Friday, February 28, 2014

Wipeout XL (soundtrack) - 1996

The way we get exposed to new music has changed a lot over the years. Back when I was a wee youngin', there was the radio and there was MTV. If you were really brave, you could try and listen to the college radio station and see what was being played there to find something new. When I got to college, we had the college radio, which was a good start, and there were a lot of places selling music that were always playing CDs they'd been sent, and on top of that, I was working for the college newspaper at the time, so I was writing music reviews every so often, which meant I was also getting sent free CDs, a lot of which were terrible, but a few of which were good to great.. I also started getting a magazine called CMJ New Music Monthly, which I found a ton of bands from as well. But you know where I discovered a handful of bands? From a videogame called Wipeout XL.

Wipeout XL, or Wipeout 2097 as it was called overseas, was the second game in the Wipeout series. My roommate had gotten a Playstation and we'd spent some serious time with the original Wipeout, so when the sequel came out, he picked up a copy. Needless to say, we were pretty excited, but I don't think we were quite prepared for just how much we were going to play the game, because we played the ever living shit out of it.

The Wipeout series is a sci-fi racing game, where players pilot hovering cars that look more like low-flying shuttles, and strap weapons to them, trying to outrace and obliterate their opponents. Basically, it's a cyberpunk version of Mario Kart. But here's the thing - Playstation games were released on CDs. They were jet black CDs, but they were CDs nonetheless. So one day, on a lark, I decided to take  the game CD and pop it into a CD player. The first track was nothing but noise, but when I skipped to the second track, lo and behold, there was the game soundtrack. Which brings me to the reason I'm talking about the game.

In terms of touchstones, the Wipeout XL soundtrack introduced me, for all intents and purposes, to techno. From this game alone, I found: Future Sound of London, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Fluke and Underworld. It was almost like someone had decided "Let's get all the great techno artists we can and slap them on one game," and got away with it. When the soundtrack came out on a retail CD later, I was initially going to pass, but saw it had a few other people on it, including Orbital and Leftfield. From this initial springboard, I also jumped to people like Propellerheads, who were on the Wipeout 3 soundtrack, coincidentally enough.

The Wipeout franchise has, sadly, run aground. There was a PSN downloadable game, which was actually a pretty good entry, but it didn't do well enough, and last I had heard, the studio had been shuttered, as so many great videogame studios have been in recent years.

Hilariously enough, Wipeout XL also had a sponsor - RedBull. At the time, I remember thinking that RedBull was a weird name for a fictional company inside of a videogame. (Seriously, I didn't think they were real. I don't know that any of us did.) Little did I know what a force they would be in only a few years time. To me, the soundtrack reminds me that incidental music can very much affect people, and that the music people put in movies, tv, videogames, etc., should be chosen with care, but also with an intent for discovery and diversity. You never know when you could be just ahead of the curve.

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