Why i love… grand theft auto’s mu­sic

Cel­e­brat­ing the iconic tunes and var­ied artists that have brought Rock­star’s worlds vividly to life

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START - Pub­lisher Rock­star Games / Developer Rock­star North / for­mat Xbox 360/Xbox One / re­lease date Septem­ber 2013 Sa­muel Roberts

In 1991, Rock­star Games co-founder Sam Houser be­gan his ca­reer at the now-de­funct BMG Records, work­ing on pop videos and VHS re­leases. BMG even­tu­ally estab­lished an in­ter­ac­tive di­vi­sion, and in 1996, Houser be­came its head of devel­op­ment. The first GTA was re­leased in the UK in 1997, and in 1998, BMG In­ter­ac­tive was sold to a small dis­trib­u­tor and pub­lisher, Take Two. Houser moved to New York, and set up Rock­star Games in late 1998. In a weird way, it makes sense that part of GTA’s ori­gin is in mu­sic—it’s al­ways been vi­tal to how these worlds feel.

The orig­i­nal Xbox’s Vice City was a huge mo­ment for the se­ries when it came to mu­sic. While GTA III’s bril­liant sound­track fea­tured lesser known artists, Vice City had sta­tion af­ter sta­tion of tracks that my mum used to like. In choos­ing to make a pe­riod piece—an ‘80s-set crime romp in a Mi­ami ana­logue—Rock­star used the mu­sic to bring the world to life. When Tommy Vercetti stepped into a car and ‘Bil­lie Jean’ by Michael Jack­son played on the in-game stereo, noth­ing like that had hap­pened in games be­fore.

Since then, of course, Rock­star has kept pick­ing choices that com­ple­ment the set­ting. In the ‘90s-set San

An­dreas, the sta­tion Ra­dio Los San­tos fea­tured the likes of Ice Cube and Dr Dre, artists that en­cap­su­lated the at­mos­phere that the developer wanted to tap into. And yet, once you got out of the city and into Bone County, the de­fault ra­dio sta­tions be­gan to change to coun­try mu­sic. The devel­op­ers were us­ing mu­sic to con­vey a sense of dis­tance in this vir­tual world, to make you be­lieve there are dif­fer­ent cul­tural tastes in a place that’s about a three-minute drive in real time from where you started.

Back to the present

In GTA IV, Rock­star re­turned to a con­tem­po­rary New York-in­fused set­ting. The mix of old and new is ex­tremely ef­fec­tive. Tracks like ‘Every Pic­ture Tells A Story’ by Rod Ste­wart and ELO’s ‘Evil Wo­man’—mu­sic that your dad might have on vinyl—sat along­side Kanye West’s ‘Flash­ing Lights’ and ‘Hip Hop’ by Joell Or­tiz. The jazz sta­tion seems to play the ex­act mu­sic that was on in my cab when I first went to New York ten years ago. Each sta­tion of­fers you a dif­fer­ent lens with which to ex­pe­ri­ence Lib­erty City. Bring­ing us up to the present, there were 241 li­censed songs in the orig­i­nal re­lease of GTA V on 360, then even more in the Xbox One ver­sion. I started with the ra­dio sta­tion Non-Stop Pop and its unashamed lineup of All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores’ and Mis-Teeq’s ‘Scan­dalous’, among oth­ers. Then I grad­u­ated to the trendier Ra­dio Mir­ror Park, where Mi­ami Hor­ror’s ‘Some­times’ led to me buy­ing their de­but al­bum, Il­lu­mi­na­tion. That led to me buy­ing every re­lease of theirs up un­til this point, in­clud­ing remixes and cov­ers. And from there, I started lis­ten­ing to new wave mu­sic al­most every day, be­fore branch­ing out into dif­fer­ent gen­res. Rock­star has be­come a tastemaker when it comes to mu­sic—chances are you’ll al­ways know some­thing on the in-game ra­dio, but you’ll leave the

“You’ll leave the game lov­ing a few tracks you’d never even heard be­fore play­ing”

game lov­ing a few tracks you’d never even heard be­fore play­ing. I per­son­ally feel like I don’t get a lot of ex­po­sure to mod­ern mu­sic out­side of what Spo­tify thinks I want to hear, and GTA is the sin­gle big­gest in­flu­ence on my tastes.

When asked about how GTA shaped the 2011 movie Drive, Rock­star’s Dan Houser com­mented on the first time he no­ticed the se­ries seep­ing into the pub­lic con­scious­ness. “It’s sim­i­lar

to when Vice City came out,” he told The Guardian in 2013. “I was driv­ing in Eng­land on a Fri­day night, stuck on the M25 lis­ten­ing to Pete Tong, and there were about six songs in a row from the sound­track. I thought, ‘Wow, games are be­gin­ning to have an in­flu­ence.’” Given the far­reach­ing suc­cess of GTA, it’s no sur­prise, re­ally.

GTA is fun­da­men­tally a game about steal­ing cars and fir­ing guns in gor­geously-re­al­ized lo­ca­tions, and the use of mu­sic has been as im­por­tant to its evo­lu­tion as any­thing else. It brings these worlds to life, evok­ing times and places that en­hance the way we ex­pe­ri­ence them. And that aside, Rock­star is able to re­mind us that ‘Glam­orous’ by Fergie is an amaz­ing tune.

right The game’s mu­sic helps set the tone for your own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

ABOVE Hav­ing ac­cess to the ra­dio in GTA On­line is a nice bonus.

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