I had the pleasure of attending MAGFest for the first time this year, and of course that meant meeting lots of cool people, sitting in a few panels and what might be most important for some: checking out loads of concerts.
Since most, if not all, of the music I listened to was inspired by video games, I decided to make the list below to introduce you to some (emphasis on some. My list only scratches the surface) artists you may or may not have heard about before, who also happened to attend MAGFest, too. Some of them for the first time -- like me!
1) The OneUps
First in the slew of talented folks I'll mention (by the way, this list is in no particular order) is The OneUps. They're a more visible video games cover band in the sense that I had heard of them before attending MAGFest, as well as heard some of their music, and I'm pleased to note that they also perform well live and are cool folks to boot. During MAGFest, they not only performed their own set at the main stage, but participated in other groups' sets and did some extra jamming.
My favorite things about these guys are their versatility and ability to incorporate their own jazzy style to tunes that are already familiar to us. They aren't all about the rock and punk covers (which is OK if you like that!), nor are they doing straight chiptunes. They own the music with their own style.
Out of all the bands I saw perform at MAGFest, Armcannon is probably the group I'm most familiar with, simply because they come up so often on my Pandora playlist.
That sillyness aside, Armcannon is another accomplished video games cover group that also just happened to release their newest album. They don't necessarily stick to just video games though, and they like to rock pretty hard. They're another sterling example of a group that reaches out all over the place while maintaining their style, and are quite capable of performing something moody and dramatic just as they are able to play a bright tune. Oh, and they make their own, original music, too.
3) Rare Candy
Rare Candy instantly landed my cool list when they took the stage dressed up as Team Rocket dudes and Pokémon trainers. Though normally they'd be classified as "yet another video games cover band," they do stand out in the way of having lots of keyboards in their ensemble.
There's a nice, bright sound to their music and the use of keyboards gives their tunes a nostalgic element. That's about it, though - all their arrangements are fresh and fun to listen to, and I can confirm that they are also fun to watch perform live. You can check out some previews of their music at their media page.
4) Metroid Metal
If you're into the heavier stuff and you want some nerdyness in your metal, Metroid Metal are your crew. While I wasn't intensely impressed with their performance, I was assured by friends and fans that normally, they're a blast to watch. I must have caught them at a bad point in their set and will give them the benefit of the doubt because they still strode around the stage like total rock stars.
Metroid Metal is a busy crew - they do shows all the time, and if you don't think that you've ever met a bigger Metroid fan than yourself, you need to check out this song page. They've been in the game for a long time. You can read about that here.
5) Yuzo Koshiro
Yuzo Koshiro of OC ReMix has to have been the absolute most anticipated artist of the MAGFest lineup. He scored the biggest crowd at the main stage and went over his time slot by half hour if memory serves, because everyone was just having that great of a time. His credit as a composer spans over a dozen games, and at MAGFest he DJ'd so hard that everyone was shaking their butts and hopping around all over the place. Seriously, maybe there were some pheromones blasting from the speakers along with the music, because everyone was just having a blast.
His performance at MAGFest was his very first time playing for an audience in the US as well, and when the show was over he gave the most adorable shy-guy nervous speech I've heard in a long time. You can learn a little more about Yuzo and his work here, and follow him on Twitter.
6) Bit Brigade
So far, every group has had kind of this defining thing about their music. With Bit Brigade, the big thing is that one of their members sits at the front of the stage with an NES and plays games while the band provides the music. While this dude expertly speed-runs through various games (during MAGFest's performance it was Castlevania then Contra), the rest of the band plays various different stage themes, battle themes, and then of course the big boss theme according to what was going on on the screen. They have the timing nailed for all of these songs and, of course, nobody walked out of there unimpressed with the player's performance, and people were cheering along as he passed from stage to stage.
The Contra music they played at MAGFest was actually just released on Bandcamp on the first day of the show, and you could give it a listen here. They're more on the rocking side with electric guitars and such, but there is something to be said about being so familiar with the original music that they don't need to do anything to change it so much as enhance it -- make it more awesome. Honestly, I'm jealous of the dude playing the games -- he gets an amazing musical experience every time. Here's where you could buy some Bit Brigade swag, like tees and CDs if you like what you hear.
7) Video Game Orchestra
Another busy group in the world of video game music, VGO got their start in 2008 and they've been wrecking it since. Though their name would imply they should be a full orchestra with traditional instruments, they actually employ the use of electric guitars in typical rock band fashion for smaller performances. Here's a YouTube play list with actual videos from MAGFest you can see what you missed out on.
You could also follow VGO on Twitter.
8) Brentalfloss and The Cartridge Family
And now for something completely different. While, yes, there is some video games music cover stuff going on here, the big thing with these dudes (and their lead guitarist, a dudette) is comedy. Brentalfloss leads the band with his amusing lyrics about what it really means to play some of these games. He knows your pain. Our pain.
You know those "literal trailers" videos on YouTube? It's like that, except Brent provides true-to-life words to the games we played back in the day. What really sold me on their performance though, was their covers of Disney Afternoon cartoon themes to open and close their set. You can see videos of Brent's games music with lyrics here. I should also add that the female lead guitarist (her name is Amanda Lepre) is also an accomplished singer and performed the Metroid with Lyrics song since, you know, Samus.
9) The Megas
Do you consider yourself a big Mega Man fan? Much as was the case with Metroid earlier in this list, I need to inform you that you are definitely not as much of a fan of those games, or at least the music, as these guys are.
The Megas own the themes from Mega Man by creating their own fresh rock arrangements inspired by the original music and adding lyrics to them as well. You can get a feel for their music on their official YouTube channel and of course, follow them on Twitter. Watching them live is a pleasure and they made their set fun for everyone.
10) Mega Ran
On the same vein with The Megas, there was one other performer present at MAGFest who is most definitely a bigger Mega Man fan than you, and that's Random (aka Mega Ran). His music speaks to people in more ways than that, though. He's all about being real and lays it all down in sick raps. I had the pleasure of catching him in action at the Jamspace, and can confirm he's just as charismatic, generous, and fun to be around in real life as he appears to be through his music.
You can check out his Bandcamp page for a huge selection of his work, which is all backed by bright beats to accompany his words - a fresh departure from the "other kind of rap" we hear on the radio. Hey, it's cool if you like that stuff. I do, too! I'm just saying, Random's stuff just makes me feel happy.
Phew! Once again, I need to emphasize that this list is by no means complete in terms of the awesome performers that showed up to MAGFest 11, whether to some official capacity or not. Besides the main stages and jam stages, there were also "free" stages for use by anyone who had something to play. There is no end to the talent you could catch at this show, and the folks I listed above are pretty much up there in popularity and visibility already. If you like this kind of stuff, you've probably heard about most, if not all of them.