’s artwork. We had only a few minutes to perform what I call the “DJ Soundcheck”, where everyone gets about ten seconds of sound while the crowd cheered and egged us on to begin. Once we were all sound-checked, Pixel Seed was in position, we all went back stage to get ready to roll.
Once the Video Game DJ Battle began, it was a flash. bLiNd performed with guest MC A_Rival, a talented rapper and veteran remixer from San Francisco. Grimecraft also brought some surprises, a character MC known as DJ Dr Wily, 50 inflatable dolphins, and an eight foot long Orca whale were unleashed on the crowd. The DJ battle was streamed live on Twitch.tv, but during the night the convention center’s network crashed and the stream was cut off. Thanks to Will Strouse and Robert Swackhamer of 8BitX Radio Network, we were able to recover nearly all the footage and upload it to YouTube.
The Video Game DJ Battle ended up being the highest attended event of MAGFest 2014, with 2,200 attendees at the concert and over 1,500 people streaming on Twitch.
Watch the entire Video Game DJ Battle from MAGFest 2014
Each DJ uploaded a clean “studio” version of their set onto Soundcloud for posterity.
MAGFest is a hive of positive energy, from their 24-hour a day free-play arcade, to the multitude of blogs and game studios covering the event, doing interviews, and producing content in and around MAGFest. I was happy to see my Philly friends from J1 Studios conducting interviews of some of the GameChops members and other radical personalities attending MAGFest.
One of the beautiful things about MAGFest is it straddles the line between all-out 4-day long party, and a serious reflective space for those who choose to dedicate their life to the things that they love. I had an opportunity to talk candidly with a young radio DJ by the name of Game Boy about my experiences running a label and putting together the DJ battle.
Lastly, I have an archived version of the four GameChops’ DJs battle sets recorded live, complete with the tremendous energy of the room.
Thanks for reading my recap, Let me know what you think in the comments!