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From Buttons to Beats

Will Warren | 15 Mar 2013 20:00
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British comedian Marcus Brigstock once quipped, "If Pac-Man had affected us as kids; we'd all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music." As insightful as Brigstock was, I doubt anyone would have imagined that the most recent iteration of the series (Pac-Man Championship Edition DX) would have contained such a dance floor ready sound track of soulful tech-house remixes as it did.

The hedonistic world of clubbing and the geeky world of videogames may seem at first glance to be two diametrically opposed sources of entertainment, but videogames and club culture have always had a close relationship with one another. There are a substantial number of games that use electronic dance music as an integral part of their mechanics; the experience of the vibrant nightlife can now just as easily be felt with controller in hand in front of your television. This relationship works two ways though. Big DJ's from all the spectrums of electronic music reference and sample videogames within their music. Mainstream artists such as Deadmau5 and Skrillex will drop glitched up versions of the Tetris theme into their performances. More experimental artists such as the critically acclaimed Burial have included Metal Gear Solid codec conversations as ethereal vocal samples to match his beautifully cloudy 2-step.

The hedonistic world of clubbing and the geeky world of videogames may seem at first glance to be two diametrically opposed sources of entertainment, but videogames and club culture have always had a close relationship with one another.

Dance music and videogames both came into maturity around about the same time. Dance music and club culture had firmly entered the mainstream by the mid 90's yet still paradoxically maintained an underground sub culture which championed location based hyper specific music scenes. At around the same time the launch of the original Sony PlayStation marked a new era for console videogames in the west. Sony recognised that although some mature games did exist, videogames were still being marketed as virtual toys for children. Now they were using video artists such as Chris Cunningham (known for his work with several electronic musicians like Bjork and Aphex Twin) to produce advertisements showing off what the PlayStation was capable of. These adverts were trendy and compelling. Their abstraction wasn't a mere coincidence. They were, for lack of a better word, "cool" and appealed directly to the clubbers of the 90's because they flirted with the same bizarre imagery and themes of futurism that flourished in the underground clubs. They treated the advertisements like the electronica music videos produced by very same people involved in the production of the advertising.

Games such as Wipeout would play to Sony's new mature and edgy audience by combining fast-paced futuristic racing with popular "ravey" electronica artists of the time. The first Wipeout title featured music from popular underground electronic artists of the time including Leftfield, Chemical Brothers and Orbital. Partiers would hike back to post club after parties and carry on the experience with the neon lights and repetitive rhythms of Wipeout. This was the first time that dance music had been recognised directly by the games industry. A soundtrack was even released with other electronica acts that weren't actually featured in the game. It's spectacular to look back at the Wipeout series' collection of soundtracks through the years with the power of hindsight. The series predicted the rise of many growing genres and gave a platform to underground artists who would go on to mainstream success and critical appeal such as The Prodigy. It's a bittersweet experience for those of us who grew up with the series to see it progress from acid house to breaks and later turn to electro house and finally onto dubstep, because the innovation-obsessed musicians in dance music prefer to progress their sound rather than preserve it. In a way that other series simply can't, the Wipeout games are necessarily tied to whichever period of dance music they were released in. They used the most cutting edge dance music of the time and the music was central to the aesthetic of the game. The games are incredibly nostalgic and, for me at least, the songs conjure up memories of clubs long since closed down just as the games as a whole conjure up memories of forgotten consoles. Replaying the earlier games while being familiar with dance music's many overwhelming micro-genres provides not only an accurate retelling of videogame history but a timeline of the progression of dance music and culture also.

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