Deep burnt

Be­hind the scenes of the new com­pi­la­tion ex­plor­ing clas­sic Ja­panese videogame mu­sic


How a new com­pi­la­tion ex­plores clas­sic Ja­panese game mu­sic

As E312’ s in­ter­view with DJ/pro­ducer Ikonika showed, early videogame mu­sic is a re­cur­ring in­flu­ence on con­tem­po­rary elec­tronic mu­si­cians. Fur­ther proof of that comes from a new com­pi­la­tion, Dig­gin’ In The Carts: A Col­lec­tion Of Pi­o­neer­ing Ja­panese Elec­tronic Mu­sic, that re­leases on Hyper­dub on Novem­ber 17. Build­ing on the doc­u­men­tary se­ries of the same name that Nick Dwyer wrote and co-di­rected for Red Bull Mu­sic Academy in 2014, this 34-track com­pi­la­tion shows how the im­por­tance of this vi­tal time for games and their sound­tracks grows more and more as time passes. Here, Dwyer and Hyper­dub boss Steve ‘Kode9’ Good­man re­flect on the assem­bly of a very dif­fer­ent kind of dance com­pi­la­tion.

How im­por­tant is videogame mu­sic to Hyper­dub in gen­eral? Steve Good­man: It be­came im­por­tant to us around 2005, when I felt the mu­si­cal en­vi­ron­ment we ex­isted in had become a bit monochrome, and the in­flu­ence of game mu­sic started to seep into the la­bel through the Ja­panese artist Quarta 330, who had done an 8bit remix of one of my tracks, 9 Samu­rai. I was also sam­pling games in my tracks around that time to bring in more tone colour. We then signed a bunch of great pro­duc­ers who also had, in dif­fer­ent ways, a videogame-in­flu­enced sound, such as Ikonika, Zomby, Dark­star and Joker. I think the ghost of early game mu­sic is present in a lot of early grime, and that runs through into pro­duc­ers we have re­leased. There are lit­eral con­ver­gences here and there, but gen­er­ally we have a love for bright, in-your-face, droney and slightly off-tune synths.

What is it about videogame mu­sic from this era that ex­cites you to the ex­tent that you wanted to make a com­pi­la­tion ded­i­cated to it? Nick Dwyer: Al­though those sounds, tones and melodies sound­tracked so many of our child­hoods, we weren’t con­scious that some­one had laboured away for days, some­times weeks, on that loop. When re­search­ing the era for the doc­u­men­tary se­ries, I re­alised just how much in­cred­i­ble mu­sic was there once you started dig­ging deep. Much in the same way that some of the most in­cred­i­ble elec­tronic mu­sic was made within strict lim­i­ta­tions, these Ja­panese com­posers got right in­side those sound chips and cre­ated a mag­i­cal ar­ray of sounds and melodies that still sound daz­zling to­day.

What I love is how ev­ery sys­tem has its own sound chip with its own per­son­al­ity, be it the cheap square-wave sound of the NES, the iconic FM Synth of the Mega Drive or that epic stringsand-pads sound that the SNES did so well. Then there are all the ar­cade sys­tem boards, each of which has its own unique and in­cred­i­ble sound pal­ette. SG: I hadn’t even heard of most of the games the huge pile of mu­sic Nick sent me came from. All we were in­ter­ested in was what stood up mu­si­cally on its own two feet.

“When re­search­ing the era for the doc­u­men­tary se­ries I re­alised just how much in­cred­i­ble mu­sic was there”

The track se­lec­tion has a very un­der­ground feel; there are no ob­vi­ous se­lec­tions. How im­por­tant was it to find

the lesser-known tracks as you were putting the al­bum to­gether?

ND: This is a Hyper­dub take on in­cred­i­ble videogame mu­sic. When I sat down to start prop­erly re­search­ing the com­pi­la­tion I kept hear­ing these phan­tom voices of hard­ened In­ter­net videogamemu­sic fans in my head say­ing, “I can’t be­lieve he didn’t put this track on the comp”. The only way to do it was to do it prop­erly, so I worked my way through the en­tire his­tory of Ja­panese videogame mu­sic of that era. I went from about 200,000 tracks to a long list of 300 and then pre­sented that to Steve. We lis­tened through ev­ery­thing and picked the best mu­sic based on its mu­si­cal mer­its, re­gard­less of its legacy or ti­tle.

What were the chal­lenges in li­cens­ing the mu­sic you wanted, given that many of it was made by com­pa­nies that no longer ex­ist? ND: Oh man, a lot of meet­ings and a lot of very, very tense mo­ments. Any­one that has ever tried to li­cense any kind of Ja­panese IP knows the chal­lenges you can face just try­ing to li­cense from one com­pany, let alone 24 of them. We did have some con­tacts al­ready, and hav­ing the doc­u­men­tary helped get our foot in some doors. But that was just the big­ger com­pa­nies. Then we had to nav­i­gate the com­plex maze of try­ing to work out which com­pa­nies now owned the rights for smaller com­pa­nies that went out of busi­ness in the late ‘80s and had been sold sev­eral times. We were lucky in that all the com­pa­nies we have been deal­ing with have been great; we pretty much got our dream line-up of tracks. There was just one com­pany who didn’t want to be in­volved, but I’m not go­ing to give up. Hope­fully we can work with them some­time in the fu­ture.

Steve Good­man founded Hyper­dub, and DJs and pro­duces un­der the alias Kode9

Nick Dwyer wrote and di­rected the Red Bull doc­u­men­tary that led to this com­pi­la­tion

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