The definitive history of rock & roll—in GIF form

Guitarist Joshua Carrafa is taking a unique approach to making rock history, creating 8-bit tributes to memorable moments. 


Fernando Alfonso III


Published Nov 13, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 7:31 am CDT

The Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Johnny Cash introducing himself to the Folsom Prison inmates, and MTV’s first broadcast: These are some of the most memorable moments in music history. And now they’ve been memorialized on Tumblr—in GIF form.

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Music History in GIFs is run by Joshua Carrafa, a 29-year-old GIF artist based in Brooklyn, who creates original 8-bit animations using Photoshop to commemorate iconic dates in rock & roll.

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He’s no ordinary historian, though. Carrafa’s also the guitarist of Old Monk, a prog-punk trio that’s released an album and a couple of singles to date. His fascination with 8-bit art and music dates back to his youth in Burlington, Conn., where the work of Metallica and the Who competed with the chiptune music from Nintendo games like Kings Quest V..

“I grew up on the ‘90s Internet and remember those old websites with the tiny, crappy little GIFs,” Carrafa told the Daily Dot. “I think it’s cool to see what it’s turned into and to see how far its come.”

Yet despite GIFs recent evolution into a respected form of art, Carrafa’s animations retain much of that ‘90s charm, often featuring thin, faceless figures fixed in a world of bright, blocky colors. The vintage look of his GIFs has helped Carrafa get his work featured on NPR and The Verge.

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With so many historic music moments to chose from, Carrafa largely sticks to rock-related topics, like the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind or Les Savy Fav’s 2007 classic, Let’s Stay Friends.  But as was the case with the controversial cover art for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, some moments are just too big to overlook.

Most recently, he paid tribute to Psy’s “Gangam Style,” an animation Carrafa begrudgingly spent five hours creating Wednesday night before a flight to England.

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“It’s a terrible song,” he said. [But] it is very interesting from a music history standpoint. It is just crazy how popular yet how foreign it is. A South Korean artist has never been close to getting that kind of popularity. I thought that was important enough.”

While his own band strives to join such esteemed ranks, Carrafa can take some comfort in knowing he’s already done his part to make rock history.

“I just like doing it for fun,” he said. “I thought it was a cool thing to have out there.”

All GIFs via Music History in GIFs

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*First Published: Nov 13, 2012, 11:00 am CST