The first weekend of October is a special date on the calendar for Australia’s underground arts community. Every year at this time, Newcastle plays host to one of Australia’s most interesting cultural events: This Is Not Art, a collection of conferences, sub-festivals, speeches, panel discussions, workshops, gigs, zine fairs and general mayhem that includes events such as the National Young Writers Festival, experimental music festival Sound Summit and new media and electronic culture festival Electrofringe.
Somehow, this strange and largely unfunded event has become something of an institution in Australia’s cultural landscape, bringing thousands of mainly young artists and media-makers from around the country to the Hunter annually for a program that typically encompasses hundreds of separate events. There’s a dozen interesting people I could talk to about the event, but this year I decided to have a chat to Electrofringe co-director Daniel Green.
“Electrofringe is a festival of electronic arts and culture, one of five festivals that make up This Is Not Art,” Green explained on the phone yesterday, speaking from the festival in Newcastle.
“One of our big highlights is a showcase of artists who perform a genre of music called ‘chip music’,” he told me. “We’re doing a screening of a documentary called Reformat the Planet which is about the Blip Festival; that screening will also feature a Q&A with Mike Rosenthal, one of the founders of a venue in New York called The Tank, as well as the artist Nullsleep.”
So what the hell is ‘chip music’? “Chip Music is music that is often dance music, but it can cross a number of genres, it’s made using retro video game equipment such as old Nintendo machines,” Green explains. “It’s most common variant is musicians playing Gameboys using specially designed software … there’s an 8-bit aesthetic.”
Green also highlights an artist-in-residency with experimental sound artist Dale Gorfinkel and a screening of a documentary by Richard Baron about Sydney’s legendary warehouse space, Lanfranchi’s.
This will be the 13th Electrofringe. For Green, “it’s the only festival of its kind that allow artists to present new and developing work that’s totally fresh and that no-one’s ever seen before directly to audiences of peers — as exposed to being an entirely experiential festival.”
A big part of this is the festival’s workshop program. “We’ve had a workshop this afternoon called Electronic Music Speed-Dating, and one tomorrow called Game Boy Music Club, giving a crash course on how you make Chip Music. It all seems really obvious, but I’ve never encountered in Australia a festival that offers the same sort of programming opportunity that Electrofringe offers.”
With funding from the Australia Council and Arts New South Wales, Electrofringe is one of the small but essential events in Australia’s arts calendar that engages with new artforms, new practices … dare we say it, new paradigms. It’s also a lot of fun.
“Newcastle is far away,” Green admitted, “but lots of people find this time of year really exciting.”