Axby Stories: How Videogames influenced my musical interests

It’s been awhile since the last Axby Story but recently I’ve been thinking about how videogames have had a large impact upon the music that I listen to today. Prior to the time when I began dedicating more of my time to videogames music was a non-issue to me, something I would even claim to hate.

This began to change after playing Pokémon Blue. The soundtrack may have only consisted of bleeps and bloops but it was the catchiest set of tunes I had ever heard, and successfully managed to dispel my distaste of music. Although it would still be another few years before I would listen to music outside of a videogame for its own sake.

By the end of 2005 I had been listening to “normal” music for around a year, but I was still very much trying to find niche. SSX On Tour along with PGR3 were the two games that helped to provide me a collection of indie-esque and electronic rock music that was unlike what the charts were dictating or what my friends were listening to at the time. SSX On Tour took a different direction to SSX 3 which was bright and filled with club friendly tracks, as the focus now was more grungy and rock n’ roll; therefore the music had to reflect this. Out went Basement Jaxx and Fatboy Slim and in their place were LCD Soundsystem, Bloc Party, and OK Go.

The music present in SSX 3 did more naturally lend itself to blending with the extreme tricks that could be performed, but the music in On Tour managed to really drive the presentational shift. Now the music wasn’t just there to help drive the action, although it still helped, but it made you feel like the cool snowboarder/freestyle skier that you were playing as.

Interestingly enough PGR3, which launched at the same time (except on the newly released next gen Xbox 360) shared many of the same artists that appeared in SSX On Tour. Along with more electronic acts who would not be out of place in SSX 3. Because LCD Soundsystem, Bloc Party, OK Go, and a few others appeared in both games I had more exposure to their great music. As a result I made an effort to listen to the rest of the music by these bands, most of whom were still on their first album. What followed was a year in which most of my new music purchases were either from artists that appeared in either game, or ones that were very similar. I even made a mix CD (this was pre-Spotify playlists) containing my favourite tracks from On Tour.

Videogames also helped to bring to my attention the importance of classical music. During the mid teens the guitar might be cool, but the violin? Not so much. The thing is I had been playing various versions of The Legend of Zelda for a few years, but with the release of Twilight Princess I found myself getting into the the surprising amount of lore and theory that surrounds the series. This meant spending time on the various fansites. As a result I came across a couple of Japan only orchestrated soundtracks for Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask (remember these excellent soundtracks were made using MIDI) and suddenly I realised how special the music could be that classical instruments could create.

Although I don’t think I am the only to have experienced this revelation. As last weekend Joe and I  went to the Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest concert in London, and we were greeted with a diverse audience, but considering this is an event for an orchestra and choir could be deemed surprisingly young. Of course this was a crowd of dedicated Zelda fans, but that didn’t mean that they did not take the experience seriously.

After the first piece the director of the musical tour stated that it was “OK” for the audience to make noise as this was not a “traditional” concert. However, as this was a British crowd this advice was mostly ignored with only the occasional “woop” when a favourite piece was suddenly transitioned to or a certain event took place on the projection above. The benefit of this was that people were able to enjoy the music they came to experience. But the director was right, the little amount of interaction from the audience did add to the excitement, changing this from a traditional concert. What’s more the audience had no problem in showing their admiration for the performers as the final pieces were followed by multiple standing ovations. This was a celebration of a series that all who were present deeply cared about, taking part in an experience that they might not have otherwise been present.

Today my musical tastes are the result of numerous influences, but I can easily trace a significant amount of them to videogames. Because of SSX and PGR I found out about LCD Soundsystem which is one of my all time favourite bands (despite admirably closing up after three excellent albums), and there are other artists from those games that I still listen to and have seen live in the past. In many ways it’s about exposure to new sounds. Videogames are often credited with exposing people to new visions, but the sounds traditionally have often been forgotten. Without videogames my music journey would have been much shorter, and for that I am thankful for videogames.

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