Videogames led me to music.
Do you remember when videogame music was all beeps and boops? I do. Some of those snippets of sound, in all their cacophonous monotony, to some degree defined my childhood. The main themes from The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, Super Mario Bros, Kid Icarus, and Castlevania all wormed their way deep into my brain in the mid 1980's where they've been circling since. Every so often (and by that I mean at least once a day, sometimes more) that long term memory will launch a snippet of one of them into my brain where it goes off like a firework. I'll find myself humming or whistling or tapping my feet - usually with a wry little grin on my face. These moments are such a common part of my everyday life that I rarely thought about where those snippets come from, or why my brain serves them up - at least until I thought about writing this.
It turns out I've been falling in love with music through games for most of my life. Those soundtracks are pieces of music I'll carry with me and love until the day I die. As time's gone by though and the technology has improved, it's become more and more common to find music in games provided by real actual musicians and bands. Soundtracks still exist (and I'll be putting a piece together on some of my favourites sometime next year), but in the last couple of generations I've found bands I've discovered in videogames starting to infiltrate my listening habits. The right song and the right moment could elevate both to something even more special than they could have been alone.
The very first instance of this that I can think of was the moment that 'Sweet Sixteen' by Feeder turned up in the original Gran Turismo game. It may have been the first time, or it may not - it's the first that I recall though and that means I recall it fondly. The race would spawn. The song would start, and just as it kicked in the lights would go green. You'd floor the accelerator in your TVR or Skyline (those were my go-to cars in that game) as the song kicked in. The game and the track fed into one another creating a moment that was almost perfect with each feeding the other into a cycle of high speed and inertia. I was already a fan of Feeder by then - but since that day there have been plenty of bands that I first discovered via a game. The list below isn't exhaustive, but most of my favourites are there. I ended up buying at least one album by every band on this list.
The game: Mass Effect
The song: M4 Part 2
The band: Faunts
I'd just had my mind blown by the end of the first Mass Effect game when this track played over the credits. Now, I have a general rule - when I reach the end of a game's campaign and the credits roll, I will let them roll to the end. I will make sure that the name of every single person who worked on it gets to beam out of my TV. It just feels like a fair way of saying 'thank you' to all the people who slaved away getting a massively complex piece of software into my hands. Those end credits to Mass Effect are the most memorable of any game I've ever finished. This song just fit the vibe of the game flawlessly, and those guitars are amazing.
I fell in love with this track, and it led me to fall in love with the band. Their final album was called Feel.Love.Thinking.Of - and it was a beautiful little slice of electro-pop perfection. That, and the M4 EP that this track was lifted from are both ones that I still listen to regularly.
The game: Forza Horizon 3
The song: Ablaze
The band: School of Seven Bells (SVIIB)
I was a big fan of what was called 'shoe-gaze' here in the UK in the 90's. It was a sort of grungy guitar driven sound, but often had electronica mixed in. Introspective lyrics, often female vocals, and a poppy kind of hook to it. The band I loved the most that ticked all of these boxes was Curve - another one whose records I still listen to often (check out "Cuckoo" or "Doppelganger" for their best). I digress though. The reason I liked this song was because it had a similar energy and sound to the ones on those records. It cropped up in Forza Horizon 3 and stood out to me by virtue of having a curiously downbeat vibe in comparison to a lot of the other songs featured in that game. I fell in love the moment the vocals kicked in. It was lifted from their final album ("SVIIB"), which surrounds it with a load of other tracks that are just as good as this one. They're well worth a listen.
The game: Homefront
The song: One
The band: Periphery
You're correct, the linked video is NOT for the track I've mentioned above. There are reasons for that. The track of theirs featured on Homefront was a Metallica cover - one that was cool enough to catch my attention in an ocean of Metallica covers. As soon as I started digging into their back catalog though, I found a whole ton of their own tracks that were frankly far more interesting that the one that led me to discover them. Periphery have gone on to become, if not my absolute favourite band, then something close to it. I've bought all of their records, and I'd have seen them live if COVID-19 hadn't stepped in and scuppered my plans. They're a band filled with virtuosos, fronted by a singer who can do things with his voice that, frankly, shouldn't be possible for a human being. They're as heavy as fuck at times, and are really into unusual time signatures and polyrhythms. Are they 'djent?' Are they 'technical metal?' Are they 'progressive metal?' I'm not sure. As far as I'm concerned, they're Periphery and they absolutely kick ass. If you want to hear some music that's challenging and rewarding in equal measure, these are the guys to try out. Start with "Periphery 3: Select Difficulty" and roll backwards and forwards from there.
The game: DmC (Devil May Cry)
The song: Never Surrender
The band: Combichrist
So, in the 90's I wasn't just listening to grunge and shoegaze. I became quite the fan of industrial music too. Yeah, I liked Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson - but I listened to a lot of the less common ones too. Ministry. My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Machines of Loving Grace. All of these groups came to mind when I first fired up DmC (Devil May Cry) and heard Combichrist's soundtrack to the game. It's a like dark-metal-techno that tears your head and then hurls it off a cliff. The synths pound, the guitars wail and the singer's like a man possessed. It's angrier than a lot of the music on this list, but it did two things for me - firstly it was the perfect background sound in a game that I really enjoyed (yes, I said it - I really enjoyed DmC and if you didn't, well... nevermind. Your loss.) and secondly it took me back to that teenage angst. Those days of wandering around a little village in the middle of England with long hair, a leather jacket, lots of anger, and nowhere to put it. There's a certain impotence in this record's rage - and it's an impotence I could relate to. You're kind of left powerless in the face of this record's assault - and every so often I like to listen to records that feel like they want to reach out and strangle me.
The game: No Man's Sky
The song: Debutante
The band: 65daysofstatic
I think when lots of people saw the initial announcement trailer for No Man's Sky back in 2014, they were left thinking "when is that game coming out?" All I could ask myself is "who is that band and where do I find more of their stuff, because that's AWESOME." Fortunately a quick Google revealed an intriguing name: 65daysofstatic. Spotify did the rest.
65daysofstatic sound like no other band mentioned on this list - mostly because they sound like no other band on the face of the Earth. They went on to make the entire soundtrack to No Man's Sky - some of it was handcrafted, and the rest was generated by a whole bunch of algorithms that they wrote that would produce music procedurally as the game went along. It was a massive experiment - and one that appeared to be pretty successful based on my time with the game. I've spent way more time listening to their records though. The track on the trailer above - "Debutante" - was lifted from their "We Were Exploding Anyway" album. On that album, it segues seamlessly into the track that follows it. That track is called "Tiger Girl" and I honestly believe that the crescendo of that track is the sound of a universe being created. To this day, I've never heard anything else that comes close to making me feel what that track does.
The game: Child of Eden
The song: Heavenly Star
The band: Genki Rockets
Genki Rockets are an odd one. Dreamed up by a pair of producers rather than being an actual 'band' as such, they're by far the poppiest group on this list - with their space-dance sound being the easiest to listen to of the lot. The track above was used in several games toward the end of the last decade - but the one it stands out to me from was Child of Eden. Remember that? You could play it with a pad on the Xbox 360, or you could use Kinect - and it was pretty much unique among games of that era in that Kinect was pretty much the optimal way to play it.
They make this list because they fascinated me. I'm not much of a fan of dance music - especially dance music as openly cheerful and upbeat as this is - and yet it managed to get into my head and under my skin. Several of their tracks now sit in Spotify playlists that I listen to regularly, and each time Heavenly Star hits its chorus is a bittersweet moment - as Child of Eden is a game I can't play with Kinect anymore after I got rid of my Xbox 360. Playing it with a pad via backward compatibility is OK... but it's not quite the same.
There you have it. Six bands I discovered and fell in love with that I probably wouldn't have ever come across were it not for videogames. Do you have a list of your own? Hit me up on Twitter and tell me about it.