19/07/2021

๐ŸŽถ๐ŸŽท VGM Live – Pecaminosa Live Performance & Mark ‘TDK’ Knight ๐ŸŽน๐ŸŽถ #vgmusic

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The last couple of years have seen me getting more and more into video game music, resulting in covering the LVGO (London Video Game Orchestra - https://www.gamesfreezer.co.uk/2020/03/london-video-game-orchestra-classics.html) – pre-lockdown, natch – and embracing the releasing of soundtracks on vinyl (https://www.gamesfreezer.co.uk/2021/05/video-game-vinyl-britt-recommends.html / https://www.gamesfreezer.co.uk/2021/05/games-freezer-interviews-blipblop-vgm.html). 

I wanted to write an article on two shows that really stood out to me over the last year…so I did.

Pecaminosa

When I originally reviewed Pecaminosa (https://www.gamesfreezer.co.uk/2021/06/pecaminosa-review-nintendo-switch-710.html), I was a huge fan of the noir tone and the first half of the game, before the action overtook the adventure and retro mood.

When I caught wind that there was to be a live concert, knowing how wonderful the smoky in-game music was, I was intrigued enough to get some Mack Janiels in and settle back to let the soundtrack wash over me. Knowing that the in-game music was saucy, I expected to be entertained…I didn’t expect it to be one of the most expressive jazz concerts that I’d ever seen and consistently return to, and yet here we are. Good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPdYT847Vkw

Impeccably filmed and beginning with upright bass, drums, sax, congas and piano, we are off to a flying start. The first two songs crackle with jammy energy before a wonderfully on-point exhibitive scene of John Souza (in full in-game regalia) looking for a smoke, failing…and popping on Pecaminosa via Nintendo Switch. Whilst this could come across as a bit cheesy, the way it’s presented is a perfect Segway - using in-game music - that allows instrument/tuning switches before being taken back to the theatre for the next track.

The third track is a real highlight, Whiskey & Cigarettes starts off with brushes teasing the drums and some seriously emotive melodica and upright bass. The blues guitar teases in and is accentuated by an actual typewriter being played in the background. I was lost in this, the theatricality and weight of the playing completely caught me, beautiful stuff. Also, whoever the bassist is, buy him a drink. This song really lets the instruments breathe, the mixture of power and delicacy and the way the song returns to the original theme is an absolute trouser-remover. The bass solo that signals the end of the jam section and brings it back to the roots will remain with me forever.

What all of this boils down to, is that, whilst I enjoyed the game (and I really look forward to whatever comes next from the developers, hoping that they focus on the adventure segments as opposed to the action elements) this concert is what will remain with me when I think of Pecaminosa. This is tour-ably good music that I urge all to listen to. What a beautiful way to spend an evening and a show I’ve already watched again multiple times. Good.

Mark ‘TDK’ Knight

Being a musician myself, I was really in the depths of missing playing and rehearsing with my bands during the 2020 lockdown when I caught wind of the VGM festival (https://vgmtogether.com) and thought it would be a great way to spend the weekend. I’d been getting more and more hips-deep into video game soundtracks since working from home and was completely in the zone for this weekend-long shindig.

The presentation of the festival was impressive and flowed well, having been put together by a group of clearly passionate and talented folks. The artists that I saw over the weekend had all clearly earned their place in the standings, but it did further cement my thoughts on lyrics in the genre, I much prefer instrumental pieces as too often I find the accompanying words to be either generic or worse, cloyingly sentimental. 

Whilst I enjoyed some of the artists – admittedly some weren’t to my tastes - nothing really leapt out and strangled me to death through pure ecstasy…until a bearded man sporting sunglasses, a beret, a violin and some serious chiptune backbeats came on my screen and I was completely transfixed – and have been so ever since.

I’ll be interviewing TDK in the coming weeks and writing an accompanying article on his career in video game music, so I won’t go into too much depth here except to say that he began in the UK Amiga demo scene of the late ’80s and is still creating outstanding music to this day.

Whilst I’d been idly enjoying the show, sipping wine and flicking across to YouTube to put on specific songs whenever an artist came on the VGM fest that didn’t click with me, TDK actually made me physically sit up and take stock of what was happening. This was jaw-droppingly tasty stuff. The squelchy, beat-driven chiptune backing track set the foundation for some beautiful electric violin playing that weaved seamlessly from tongue-in-cheek, cheeky riffage and tasty solos to some seriously emotive moments that seemed genetically designed to make me happy.

The start of the set had some issues with audio clipping which were fixed by the third song in and what remained was 25 minutes of solid, shining gold. After the final track, I stayed online to watch a few more artists but I felt like the festival had peaked for me. Going online, I bought his album ‘ME!’ which featured a more synth-heavy style and opens with two of my now-favourite songs, ‘Ben’ – an achingly touching song based on the passing of a friend of TDK’s, which leads into the bouncing energy of ‘Juno Rocks’ - and then spent the following weeks online chatting to TDK, planning an interview and generally learning more about this beacon of musical talent.

I listen to a lot of music in the video game genre, be it chiptune, orchestral, electronic, ambient or otherwise – as long as the vocals are kept to a minimum! – and TDK really feels unique in the genre. There’s a sense of truth to his music that comes from genuinely being birthed in that Amiga demo scene and the milky, sustained notes of the electric violin fuse so well, offering a huge amount of tonal variety – all presented with infectious enthusiasm and self-deprecating humour. As a guitarist, I’ve noticed a tendency in some aspects of the VGM scene for covers of tracks with a wailing, 80’s guitar tone, flat backing tracks and lots of boring widdly-widdly action complete with face-pulling that feels completely artistically bereft, it leaves me with the same empty feeling I get when I see people doing rock covers in pubs, with their foot on the monitor speaker and shouting tired lines like “put your hands in the air!”, “Are you ready to rock?!” and the like*, it’s headache-inducingly tiresome.

Through this, finding a talent such as TDK, the sense of joy that emanates from his playing and knowing that all the music consists of original pieces has been one of the highlights of the last year for me. Watching him again a couple of days ago at the Edison Party (https://edisonparty.com/?fbclid=IwAR0qv9ej_Ar6U_-mFhrphxyUEz_R7IvyxsImY3IFTAqVQ6taXEvRvBp0eXk) – this gig incorporated more of his synth-based work, good – created such a sense of elation in our household that my fiancรฉ @kingdomofcarts want TDK to play at our future wedding! Basically, I could have saved myself a lot of time here by just saying that he’s like a much, much sexier Vanessa-Mae if she’d spent more time playing Xenon 2: Megablast. Go and buy his music at https://marktdkknight.bandcamp.com

*Oh my God, one of the bands that played at the recent Sonic 30th celebration had me almost dry heaving in embarrassment, I didn’t just turn off the TV to get away from it. I knocked off my fuse box and moved house.

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