From the Cartridge to the Club: 10 Times Dance Music and Video Games Collided
Beyond 8-bit samples and pixelated aesthetics, video game sounds hold an undeniable influence on electronic dance music. The evolution of console hardware directly styled electronic music synthesis. While many once lamented technology's limitations, they now exist as relics for the glorious foundations of chiptune, glitch hop, and electronica.
Today's best game soundtracks feature vivid electronic scores reflecting modern production techniques, bringing full-circle the shared cultures of ravers and gamers. Musicians often create new identities to fulfill musical storylines, going as far as letting those characters lead their artistic journey and communicate with fans. In the digital era, the most cohesive projects resemble a valiant escape into soundwaves.
Here are ten dance music and video game crossover moments to be forever stored in our collective memory.
Le Castle Vania
Le Castle Vania's punchy electro house tracks are pure adrenaline. With a name straight out of an 80s adventure platformer, Le Castle Vania was bound to produce tracks for action-packed worlds. DJ/Producer Dylan Eiland got his start in Atlanta at 16, releasing dance remixes with an indie-rock slant. His best-known contributions were to the scores of the John Wick films, which eventually became a VR experience.
Le Castle Vania's dark, cinematic sounds led him to compose three high-energy tracks to the first-person shooter PAYDAY 2 in 2015. Le Castle Vania's signatures are electrifying leads, gritty bass, sweeping sirens, and flairs of disco. They found a place in the soundtrack to the VR game Firewall: Zero Hour. Le Castle Vania recently produced a synth wave/bass house banger for Solaris: Offworld Combat. His music is perfect for beating the final boss.
Porter Robinson's obsession with the worlds and sounds of video games is no secret. "The State" from 2011's Spitfire EP samples the Castle Clear Fanfare motif by Koji Kondo from 1985's Super Mario Bros. But he's come a long way when it comes to paying homage to the past. Following Worlds, Robinsoncreativity dried up as he struggled with depression. Exploring trance and techno through the digitally distorted lens of faded memories and internet culture inspired him to follow a new path.
When he reemerged as Virtual Self, Robinson hyper-focused on breakbeats, Eurodance, and happy hardcore, plus the rhythm games he grew up with. He weaves tracks from BeatMania IIDX, StepMania, and Dance Dance Revolution inro his productions as an ode to Y2K dance nostalgia. In Robinson's own words, Virtual Self is "ethereal cyber maximalism."
Leading up to its release, cryptic media and forums like virtualself.life teased the contents of the Virtual Self EP in 2016, and fans made it their mission to decrypt the lore. Virtual Self echoes chaotic euphoria with a strong visual identity akin to Phantasy Star Online and the anime Serial Experiments Lain. Complete with lasers and fog, the era that Virtual Self evoked was a plane of reality unto itself – a dark utopia fully conceptualized.
Team Sonic Racing
Japanese chiptune producer TORIENA and guitarist Jun Senoue of Crush 40 joined forces for the Team Sonic Racing soundtrack. It was the perfect arena to update the fast-paced rock tracks of Sonic the Hedgehog's casino-themed stages. TORIENA wanted to preserve Sonic's guitar-driven sound while Jun maximized the glitchy sprinkles. The results were bit-crushed melodies and surges of synthy blips.
American duo Hyper Potions also teamed with SEGA's composers for Team Sonic Racing, Sonic Mania, Sonic Mania Adventures, and the 2020 Sonic the Hedgehog live-action film. SEGA's embracing every generation of Sonic OSTs, from 2D side scroller bits to boundless 3D adventure hits, and giving something for every fan to love.
Chiptune heroes Anamanaguchi have been out there killing the game for the past decade. In 2010, the American bitpop band composed the music for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. They will tour the soundtrack for the first time in January 2022.
Anamanaguchi headlined two Coalchella music festivals held on Minecraft servers before releasing their most recent studio album [USA] in 2019. They've toured and recorded with beloved Vocaloid, rhythm game star, and virtual idol Hatsune Miku. Anamanaguchi even composed 35 tracks for Capsule Silence XXIV in 2017 – equal parts VR exploration game, marketing stunt, and a cool, elaborate way to showcase new music. They are championing the genre's use of game console hardware along with live instrumentation to bring these 8-bit sounds to life.
Zedd - The Legend of Zelda
When Zedd emerged in 2011, he caught the attention of game and festival fans alike with an iconic electro house remix of Legend of Zelda's classic overworld theme. Before becoming one of the decade's most prominent producers, he took on Koji Kondo's masterpiece. It throws us back to the 8-bit era of gaming and makes us equally nostalgic today for the early rise of 2010s EDM.
The original "Overworld" theme was one of five compositions Kondo made for the original 1986 game with the Super Nintendo's limited sound hardware. But Kondo never misses when it comes to epic melodies and progressions. Zedd took it to the next level, adding a massive electro climax, bassline, and wobbly dubstep breakdown. The drop is as explosive as Link's ventures to bomb some dodongos. Right on target.
Vaporwave pioneer Blank Banshee reconstructs familiar stages through countless, clever samples. The Canadian producer uses tons of Legend of Zelda and Super Mario samples, sometimes looping and distorting the original material beyond recognition. It achieves new meaning for the listener to interpret without relying on them realizing the source material right away. The results are far-out and don't rely on taking us back to the original context of the sound.
On "Eco Zones," Blank Banshee mashes up the Water Temple theme from Ocarina of Time and Donkey Kong Country's "Aquatic Ambiance" to generate his own water dungeon. Blank Banshee borrows from all corners of pop culture to make brightly contrasted vaportrap collages.
The soaring popularity of Rocket League has taken the latest iteration of the series into outer space, so naturally, it needs a cosmic soundtrack. The theme for season five is a rework of an upcoming single by none other than Grimes. "Player of Games" is a futuristic send-off before you floor it and score some goals.
Monstercat's draw has always been for its artists with an 8-bit edge, namely Pixel Terror, Au5, Hyper Potions, and Tokyo Machine. The label's supplied the playlists to this arcade-style car soccer tournament since 2017. Season five is out now, with additional new tracks like Water Resistant by Anamanaguchi feat. 8485.
Lavender Town VIP by G Jones
Haunting myths surrounding the Lavender Town theme have circulated on the internet for years. Since the release of Pokemon Red and Blue (Green in Japan), people have warned of the effects of listening to the original's maddening frequencies. Lavender Tower is where Pokémon are laid to rest, an unsettling place for aspiring trainers. Slow down the tune, add bass, distortion, and glitch – and G Jones captures the sinister vibe perfectly. He included the trappy bass VIP remix off his 2017 EP Visions. "Lavender Town VIP" carries the malevolent spirit over to G Jones' trippy black and white live shows.
She is the boss of chiptune. A prolific yet mysterious glitch art project by Lain Volta, she is fronted by femme avatars and voices. In early tracks, she used samples from Super Mario and the Game Boy startup tune. "Supersonic" remixes the central theme from Mega Man 3. Harvest's production notes read, "just a Game Boy and some vocals."
In the 2000s, she signed with Japanese entertainment company Pony Canyon, with a few releases through 8bitpeoples. With nearly 30 major projects under this alias, she sets the bar high in the realm of glitch, future bass, and electronica.
"In the she story universe, Luna-4 is a big futuristic city where fashion, music, and pop culture come together," a tweet explains. She programs pulses, wavetables, and noise while fusing guitar distortion, overdrive, and vocal processing. Volta incorporates live instruments and original vocals with intriguing rarity. Synths range from harsh and crunchy to airy and ambient. She embodies technopop with hooks reminiscent of Shibuya-kei, creating an intricate, industrial dreamscape.
Grimes' dystopian sounds were built for Cyberpunk 2077. She voiced Lizzy Wizzy and performed a DJ set as her character upon release of the game in 2020. Grimes contributed original music to the soundtrack, including "4ÆM" and "Delicate Weapon," which can be heard in-game through radio stations, Grand Theft Auto-style. As players roam Night City, they have hours of electronic-driven curation across Samizdat, Night FM, and Radio Vexelstrom. Having made recent powerful forays into video games, it makes sense that Grimes wants to step back and let her new girl group, NPC, do the talking.