After the completion of Season 3 of Diggin In The Carts, we sat down with Nick Dwyer to discuss the past, present, and future of video game music and more!
What do TOKiMONSTA, deadmau5, Porter Robinson and many other electronic music artists have in common? They were all influenced by video game music and/or chiptunes! When you examine the modern world, you can see the impact that video games and their music have had, particularly in its intersection with electronic music. Not only does VGM have its own section in record shops, but there are festivals such as MAGFest dedicated specifically to the music found in games! With that in mind, if you’re looking for a video game music crate digger extraordinaire then look no further than Nick Dwyer!
Dwyer has been a radio host, clubber, promotor, DJ, and more, all of which has lent to his ability to pick out some of the best tracks in the electronic arena, new and old, from around the world. 2004 was a game-changing year for Dwyer. It was then that he wrote and directed the Diggin In The Carts series which took a unique look at the impact of Japanese video game music. The series went on to be one of the most important and influential visual compendiums that dug into the importance and impact of video game music.
But Nick Dwyer and Red Bull Music Academy did not stop there! DITC grew to epic proportions as it spawned a radio show on Red Bull Radio where Dwyer has just completed season three, a compilation album with Hyperdub, and an epic worldwide tour. To start the year off right, we had a chance to sit down with Nick Dwyer as he shared how video game music impacted him, his journey through electronic music, and more!
Stream Every Episode of Diggin In The Carts via Soundcloud:
Congratulations on wrapping up your third season of Diggin in the Carts! What goes into creating an in-depth radio show and how do you come up with the themes of each season?
Thanks so much and thanks for taking the time to listen, really appreciate anyone who manages to, in the great big ocean of content there is out there, put aside time for this series. In terms of what goes into it, there’s a lot that goes into each season. Possibly too much! Each new season focuses on a new era of video game music and in the case of this past season, video game music from outside of Japan. It takes me around two to three months just to listen through everything. We’re talking 100s of thousands of tracks and that really can be grueling.
Full disclosure, there is A LOT of video game music I can’t stand, but like any genre of music, it’s a process of sifting through the dirt to find nuggets of gold. Sometimes though you can have days, even weeks, where you don’t find anything that will make it onto the show. That just makes it all the more exciting though when you do hit something killer.
In addition to that, there’s the process of programming, research, tracking down interviewees, chasing up interviewees, interviews, editing and then a lot of work in the studio building each show with my engineer Jeffrey out in his studio in the Japanese countryside. All up from starting the research process to handing it in its around six months of the year that I’m working on a new season.
Speaking of seasons and themes, the third season was very different from the prior two as save for the final episode, each show focused on music outside of Japan. What was the driving force of expanding to featuring music from around the globe?
I knew at some point we would finally start delving into music from outside of Japan, there was just too much to get through first! The reality is, it takes me so long to listen through everything and I really don’t want to start working on a show until I’ve listened through everything that was released during that era. So keeping things limited each new season means I can actually manage to get through everything. I grew up in New Zealand and the first system in our household was a Commodore 64. The soundtracks on that system were my introduction to electronic music period. So yeah, it was great to get my head deep in that again. Still to this day so many of those soundtracks are so so heavyweight.
There often seems to be a bit of resistance to looking at video game music as a serious part of the electronic music spectrum especially specifically as electronic dance music. Do you think that has been changing over the years?
I think in the past yes, for sure. But in recent times the perception has changed a lot!
If you had to extol the virtues of video game music to a total newcomer, what would you tell them and what soundtrack would you recommend they start off with?
You know, I’ve had to do just those on a number of occasions over the past few years and each time I sent them a link to the Diggin’ In The Carts documentary series that myself and Tu Neill created a few years back for RBMA and which you can watch on RedBullMusicAcademy.com. I find once people understand that there were these incredible men and women behind it, who were inspired by a whole range of musical influences and trying to pioneer this genre on very primitive equipment they are all super impressed and are open to finding out more about it.
In terms of one soundtrack. That’s a difficult one as it’s very subjective. Also, I find that it’s more track based than soundtrack based. But for the sake of keeping it simple, I would say if they are a fan of techno I would suggest Manabu Namiki’s incredible Detroit influenced Battle Garrega soundtrack. If they are a fan of deeper Japanese cuts I would recommend a soundtrack called Dew Prism and if they are a fan of 8-bit darkness then go check Neil Brennan’s Fist II: The Legend Continues.
What specifically is it that you love about video game music versus other genres or styles of music?
It’s not that I prefer video game music to other styles of music, video game music is just another genre for me to get stuck into, sort through and then deliver my findings (of what I think is worth their ears) to an audience. Ever since I was very young I’ve been all consumed by the discovery of new music. I started as a radio DJ in New Zealand when I was 14 and shortly after became a TV presenter on New Zealand’s version of MTV presenting new music.
In my 20s I was hosting a TV series about music culture around the world for the National Geographic channel. In all of that, the common thread was the pursuit of new music and introducing that to an audience. For me, having my head these past few years in Japanese video game music is no different from 10 years back when my head was deep in Calypso and Soca or 20 years back when it was deep into jungle. Video game music has just provided me with an almost insurmountable collection of music in which I found a challenge to accept.
You’ve previously stated that “The Last Ninja” soundtrack composed by Ben Danglish was a big inspiration for you. You recently had the opportunity to interview the late Danglish in season three before he passed away this October. How was it to speak with someone who had a huge influence over the trajectory of your life and what about that particular soundtrack stood out to you?
It was an absolute honour. He was so generous with his time, so animated and incredibly insightful. When I was 7 years old it was this soundtrack, in particular, that was what kickstarted a deep passion for electronic music. It was just like nothing else I had heard at the time and compared with other soundtracks on the Commodore 64 it has this other quality to it that separated it from the rest. Melodically it was so rich and I think that the Japanese influence on there really appealed to me. The game itself was outstanding and I think it was the combination of the graphics and gameplay married with this era-defining soundtrack which made for some seriously memorable sessions for the 7-year-old me.
You often reference many soundtracks of the past or near past. Which modern video game soundtracks, chiptune or otherwise, do you enjoy presently?
To be honest, I stopped playing games when I was in my early 20s so I really haven’t kept up. The only soundtracks I know is what I have learned through researching for the series. Things that I have found out about recently thought that I like a lot is the work of Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace. Fez and Hyper Light Drifter, in particular, are incredible.
In your Diggin in the Carts video series you highlighted some games that have a more industrial, house, jungle, breaks, and techno feel, specifically the Streets of Rage series. We’re curious what types of electronic music, outside of VGM, do you enjoy?
My introduction to electronic music came around 1995 proper. I was working at a radio station in New Zealand and I got opened up to jungle and it changed my life. I started going to raves and clubs and became all consumed by it. I started DJ, promoting parties and was the buyer at a very legendary record store in New Zealand for drum ’n’ bass. Around ’97 and ’98 I started getting into house and techno and in particular Detroit techno and would regularly check DJs like Stacey Pullen, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson.
In 2003 I went to South Africa for the first time and got exposed to Kwaito and from then on started exploring contemporary club styles from around the world, I guess what went on to be called tropical bass. This culture is a big part of my life and I’m out most weekends checking out DJs somewhere in the world, so yeah, I guess that might explain a bit why I’ve gravitated towards particular sounds and styles within video game music.
I loved that your LA show featured modern artists who played some mashups and mixes of video game music past and present. It was also amazing to see Streets of Rage’s Yuko Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima perform live. What has been your experience putting together such an extensive worldwide tour and how do you select the local talent for each show?
It’s been amazing! Really had been one of life’s highlights seeing it all come together. The thing is it just keeps getting better and better with each performance and the most recent show we performed as part of Club To Club in Turin and that was seriously magic. Yuzo and Motohiro’s performance is so tight and so badass now, they really do seem like they’ve been doing this for years. Hopefully, it will continue!
It is unique to see a video game related music tour of the magnitude that is not orchestral in nature. With that in mind, can fans look forward to another run of Diggin in the Carts tour?
Yes, that was always the idea. To create a live event where the music as it was heard in the game was celebrated rather than orchestral versions. Yes, I think you can definitely expect to see and hear more sometime soon.
Finally, what can your fans look forward to in 2019?
I’m just started to research the next idea/iteration of Diggin’ In The Carts and all I can say is that it’s going to be nuts. Proper nuts. I can’t wait to get this going and get it out into the world.