You’ve read about the phenomenon here before. 32-piece orchestras performing the theme from Sonic The Hedgehog, live bands busting out covers of Legend Of Zelda tracks, crazy-ass japanese guys playing Super Mario tracks on the piano blindfolded… just like any good music, video game music is being listened to, played and reinterpreted. David Lloyd (aka djpretzel) is at the forefront of all this, as the mastermind behind huge video game music remix site, OCREMIX. The NL’s Darryn King hit him up – Donkey Konga-style – for some answers.When I was a kid I realised the soundtrack to Lemmings on the SNES was brilliant. I recorded my own soundtrack by holding a mic up to the TV speakers. Did you have a similar moment when you were growing up?
Yes, and I’ve got you beat by a whole generation of consoles! At six or seven I was recording the output of my Sega Master System to tape, and actually ‘DJing’ in between tracks. Miraculously, I turned out fairly normal, with a decent helping of social skills, a girlfriend, etc., but this would have given any parents concern, I think…
It was Alex Kidd, Space Harrier, Outrun, and the other early SMS arcade ports that initially got me into video game music – great stuff.
Do you have a particular favourite video game soundtrack?
It’s a toss up between Revenge of Shinobi for the Genesis, Super Castlevania IV for the SNES, and Chrono Trigger for the SNES. I think I can narrow it down to that list, but choosing between those three would simply be too painful.What makes a good video game soundtrack? Would you judge it against the same criteria you’d judge other types of music, like a film soundtrack?
A good game soundtrack to me is first and foremost memorable. However, that’s my bias: I’m a very melody-centric listener, and have a harder time getting into pure BGM [background music] that’s usually not as catchy. Either way, another vital characteristic is context – a good game soundtrack should be appropriate for the game’s genre and subject material, both in an overall sense and on a scene-by-scene, level-by-level basis. A Middle Eastern motif might be appropriate for a desert stage, for example, but if the character is in an underwater environment, it would need a bit of... explanation. I find there’s a relationship between these two criteria when it comes to the third criteria, production: the catchier and more melodic a game soundtrack is, the less it matters that the production isn’t modern, high-budget, Hollywood fare. I think this is why older game music tends to favour melody more, and why more modern works have more BGM or groove-oriented tracks: it’s easier to compose non-melodic pieces when you’ve got a wider variety of sonic textures at your disposal. This is of course a huge generalisation, but I think in many cases it’s accurate.
What about bad video game music – any particularly bad offenders?
No such thing! ...Obviously, this is wrong, and there’s tons of VGM out there that could be called ‘bad’, but bad VGM usually isn’t quite as vapid and offensively awful as bad pop music. I think any ‘bad’ music becomes immeasurably worse when it’s paired up with bad lyrics sung by bad vocalists, and most VGM is instrumental. Therefore, what you more often find is mediocre or forgettable stuff, nothing that can truly be labelled awful.Here in Australia, the fascination with video game music is small but growing rapidly. What’s the scene like in America?
Medium-sized... and growing rapidly! As games and gaming culture, and to some extent anime as well, have surfaced from sub-culture status to mainstream status (or close enough), game music and anime music have come along for the ride, to varying extents. At events like PAX you’ve got bands like The Minibosses, etc., and mainstream media have started picking up on the remix/arrangement scene as well. OverClocked ReMix has officially appeared at Otakon, the largest East Coast anime convention, and we’re finding that anime and gaming conventions are very receptive to what we’re all about... basically, everything’s mixing: gaming, anime, music, and other aspects of Internet culture are no longer separate, distinct entities, but ingredients in an overall culture that’s getting more and more pervasive. Exciting times; I expect one of the next lines you’ll see blurring is the distinction between fan communities and industry professionals. We’ve already had ReMix submissions from well-known game composers like The Fat Man and Jeremy Soule, and our own artists are making inroads into the industry while remaining active in the fan community. The Internet simultaneously encourages labels while at the same time blurring them, which is wonderful.
So how did your interest in video game music give birth to OCRemix?
It was a combination of my interest in music, my interest in gaming (particularly retrogaming and emulation), and my interesting in VGM as well... at the time, there was a mixing scene that focused only on Commodore 64 music, with an electronica emphasis, but I love arranging, and I wanted an outlet where I could hone my skills while encouraging others to branch out and do the same. From the very beginning, the intent was to encourage games from all platforms, arranged in as many musical genres as possible. That’s what made us different – that was the ‘big idea’ – and it’s turned out to be something many different people from all over the world can relate to, participate in, and enjoy. So, OCR was both my own way of trying to improve my personal skills, and also an ideological thrust to evangelise VGM through creative interpretation. I think I can say at this point that on both fronts, it’s been successful.For those of us who are still ignorant, what is OCRemix?
We’ve got a standard blurb now that describes it pretty well:
Founded in 1999, OverClocked ReMix is an organization dedicated to the appreciation, preservation, and interpretation of video game music. Its primary focus is www.ocremix.org, a website featuring hundreds of free fan arrangements, information on game music and composers, resources for aspiring artists, and a thriving community of video game music fans.
When did you realise that OCRemix was turning into something big?
I’m not sure there was any one specific moment that stands out as a milestone - growth has been gradual, and through persistence over the last seven years, we’ve greatly increased in size and visibility. I’d like to add that we’ve done so without compromising our standards or vision for what the site should be, which is often sacrificed with size and popularity. We remain not-for-profit and still emphasise quality arrangement and variety. When Tommy Tallarico called to discuss Video Games Live and how OCR could get involved, that was a sign of our visibility. When Hiroki Kikuta emailed me to say he liked my ReMix of his Secret of Mana title theme, that was pretty darn cool. When Jeremy Soule, a notable game composer, sent in a ReMix of Nobuo Uematsu’s Terra theme from Final Fantasy VI, that was definitely a milestone... there’s been a lot of events in our history that continually illustrated how far we’d come, but I can’t remember a specific one that started it all – basically, every other month, I keep being reminded of and amazed at the site’s growth and impact. Running it is a lot of work, but it’s entirely worth it.From the feedback you’ve received or your own observations, why do you think OCRemix has been so successful?
There’s plenty of reasons. Nostalgia is one of them – people like to relive an idealised past, which included older games and game music. But beyond that, there’s such a huge variety of game music out there, and music is so flexible and allows for so many creative directions, that you end up with instrumental and vocal pieces that encompass a huge spectrum of genres. Anyone who can appreciate the beauty of music itself and the infinite possibilities it allows for should be able to appreciate the breadth and depth of OverClocked ReMix in its entirety. Obviously, many listeners may hate techno and jazz, and may only want to listen to rock and heavy metal mixes of popular games from Square, Nintendo, and Capcom. That’s fine – we’ve got tons of mixers working in those genres, covering those games. But the listener who gets the most out of OCR is one who has an appreciation and respect for multiple genres, and for game composition in general, and can thus appreciate a 5/4 time signature jazz arrangement of an obscure Turbografx-16 game as well. We bend over backwards to remain non-partisan and equally encourage ReMixes in all genres and of all games, and I think this ideological purity, while difficult to maintain 100% of the time, is what gives the site broad appeal.So how does one start contributing their own ReMixes to OCRemix?
Read our Submission Standards & Instructions at ocremix.org/info/Submission_Standards_and_Instructions. We just revised them and they’re (hopefully) much clearer now. We’re working on translating them into Japanese, Spanish, French, and other languages as well, to facilitate more international participation. As far as getting started making music in general, our mixing page at ocremix.org/mixing/ has some great resources.What’s in store for OCRemix and for you personally?
I’m not entirely sure, but a fortune cookie last week said I’d realise my dreams through persistence and wisdom... that’s good enough for me.Visit and get involved in OCREMIX at ocremix.org