Diggin’ In The Carts Documentary Delves Deep Into Japanese Video Game Music History

Diggin' In The Carts title
The title screen for Red Bull Music Academy's Diggin' In The Carts.

To get everything just right on the score for his 2010 film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Director Edgar Wright needed a favor from Nintendo. Scott Pilgrim, and the six-volume graphic novel it’s based on, make countless references to classic video games like Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy and Sonic the Hedgehog. Even the film’s premise, about a 20-something bass player who must fight (and defeat) a league of his girlfriends’s seven evil exes, sounds like it came straight out of a game. Wright wanted to give all the folks who spent childhoods plastered to screens and resuscitating cartridges with their lungs an extreme case of the warm fuzzies. To do that, he famously penned a letter to Nintendo asking for permission to use music from The Legend of Zelda which he referred to as “nursery rhymes to a generation.” Wright might as well have been talking about video game music as a whole. Hearing music from Zelda in Scott Pilgrim was a gut punch right to the feels for the many who remember swinging magical, 8-bit swords and questing to rescue the princess. But our nostalgia bones rattle equally upon hearing the first pixelated pops of Super Mario Bros., the dulcet tones of Tetris and countless other melodies locked away in circuit boards and cartridges. Yet, how many video game music composers can you name? We might be able to recognize the music of The Legend of Zelda in only the first few notes, but the composers behind these “nursery rhymes to a generation” aren’t exactly household names. Diggin’ In The Carts, a documentary series from Red Bull Music Academy, seeks to unearth “the men and women who inspired an entire generation while arguably creating Japan’s biggest musical export to the world.” So says the narrator of the first episode, “The Rise of VGM.”

Diggin’ In the Carts episode one “The Rise of VGM.”

Carts alternates between speaking to the creators of some of video games’ most infectious melodies and the modern day musicians who draw inspiration from them. In the first episode alone, we meet the composer behind Namco’s early forays into continuously-played background music, Junko Ozaka (Gaplus, The Tower of Druaga), and the Reggae-inspired writer of some of Nintendo’s melodic masterpieces, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka (Balloon Fight, Metroid, Kid Icarus). Between the two composers we check in with New Zealand singer-songwriter Ladyhawke about her love for Pac-Man and hear how chiptune rockers Anamanaguchi think Hirokazu Tanaka is the guy “when it comes to incredible chip music.” New episodes of Diggin’ In the Cars are scheduled for weekly releases through October 9 with bonus interviews and supplemental material promised along the way. For those jonesing for an 8-bit fix, the first episode comes equipped with a smattering of NES melodies remixed by Anamanaguchi.


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