It’s been a while since we did a MoeGamer Music post, but having been presented with the ideal opportunity to put something interesting together, who was I to turn that down?
Nick Dwyer, curator of the Diggin’ in the Carts project that explores the (oft-underappreciated) history of classic video game music, reached out to me and informed me that he had been working with Parisian DJ Teki Latex and a number of other collaborators on an ambitious-sounding project called, simply Teki & Nicks’ Mixtape Quest Adventure.
What on Earth is a “mixtape as side-scrolling adventure”, as this project purports to be? Well, let’s listen and find out — and best of all, since the mix is completely free, you can enjoy it along with me. Hit the jump and let’s listen.
Bizarrely, we kick off with the sound of the Philips Interactive Media logo from the CD-i rather than anything more immediately recognisable — although given Dwyer’s propensity for life on the more obscure side of the tracks (as seen in the album for the Diggin’ in the Carts project) this isn’t altogether surprising. That, any many people note that, despite the generally poor quality of games on the CD-i, if nothing else, that logo animation and sound effect is pretty epic.
After a brief snippet of Japanese dialogue from the PC Engine adaptation of anime Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, we launch into a combination of 1998’s Ruff Ryders Anthem and a loop from Esper Dream 2 on Famicom. The latter is from Konami Kukeiha Club, Konami’s in-house sound team and a group that Dwyer appears particularly interested in, judging by the number of times they appeared on the Diggin’ in the Carts album.
The Esper Dream 2 track works well with DMX’s rhythmic rapping from Ruff Ryders Anthem. By its very nature, Famicom music is strictly metronomical and often based on relatively short, catchy loops, and that’s certainly the case here, making it eminently suitable for use as a hip-hop backing track.
After a brief break for a musical interlude from Namco’s Top Striker on NES, we launch into a rendition of Momotaro, probably the most well-known track from Wednesday Campanella (aka Suiyoubi no Campanella), a Japanese electronic dance music/hip-hop group. This particular track is eminently relevant to the mix because it pays specific homage to platforms such as the Famicom and PC Engine in its lyrics. Indeed, the backing for this particular mix of Momotaro features music from some of the games mentioned by vocalist KOM_I, including the stage music from Raid on Bungeling Bay for Famicom, which subsequently transitions into an atmospheric track from the Famicom adaptation of legendary RPG Ultima III: Exodus as the lyrics crescendo in intensity.
As Momotaro reaches its conclusion, we transition into Battle Field 1 from Susanoou no Densetsu on the PC Engine. This was an RPG adaptation of Go Nagai’s manga, which in turn was loosely based on the Shinto deity. It’s a catchy little number, featuring that distinctively jangly PC Engine sound, occupying a space somewhere between 8-bit chiptunes and the FM synthesis of the Mega Drive era. It’s also a noticeably more elaborate composition than that which we’ve heard so far in this album, having distinct sections with their own style rather than simply playing a short loop.
It’s not long before we transition into some music from Hisou Kihei X-Serd, a mecha-based strategy game. We begin with the music from a cutscene in the game, which features synth sounds oddly reminiscent of Namco’s Galaga, before moving smoothly into a brief stint of the music for the player’s turn in the later stages of the game, and then onward into an exclusive remix of the game’s opening by Dwyer’s frequent collaborator Steve Goodman, aka Kode9.
The opening track’s repetitive bassline is heavily processed and distorted, punctuated by additional syncopated rhythms that give a premonition of the triplet synth lines that follow. The samples are cut and rearranged somewhat, concluding with a simulation of a track “skipping” and the repeated line “what you smokin'”, giving an extremely hypnotic feel for a few moments.
And then your reverie is promptly broken by the rude interruption of the iconic “SEGA!” from Sonic the Hedgehog, moving right into the blue blur’s famous theme. We’ve transitioned into the 16-bit era, so ahead of us lie a variety of FM synthesis classics from the Mega Drive, and some wavetable loveliness courtesy of the Super Famicom.
Sonic’s theme is followed up by a lengthy visit to a rather funky dungeon theme from Sega RPG Sword of Vermillion, which is thoroughly in keeping with the vibe that the album has set so far. The crunchy digitised drums — a Mega Drive staple — are particularly delicious on this one, and rather than being overprocessed or excessively remixed, here they’re kept in their full glory for us to enjoy. Delightful.
The dungeon theme transitions smoothly (accompanied by the sound of a crumbling block from Sonic) into the “Start” theme from the technically impressive first-person shooter/RPG hybrid Star Cruiser on the Mega Drive, initially blending the bassline from the Sword of Vermillion track beautifully before handing the baton over when the time is right.
Sonic’s iconic spin dash sound marks the next transition point as we smoothly and languidly slide (with a cheeky ring-grab) into Because You’re the Number One from Thunder Force IV, the track that plays if you get the high score. Thunder Force IV is one of the most well-known, distinctive Mega Drive soundtracks out there, though it’s interesting that this track was chosen rather than the arguably more famous tracks such as Tan Tan Ta Ta Ta Tan or Fighting Back.
A beautiful example of the Mega Drive’s crunchy “mouth full of cornflakes and tin-foil” digitised speech, as proudly exemplified throughout Thunder Force IV as a whole, passes the baton to Yuzo Koshiro for a stop in Streets of Rage III-town, and a somewhat slowed-down take on Inga Rasen. The unsettling nature of Koshiro’s discordant, urban techno is emphasised by the slightly slower tempo; this is a thoroughly creepy track that does a great job of building atmosphere and tension. And just to make matters worse, that tension is ratcheted right up towards the end by the addition of Sonic the Hedgehog’s accelerating “drowning” music.
We then transition into The Evil Man from Langrisser, which maintains some of the tension and unease from the previous track, but overlays it with a certain amount of hopefulness thanks to the blues scale-based melody line in vibrant, triumphant synth lead; finally, victory is ours with Sonic’s end-level music.
Or is it? No, there’s one final challenge in our time with the Mega Drive, and it comes in the form of the mixtape’s second exclusive remix, this time a take on Sonic the Hedgehog’s dramatic Final Zone music, reinterpreted by Ikonika. The simple, repetitive melody is complimented by some increasingly elaborate percussion work, atmospheric synth sounds and a throbbing, urgent bassline that really emphasises the whole “do or die” nature of the battle this music accompanies.
Before moving into next distinct part of the mixtape as a whole, we make a brief stop back in NES-land with a tuneful, melodic track from Erik the Viking, which serves as something of a blessed relief after all the tension that has been built up by the previous tracks. Once again, the repetitive NES music is complemented by rhythmic hip-hop a capella, this time Bad and Boujee from Migos. The combination of the simple time NES track and the overlying triplets of Migos’ rapping has a very pleasing effect on the ears, and helps to emphasise the enjoyably chilled-out feel — especially when accompanied by the sound effect track Quiet Beach from Chrono Trigger, providing us with some gentle synthesised waves to well and truly relax us.
From here, we transition into a number of Super Famicom tracks, featuring that system’s distinctive wavetable synthesis sound. We kick off with Beginning of the Journey from Sony Imagesoft’s platformer Skyblazer, whose driving, repetitive bassline and pounding drums encourage us to get up and get moving again after our brief stop on the beach.
The “journey” theme continues as we slide into Theme 6 from A Ressha de Ikou!, better known to Westerners as A-Train. The ongoing motion of the vehicle in question is emphasised by a slight increase in speed over the original track, with the repeating, rhythmic, percussive backing bringing to mind the distinctive clickety-clack of wheels on track.
We’re given a sense of passing through a new region thanks to Castle from Namco’s platformer Wagyan Paradise, a track with quite a distinctive Japanese feel about it thanks to the melodic patterns and instrumentation sounds used, but it’s not long before we pass through this region and reach the endless ocean of Final Fantasy V with Nobuo Uematsu’s Beyond the Deep Blue Sea. The synth sounds used in this track are the perfect example of Uematsu’s mastery of the Super Famicom’s sound capabilities; all the Final Fantasy games on the platform have an immediately recognisable audio aesthetic to them.
Our journey beyond the sea transitions us into the next mixtape exclusive remix, this time courtesy of Japanese producer and DJ Foodman and his distinctive take on Searching for Friends from Final Fantasy VI. This starts simply, but gradually builds up with atmospheric distorted synth sounds and a lazy but relentless bassline; these elements deliberately clash with the gentle tones of the original track, creating a sense of unease and melancholy amid the calm, and a sense that not all is well.
That sensation doesn’t last long, though, because our next stop is the Kanto region, and Pokémon Red and Blue’s opening theme. This is given the rather stirring addition of a throbbing, powerful four-on-the-floor drum beat from Mushroom Man by Butch (which it seems the majority of YouTube commenters recognise from porn, interestingly), and dear Lord does this work surprisingly well as a dancey number.
Mario hops into the background, alternating between his instantly recognisable jumping and fire shot sounds to complement the driving percussion and the triumphant tones of the Pokémon track, but the latter subsequently gives way to the legendary Vampire Killer from Castlevania, which also works wonderfully well with Butch’s dance beat, which continues unabated during the transition.
We then continue our journey through Transylvania with another Castlevania track, this time Bloody Tears from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which is initially accompanied by the last remnants of Mushroom Man, but which subsequently becomes complemented by the distinctive sound of Highland-style snare drumming taken from DJ Master D’s track Mad Drumz. It feels like we’re building in tension again, leading towards another sweet release — but where will our side-scrolling adventure take us next?
The Mad Drumz fade, and our next transition point is marked by some more classic (albeit less well-known) logo themes — this time Datam Polystar and Quest, but these quickly give way to the urgent snare drumming and timpani of one of Star Fox’s many boss themes, which in turn passes on to a brief visit to Megami Tensei spinoff Last Bible III’s Before Battle theme, and then onwards to Suspicion from Final Fantasy IV. It seems that whatever is happening, it’s not going all that well — or perhaps our adventure is just passing through territory that is drab, ruined or otherwise depressing. The remnants of the past, perhaps.
As the Final Fantasy IV track proceeds, a rather unsettling bassline starts to take hold, gradually transitioning into the mysterious sounds of Kaifuku 2 from Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei (the Super Famicom ports of Megami Tensei I and II) and onward into A Strange Happening from Chrono Trigger. It seems we’re entering uncharted territory, where anything could happen.
Sure enough, our next stop is Star Fox’s Black Hole, accompanied by some mind-frying long reverb as A Strange Happening fades out… but it’s not long before we discover that we probably don’t have to worry. West Lake from Last Bible III gives us a somewhat hypnotic sense that everything is probably going to be all right, even if the “reversed” feel of all the synth sounds remain a little unsettling.
Finally, we awaken in A Link to the Past’s Sanctuary, with Princess Zelda watching over us — we can assume that Agahnim hasn’t had his wicked way with her yet — and all seems calm, but melancholy is still in the air. There’s still work to be done, and as we burst through the door of Sanctuary to enter the later legs of our journey, we’re greeted by Yuzo Koshiro’s ActRaiser music, and another exclusive remix — this time by producer Mumdance.
Mumdance’s remix of the ActRaiser music blends the gentle, sad themes of Koshiro’s soundtrack for a ruined world with some more energetic electronic rhythms and sound effects. It’s an atmospheric complement to the original music without sacrificing too much of its purity; there’s simply a somewhat increased sense of drama to proceedings as the urgent electronic drums push us forwards and onwards through our adventure. Now we have Go– sorry, “The Master” on our side. Probably. Although the music suddenly cutting us off with static, sending us tumbling headlong into a Capcom world may give us pause.
It’s a whistle-stop tour of some Capcom arcade titles, featuring snippets of Street Fighter II, Strider and Carrier Air Wing all throwing us into dramatic battle once again. Will there be no peace for us? The piercing klaxons would seem to suggest otherwise, and as we continue onwards into tracks from Nemo and Knights of the Round, it seems that we still have a way to go yet. And things are about to get scary.
The instrumental Dizzee Rascal track Street Fighter — one of his earlier tunes, much beloved by grime fans — is complemented by some further rap action from YGG’s Strikers and the many computerised bleeps and burbles from DJ Cable’s Cartridge VIP. It’s a chaotic sound, almost frightening in its intensity — particularly given the instrumental nature of many of the tracks we’ve had for the last part of the mixtape.
It doesn’t let up, either; we break into the creepy Statts from Sword of Vermillion, overlaid with Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall’s Still Tippin’. The echoing lyrics help build the sense of unease, and the transition to SRC’s Goomba VIP as the backing track doesn’t help matters!
We get a hint of light with some unexpected Sonic the Hedgehog sound effects at this point, courtesy of DJ Q’s Sonic, but it doesn’t take long for this to blend into the oppressive atmosphere of Hip Tanaka’s atmospheric soundtrack to Metroid on the NES. We’re trapped in a terrifying world from which we might never escape… or will we? As the triumphant sound of the Brinstar theme kicks in, it feels like there’s finally hope, and that we might be reaching the end of our journey — although the chaos of Sonic continues in the background, just to keep things slightly unsettling.
A stop off in Kraid’s Lair from Metroid jacks the creepy factor back up again as Sonic continues to bash blocks, touch lampposts and drop rings in the background. The erratic rhythms of DJ Q’s track really complement the NES music well in this section, and the somewhat unpredictable feel of the sound effects keeps you on your toes.
Finally, we reach a warp pipe and transition in the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, accompanied by Timbaland & Magoo featuring Missy Elliott’s Cop That Shit. This works alarmingly well with the backing, even without any additional bass, percussion or other effects, though the heavy, throbbing hip-hop beat from DJC’s CC101 that is introduced later is certainly welcome, adding to the much-needed cheerful, party-like atmosphere.
CC101 continues as we make our one and only stop in the lands of the Commodore 64’s glorious SID chip, much beloved of electronic musicians worldwide. We’re treated to some atmospheric music from The Way of the Exploding Fist’s side-scrolling sequel, moving into the penultimate mixtape-exclusive remix and the home straight of the mix as a whole. Jammz’ relentless, energetic grime lyrics contrast strongly with the somewhat gentle backing track, and some strange sounds in the background make it clear that despite the party atmosphere we’ve just enjoyed, things aren’t over just yet.
The final stretch of the mix begins with the peculiar combination of Outkast’s B.O.B. paired with the Transylvania theme from Capcom’s classic DuckTales on NES. It works surprisingly well; again, there’s enough energy and rhythm in just the NES track to carry the a capella lyrics over the top without the need to add any additional components to the mix. Even when the more melodic vocal elements enter the mix, they work well with the backing, as DuckTales gradually slides into Elec Man’s theme from Mega Man to bring us home. The major key and overall pleasant tone of this theme makes it pretty clear our journey is coming to an end — although the repetition of “Bombs Over Baghdad” from the Outkast track bring that slightly unsettling feeling back… only for our fears to be realised with a distinctly 8-bit explosion and confirmation that we “blew it”.
Only one thing to do, then: reflect on what has just transpired. And what better way to do that than with Super Mario 64’s classic relaxing number Dire, Dire Docks? This final mixtape-exclusive track features the lyrics of ShiShi Yamazaki and ends the whole show on a distinctly downbeat tone — but it works. After the relentless energy and ebbs and flows in tension from what we’ve been through over the course of the last hour and a quarter, Yamazaki’s gentle lyrics and the soft synth of the N64 serve well to bring things to a close, encouraging us to just close our eyes, relax and drift off to sleep.
This was a really great experience to enjoy; I encourage everyone to sit down and listen to the whole thing in one go, without interruptions, because Dwyer and Teki Latex have done a great job in realising their ambition of delivering a “mixtape as side-scrolling adventure”.
There’s a real sense of narrative progression as the mix proceeds, taking us through a variety of very distinct “areas” of game music — and while our journey may appear to not end in “victory”, the downbeat conclusion works well to bring you down from the thrilling highs the mix as a whole provides.
Just what you need as you flop into a chair after your long journey, secure in the knowledge that you at least tried your best.
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