A post for Omnified by Arian Bozorg
The soundtracks of video games have played in people’s homes for decades. Heard for hours on end on TVs across the world, the melodies of these classic 80s and 90s video games had a knack for weaseling their way into our minds.
These soundtracks and their composers are the subject of “Diggin’ in the Carts” a Red Bull Music Academy documentary series and radio show by Nick Dwyer. Dwyer’s fascination with video game soundtracks began when his older brother got a Commodore 64. As his fascination grew, the music took him to vintage video game stores digging in old boxes for game cartridges, which is where the series derives its title.
Beginning with 8-bit soundtracks of the early arcade games, the series follows the evolution of Japanese video game soundtracks and celebrates the composers and programmers that have mostly been forgotten. “Diggin’ in the Carts” also features interviews with contemporary musicians such as Kode9, Flying Lotus, Dizzee Rascal, Fatima Al Qadiri, Havoc, Thundercat, Lady Hawk and Just Blaze, each reflecting on the impact these soundtracks have had on their music and on popular culture.
Inspired by the series and the musical influence of these video games, Red Bull Music Festival brought these cult Japanese video games to life with a special live performance at Musikbrauerei on Saturday night.
Kode9, the founder of the Hyperdub record label, headlined with legendary Japanese animator Kōji Morimoto on visuals with a number of Red
Bull Music Academy participants supporting: Cologne’s Dj Heroin, Philippines-based similarobjects and Estonia’s metabora. The performance showcased the range of influence video game music has had, from Kode9’s bass music, to Dj Heroin and metabora’s ominous soundscapes, and similarobjects’ footwork, it’s easy to how the melodies of video games have permeated different corners of music.
The labyrinth of stairs, corridors and rooms at Musikbrauerei were reminiscent of old video games, and as you climbed the spiral staircase to the main room you were rewarded with the thumping bass from the DJs and a hypnotized crowd.
Metabora opened the night followed by Dj Heroin each with their own brand of repetitive melodies evolving through the set. Creating a narrative through the music, vivid memories of video games would flash back, from the intense, bass heavy boss stages, to the joyful tones of meeting a new character or the blissful soundscapes of floating around in space – metabora and Dj Heroin took you on a journey.
With the aid of Knox-om-Pax playing the Kōji Morimoto visuals, Kode9 took the journey to another level. Beginning with classic 8-bit tones of collecting coins, power-ups and explosions, the legendary producer expertly played to the audience. He cited familiar melodies from classic games and slowly pulled them apart in front of the audience to create the bass music that he is famous for.
With moments of exhilaration, fear and bliss, Kode9 created a beautiful narrative, mirrored by scenes of skeletal monsters, cityscapes, and ultra-violence – all the memories of video games and anime dredged up by metabora and Dj Heroin emerged on the screen. Kode9’s set ended with the climatic intensity of a final stage, the screen strobing and the bass thumping faster and faster – until it all came to a halt.
Closing out the night, the party ended with some footwork from similarobjects, looking like a villain with a black mouth mask. The final boss to end the night, and fitting tribute to the music that has provided the soundtrack to so many childhoods.
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