Various Artists Diggin' in the Carts Hyperdub
It’s difficult to overstate the influence early video game soundtracks have had on the electronic music we consume today. Countless producers owe a debt to late nights behind a Mega Drive, and titles like 1987’s Street Fighter and the Sonic The Hedgehog series, which began in 1991, have become common touchstones. And in fact, these games arrived at a time when the video game soundtrack was already a relatively mature artform with a rich history – one well documented in Red Bull Music Academy’s Diggin’ in the Carts series, co-directed by Tokyo-based DJ and film-maker Nick Dwyer.
In partnership with Hyperdub label head Kode9, Dwyer returns with this compilation of music from video games released between the 80s and mid 90s on popular platforms such as the 8-Bit Famicom (known elsewhere as the NES), and old home computers such as the PC-8801.
Konami Kukeiha Club’s Road To Agartha, composed for a 1993 game based on the Madara manga, features languid synths and melancholic chords which recall the dreamy hours spent wandering through an open-world RPG. Elsewhere are tracks that demonstrate an experimental agenda. In retrospect, Tadahiro Nitta’s unhinged Metal Area sounds like a chiptune rendering of a techno-industrial face-melter, while Kazuo Hanzawa’s Oblivious Past is a densely layered, multi-movement masterpiece that takes apparent inspiration from Vangelis.
By and large, the tracks compiled here do stand as compositions in their own right. Not all the game titles will be familiar to younger listeners, but many will recognise the emotions this music elicits. Some track titles make it explicitly clear whether you’re listening to a frenzied boss battle, or the gloomy afterglow of a game over screen – memories of which will resonate with many.