LJ finally allowing me to write, format (sort of - sorry about the font) and edits posts, over a week later than intended...
With the previous post looking at the original soundtracks of video games through the years, this one is aimed at the other side of the coin: alternative versions of original tracks such as techno remixes, orchestral performances, inspired-by albums and so on.
ReMixes, ReArrangements and ChipTunes; oh my!
I first came across remixed music during the latter part of the SNES heydays. It was early stuff - the SPC soundfiles were ripped to Midi tracks and then rearranged, distributed by BBS. They were small files by today's standards but I remember DLing them on our shiny new expensive home PC with 56.6k modem sometime in 1996 and wishing they'd hurry up. I was completely taken by the idea of redoing some of my favourite game tunes.
By this point some game producers were making their own rearrangements and selling them worldwide. F.F. Mix is one of the early ones I'd acquired on import and one of the very few physical CDs in a case I still own.
WinMX took over as being my main source of music remixes when the BBSes closed or were abandoned, and this continued for some time.
Then I stumbled upon Overclocked Remix, way back in its early days. I was hooked: tons and tons of remixes of all different kinds for a huge variety of games, each one personally vetted by a panel. The brainchild of a part-time music remixer DJPretzel, the idea behind the site was as a spin-off from a game emulation community comic that went by the name of Overclocked. It was to create a community around game music and the rearrangements thereof focused on forum boards where people could post work-in-progress MP3s and discuss concerns and ideas. Once finished the tracks would be submitted and reviewed. If good enough, they'd be 'released' by the site and anyone could download it for free. As the WinMX scene died away, I moved more and more to the source of many of the tracks I'd found through it.
I was a lurker more than a participant but I did debate and discuss now and then. I lacked the sort of hardware needed to make any of my own (yes even a demo version of Fruity Loops was beyond my old computer) but I was taken by the masterful abilities of the some of the remixers. Big names and personal favourites include The Wingless, Big Giant Circles, Protricity, Dr Fruitcake, Star Salzman and so on. Remixers have come and gone, and the site too has waxed and waned. At one point they were doing regular streamed radio shows with a jukebox when no one was presenting live; this was the OCR Radio that grew from Larry "Liontamer" Oji's Atlanta-based broadcast shows and became known as Ormgas: including interviews with remixers, game music composers, broadcasts from events and suchlike. It was a great way to listen to tracks that I would not ordinarily have been interested in based on the game/track/review too. I can personally thank OCR Radio for keeping me sane through a couple of particularly mind-numbing work contracts. But all good things must come to an end and the radio stream was sadly no exception. Now it operates as a jukebox with occasinoal playlist updates from the newer submissions.
Still, the site is doing well having far eclipsed the original emulation community it grew out of. It has its own merchandising and runs regular music-based events such as the 'album' events where one game is chosen and remixers pick a track or two to do up in their own way.
It's an interesting observation that more OC remixes are being made of older games - 16-bit and earlier - than newer ones. Is it because of nostalgia? That simpler, cleaner tunes are easier to bend and chop and change? There's some fabulous stuff based on newer games out there (see the Halo: Combat Evolved track Insurrection for example) but there seems to be console generations' worth of time lag in terms of game popularity for remixing. The games with the highest remix counts are retro: in the top 10 most remixed games, 6 of them are SNES games, one is on the Megadrive, one is on the NES and two are on the PS1. The number one is Chrono Trigger, in news that will surprise no one who's ever come across game music remixes, closely followed by Final Fantasy VII and VI. By comparison the fourth most popular game (Mega Man 2) has half the number as Chrono Trigger. Says a lot about the talents of Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu et al in creating tunes people want to engage with (not to mention the personal interests and biases of the OCremix community, of course).
Other sites haven't been as lucky. In the early 2ks, OCremix had a rival site known as VGmix. The origins were debated but the consensus seemed to suggest it was a break-away site founded by one remixer that went by the nick of Virt who didn't like the level of control DJPretzel had over OCremix, including the idea that tracks would be vetted for quality. If OCremix was the regulated big city, VGmix was the Wild West frontier town where anything went. This being the internet, there were flamewars and geek epeening all round, and of course a lot of remix competition. The throughput of MP3s on VGmix was much, much higher, with anyone being allowed to upload whatever they liked and I'd end up spending ages trying to sift the finished products from half a dozen unfinished builds, not to mention atrocious tracks and a lot of random non-game music rubbish uploaded as a trolling attempt or in genuine error.
Whilst it's fair to say OCremix tracks were of a better standard in general, I found a fair few absolute diamonds through VGmix that for some reason were never submitted to OCremix. (Gamer politics? Perish the thought!) Eventually the site ended in a series of firestorms and hacks, with attempts to resurrect it being mostly unsuccessful beyond keeping it around for posterity reasons, and much of the earlier MP3 archives were lost *. Regardless, VGmix as a concept is still alive and kicking as the IP of Virt who has become an industry figure and ultimately even made peace with OCremix.
ReMix:ThaSauce is a site that goes back to the roots of OCremix by way of the VGmix proposal that what defines a 'good' song is less about technical perfection and more about feel which is an individual and subjective thing. This site publishes many of the rejected tracks from OCremix.
OC remix has even sprouted a parody music site: Overlooked Remix. The idea behind it is one of parody remixes poking fun at just about every aspect of games and gamers the remixers can find. Some of it is very cleverly done and well made, others are... best described as trolling your ears.
Other remix-related sites include Kwed which focuses on C64 games and Amiga Remix which doesn't take an expert to decipher.
Got a site for me that I've missed? Let me know in the comments!
Genres of remixes come in two sorts of variety. One is the regular classification of a track by its style, such as an orchestral rearrangement, a techno remix or a metalthrashskapunkdancecore with vocals. For a while I attempted to classify the tracks I heard along those lines but I quickly realised how futile this would be because of the sheer diversity found in even a single compilation track. As with all other varieties of music, it can be argued 'til the cows come home. The other way genre can be presented is how the music is made. Is it a literal philharmonic performance? Was it knocked out in 5 minutes on a Casio keyboard? Was it created using emulated original sound chip hardware? The last example in particular is a popular method by which remixes are made and those tracks are known as chiptunes. These go beyond a musical equivalent of retrogaming by taking newer tracks and reverse-engineering them to fit into old school consoles such as the NES or the C64. Keeping them recognisable and catchy is key, and there's some amazingly well done examples out there.
As a note the term 'chiptune' is sometimes also used to refer to the original sound file from a game, such as a .spc ripped from a SNES cartridge.
And of course, there's the commercial remixes. Dr. Spin's Tetris anyone? The term Nintendocore gets bandied about now and then too. Remixing can sometimes make it BIG...
Remixes of video game music can be just as diverse, if not moreso, than the originals and it's a big fan-made business not done for the profit but for the hell of it. There's a lot out there if you know where to look and, conveniently, there’s a couple of big websites with large archives.
* I've got a Gig worth of tracks from VGmix that never appeared elsewhere (that I could find). Naturally I won’t be the only one but to this day I haven't found any sort of rebuilt archive for that place, so I back up my hoard carefully to ensure a HDD failure never takes away that which I cannot replace.