Diggin’ in the Carts host Nick Dwyer once again comes back to Japan, exploring the endlessly creative homegrown electronic music that grew out of the country’s video games. But where the Red Bull Radio program’s first session explored the classic sounds of 8- and 16-bit games, Season 2 dives into fresh sounds that came with advances in technology as the ‘90s rolled along.
With 32- and 64-bit games coming out on systems like the Sony PlayStation, the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64, video game soundtracks could vastly expand their sound palettes, bringing about the whole new aesthetic horizon and allowing composers to be in dialogue with contemporary music like never before. This past season, Diggin’ in the Carts featured Japanese composers such as Soichi Terada (Ape Escape), Osamu Sato (LSD), Motohiro Kawashima (Streets of Rage 3) and Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II). It also featured singles from rarely heard soundtracks, many of which never made it outside of Japan, exploring how video game music has influenced internationally acclaimed artists like Just Blaze, Teki Latex, and Fatima Al Qadiri.
Nick Dwyer recently sat down with us here at RESPECT. to discuss some of the most influential composers that he has had the opportunity to interview. In addition, he shares with us when season 3 will make its debut and content he will be featuring.
RESPECT.: Out of all the composers that you have had the opportunity to meet throughout the Diggin’ in the Carts series, which ones have you learned the most from as far as sound preparation?
I have learned something incredible from each and every one because each composer has their unique approach. There are some that have amazing backstories and if you go back into the Diggin’ in the Carts documentary video series, you have legends like Nobuo Uematsu, who composed all of the Final Fantasy music. He was such terrific individual and responsible for some of the most iconic music in video game history. You also have Yuzo Koshiro, whose ground-breaking work inspired a whole generation of children around the world to get into dance music. Another gentleman by the name of Koichi Sugiyama is kind of the foundation of the whole project. These individuals, among so many more, are the unsung heroes of the scene, and many are still collaborating on music projects to this day. Only in the last five years have they realized the impact of their work elsewhere. We were able to include some of these individuals in this second season of Diggin’ in the Carts on Red Bull Radio and I am very excited about that.
RESPECT.: What intrigued you about the video game music content and role-playing games like the Final Fantasy Series?
I grew up in New Zealand and when I was around six years old, we got a computer called a Commodore 64, and that was my introduction to music in video games. I used to record all the tracks from the games on my brother’s boombox and listen back to them over and over. Then, when I was about 10, my older brother went to Japan and sent a Super Famicon back to me in New Zealand. He would send back these role-playing games, but I couldn’t understand a word, so I bought a Japanese dictionary to help me understand the game menus and how I could navigate through the games, but the music always stayed with me.
All of the Square and Enix games came out with just great, cinematic soundtracks, and they stood out. When the cd era came, video game music started to head in the direction of rock, and jazz and lost so much of what made it stand out from regular music during the chip era. There was a real sweet spot during the PlayStation 1 era where games had this midi orchestral sound that was very unique to Japanese role-playing games, like PlayStation’s Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, for example.
RESPECT.: Can you share with us some of the singles that the composers have created that you enjoyed?
Oh man, everything on this season of Diggin’ in the Carts to start. You know, I listened to a lot of music for the documentary series, but during the radio series, I looked into the entire history. I probably listened to 300,000 or more tracks, so this second season is packed with some of the best music I could find.
RESPECT.: Can you tell us how this partnership with Red Bull Radio presented itself?
I have been involved with Red Bull Music Academy since 2003 and the Red Bull Radio series was a continuation of the video documentary series that premiered in 2014. A few years later in 2016, we launched the first season on Red Bull Radio, and we just launched season 2 last October in 2017. Now I’m attempting to figure out where I want to take season 3!
RESPECT.: How did the name of the show come about, is there a story behind it?
I was traveling to Japan regularly once or twice a year from New Zealand for many different reasons to hang out and gain inspiration. I would also go to clubs and vintage game stores in Akihabara on digging trips for game cartridges, which is how I eventually landed on the name for the show.
RESPECT.: What can we expect from ‘Diggin’ in the Carts.’ heading into the third quarter of 2018?
Look out for season 3 in the latter half of 2018. It’s going to premiere a little earlier than usual, so we’re hoping to put it all together around March or April. Season 1 focused on the continuation of the video series, and season 2 was really all about the Japanese video game eras. As for what you can expect in season 3, I plan on taking it outside of Japan into the US and maybe the UK.
RESPECT.: Have you and some of the composers talked about collaborating on some future projects?
Yes, most definitely, we just launched a series of live Diggin’ in the Carts events that kicked off last October in Los Angeles, Toyko, and London, where some of the composers performed their hits live. Our next show will be at Sonar in Barcelona this June. In the future, we’re hoping to take a lot more Japanese composers on tour around the world.
RESPECT.: What is some of the advice that you would like to share with aspiring radio personalities out there?
In radio, there are two types of personality, you have your broadcasters that are talking heads, and report as instructed by their producers, then you have presenters that discuss topics they are passionate about. I started doing radio when I was younger because I wanted to discover new music and share it with people. As my radio career began to take off in New Zealand, I would start hosting breakfast radio shows, and I had to adapt to their standard protocol. I am very excited to have the opportunity to continue with what I love, and that is presenting the music I like. So, whatever topic you are passionate about, please make sure you study the context of it. Anyone can play music to the public, but if you can’t offer a story, it won’t be appealing to your audience.
RESPECT.: Are there any business interests that you are looking to pursue outside of the entertainment industry?
My primary focus is documentaries, and we are currently in development of a new series for Red Bull Japan and Red Bull Music Academy. The project is a follow up to Diggin’ in the Carts, but it does not deal with video games, so I’m really excited about that.
RESPECT.: Are there any composers that you would consider dream interviews?
Haruomi Hosono was part of a band called Yellow Magic Orchestra and another act called Happy End in the early ‘70s. He was a pioneer in the Japanese Electronica music space, and he would definitely be someone that I would consider to be a dream interview.