Wednesday 2 February 2022

Press Start to begin

I've talked a little in recent posts about that distinct PS1 era sound - it's a very 'of-the-time' collection of styles: Techno, Drum & Bass and the occasional dash of Trip Hop as well. It's an era that's become a bit of a meme (such is my luck with certain genres I enjoy), and I'm more than willing to admit a big part of my love for the style is tinged by nostalgia. It's unavoidable really, you can trace a line directly from my exposure to these sounds as a young'un and my current favourites of the respective genres. Similarly, the inherent humour is unavoidable too, as is the case with looking back on any old tech. If you've seen any media from around the time and you'll see it on full show - the late 90's is a time of ATTITUDE! Polygons! CD Audio! There's even a little nod to it in the video I'll be talking about today with the 'mind boggling effects' panel in the lower left. It's very easy to make fun of (and fun too!), but as with Eurobeat, I encourage people to look a little deeper as there are some real gems in there, some from unlikely sources.

Which leads me to the subject of today's post - during a recent YT jaunt I found the channel of a one Sean Seanson, a charming Irishman with a similar love for the little grey box. The videos are a great watch on the games of the era, but the real highlight are the Club Playstation mixtapes he's put together. Billed in the description as 'a mix of tracks that carry that iconic PS1 energy and sound.', as a fellow amateur mixtape maker I was interested to say the least. Volume 1 caught my eye straight away with the art of Major Kusanagi front and center, but having a look over the tracklist I knew I was in good company. There is some bias there some of my favourite OSTs make an appearance (Ridge Racer Type 4 and Ghost In The Shell to name a couple) but there are also some deeper cuts as well, let's get stuck in.

Opening with the Demo One theme was an amazing choice, if there was one sound that summarised that 'PS1 Energy' to someone who'd never heard it before, I think it would be that. I have a real love for this kind of ephemera, I used to follow the composer of a bunch of Windows 95 music on soundcloud and loved all that too, I just wish I had a name to put to this one so I could follow up on their other works. The transition into Eddy's theme is maybe little clunky (but then again, who am I to complain, some of my attempts at mixes have been clangers!) but it soon settles into a groove, if it were me I would have leaned real hard into the techno front, but I appreciate the variety. Beyond just original compositions though, there is an absolute bevy of great licenced tunes from the era too - with TMF's High being the first of the bunch - an exclusive mix of 5 Miles High for the first Gran Turismo that never appeared anywhere else, emblematic of the PS1 D&B sound.

Some other choice bits are scattered throughout the tracklist: Hardfloor's Spook & Spell from the PS1 Ghost In The Shell game is a great cut, there's two versions of it on the soundtrack album - the one featured in this mix is the 'Fast' one. Sasha (of Xpander fame) makes an appearance with one of many of the constructor themes from Wipeout3, a series that was already famous for its soundtrack by that point anyway - the first game was basically a who's who of big names in the late 90's dance world: Daft Punk, Orbital, Underworld, Leftfield and The Prodigy and more. Moving Shadow also crop up in the mix, with one of their few non-GTA contributions in the Rollcage: Stage II Soundtrack. It goes real hard in places and Sean has picked one of the more aggressive tunes of the bunch in Technical Itch's Deadline - a late release in the PS1's life, it's a marked change from the typical PS1 D&B mentioned above but that's not a complaint, the companion album released on Moving Shadow for the game is an absolute belter, featuring one CD of the tracks themselves and a bonus second disk with a mixed version.

It's the ending trio of the mixtape that might be my favourites of the whole mix though - not only a great encapsulation of the spirit of the mix as a whole, but also fantastic tunes in their own right from their respective soundtracks. Montage from Ace Combat 3 is up first, the game itself has some beautifully 90's hi-tech vibes anyway with it's UI designs, and the soundtrack does wonders to compliment that. A little on the chill-er side by comparison, doubly so when separated from the dogfights of the game itself! Ridge Racer Type 4 next, an iconic soundtrack with many a track that could easily slide into this mix. The whole OST is very slickly produced, flowing between House, Drum & Bass, Acid Jazz and hints of Techno effortlessly. This is one of the soundtracks I had in mind when writing this post, I'd hate to see someone write it off just because it's a video game soundtrack - the R4 soundtrack is legitimately great dance music in its own right and the Namco Sound Team totally nailed it.

For the final entry in the mix, another shining example of the era, though one that is perhaps a little bit more video game-y than the R4 OST but one that was very formative for myself. I've talked about Time Station and Soichi Terada's work as a whole a lot over the years, I even did an overview of his newest album a few weeks ago. I've always had a love for the track, and as I said many posts ago you can draw a straight line between the spacey breaks of this one and my current tastes. The in game one is slightly different from the one Terada would release under the delightfully punny 'Originape Soundtracks' name, likely technical limitations in order to fit it on the disc. I'm torn on which is my favourite, but the in game one is lovely and is probably my personal go-to example when trying to define that distinct PS1 style, so a fitting end to the mix.

This got a little longer than I intended! I imagined it as a little holdover post until I can do a big one this weekend with the return of Bandcamp Fridays but as it turns out, I can still go on at length about soundtracks. Be sure to check out the rest of Sean's channel if you'd like more deep dives into the world of PS1 - and if you liked this mix he also has a Volume 2 that you can check out, that opens with Chris Cunningham's infamously unsettling Mental Wealth advert and has a similar cross section of PS1 goodness.

I'll be back come this weekend with my Bandcamp scoops but until then, as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


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