(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
MAGFest 2020 may be over, but the music lives on forever! Check out some of the best performances from gaming’s largest annual concert.
MAGFest (which stands for Music And Gaming) is an annual convention and concert series held in the Washington DC area that started in 2002. MAGFest is unique because it combines a convention, with a 24 hour arcade room, panels with guests and a merch room, with the festival atmosphere of a Coachella (albeit much much smaller) with a variety of bands and artists performing. In 2019 MAGFest reported an attendance of over 22,000 which is their largest attendance yet.
MAGFest has also been an important launching pad for musicians and performers to start careers both in music and in video games. Powerglove, The Minibosses and The Megas were all early MAGFest performers. Checkpoint XP spoke with DJ Cutman in 2017 who shared just how big of an influence MAGFest has been on him as an artist and a businessman. But this isn’t just a 3 day video game covers concert series, MAGFest also celebrates original music made with video game sounds, a genre known as chiptunes.
So now you know what MAGFest is and why it’s just a big deal, let’s check out some of the best sets from MAGFest 2020.
1. Skatune Network
OK, I’ve been a massive fan of Skatune Network and it’s creator, 24-year-old Florida native Jeremy Hunter, ever since I found their cover of the Foo Fighters song “Learn To Fly”. What you have to understand about Skatune Network is that the project started as just Jeremy in his mom’s house. Jeremy plays every instrument on his internet videos. However, that’s not really possible live, so Jeremy has started working with a band to be able to do live shows. Prior to MAGFest I hadn’t seen or heard the band with Jeremy, and now that I have – it lives up to all the expectations I had. Even though there are 10 people on stage, the only person I can watch is Jeremy!
2. Super Soul Bros.
The Super Soul Bros were the first band I watched on stream this year and I caught their set just as they were wrapping up. Now, the Super Soul Bros play a jazz-rock-fusion style that is comparable to Chick Corea’s Return To Forever or John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Super Soul Bros started playing MAGFest in 2015 and have been a regular fixture between MAGFest and MAGWest ever since. So, their final song of their set was a cover of Chrono Cross’ epic opening track Time’s Scar – and FUN FACT – if you surprise me with a great cover of Time’s Scar I’ll end up weeping like a child.
I’m willing to bet if you’ve heard of any of these artists, it’s probably Powerglove. But, in case you don’t know – Powerglove is a power metal cover band that exclusively covers video game and television themes. The project started in 2003 as a side-project the members would work on outside of their other bands. When their other bands inevitably broke up, Powerglove because the new focus. Powerglove played the 4th ever MAGFest alongside The Smash Bros as well as The Minibosses, one of the first bands dedicated to covering game music. Powerglove still retains all three original members Alex Berkson, Bassil Silver and Ben Cohen.
As I explained earlier, MAGFest doesn’t just feature video game cover artists, they’re also dedicated to spreading the gospel of chiptunes. If you forgot, Chiptunes are original compositions that use circuit boards from old video game consoles as the instrument. It’s sometimes referred to a circuit bending (which is actually a different thing) or squarewave music and is oftentimes performed with old video game hardware like GameBoys or hacked Nintendo’s. Aethernaut takes a slightly different approach: he’s a classically trained violinist who plays an electric violin that’s modified to sound like chiptunes. This was Aethernaut’s first appearance at MAGFest and in my mind, one of the most enthralling sets at MAGFest 2020.
5. Mariachi Entertainment System
When you think about video game covers – rock, dance and pop covers make all the sense in the world, right? But what about more classic styles of music? What can’t they cover video game music? They can! And that’s what so brilliant about Mariachi Entertainment System. If you can’t guess by their name Mariachi Entertainment System covers video game music in a mariachi style, meaning they have to get creative with some of the compositions. I would hazard a guess that marachi music is not necessarily the most popular genre for video game music to be composed, so there’s a lot of tracks that require adaptation of the original work to fit the instrument composition.
Honorable Mention: Friend of the show Mark Cooper (aka Player One) was out at MAGFest and performed on the Chiptune stage. I would have included him on my list but, unfortunately, I can’t find any video of the performance. Mark performs nerdcore hip-hop and recently released his latest project The Super Pack on Titan Records and Sound Proof. Make sure you check it out!