Essential games for music nerds from the Steam Winter Sale

2020 saw the gaming industry supplant film as the predominant AV medium. There are plenty of great possibilities for immersion now on sale for Mac and PC – and titles music makers and nerds won’t want to miss. Here are some favorites, including some that might fly under the radar.

Steam’s Winter Sale is rich as always. This remains the Bandcamp of gaming, not least in that it inspires people to purchase tons of indie and underground and experimental stuff, and to actually download and own those titles. (As with Bandcamp, you might well raise questions about its dominance and dated UI, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.)

Here are some new (and older) titles to consider.

No affiliate links here. I’m just obsessive, and fast with keyboards. Better I keep playing video games so my mind doesn’t go numb.

Mutazione

Mutazione has some of the best sound and music of any recent gaming title, perfectly capturing the charm, poignant innocence, and odd mutations of its game world. It’s also worth a playthrough just to see the way that sound design and music composition blend together. That inventiveness can make something as simple as the percussive made-up sound effect of faux speaking tear at your heartstrings. And it says something profoundly emotional, especially now.

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As it happens, the podcast Eggplant has an expansive series of behind-the-scenes explorations of how Mutazione‘s score was composed over an evolving collaboration of ten years (with European grant money, no less).

Eggplant: The Secret Lives of Games!

If you have any interest in making music for other media (gaming or otherwise), this game and podcast I think are a must. It’s surprisingly instructive just how the team grew together, and how they pushed ideas to make them better.

I did all the research for this and then realized I met creator Nils Deneken really early on in his career at GDC, so Nils, you won’t remember me, but hi! Then I went on to talk about this game house’s early title Johann Sebastian Joust. It’s proof that the group of people who really go deep into the role of sound and music in gaming is small.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1080750/Mutazione/

Paradise Killer

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While a certain major developer is flogging the dead horse of cyberpunk, go back to the dead horse of vaporwave instead. Paradise Killer is just stupidly good; everything about this game’s aesthetic and interactions are a neon-colored trip.

This could have been kitsch. But it leans in so far to its aesthetic and sunny-fresh modernity that you’ll feel like you went on a bender of LSD and antidepressants and woke up in Harajuku and had turned into an anime character. It’s one of the few game soundtracks I’d put on replay. And what they’ve done with the Unreal Engine is pure art. Barry “Epoch” Topping hit the music out of the park, and development house Kaizen Game Works made something genuinely brain warping and new.

You’ll want to “Stay Forever.” That song is seriously a hit.

Did I mention you also collect music as you play?

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1160220/Paradise_Killer/

Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium is perhaps a bit obvious, a modern hipster gaming classic. But music and sound play a fascinating co-starring role in the narrative. There’s the titular disco business, of course, but also – without spoiling anything – ongoing threads about music and esoteric sound woven into the plot. Sound joins pain as the two primary sensations of the game. And there’s a gorgeous score from British Sea Power.

Of course you’ll likely join in starting a nightclub in the game, but dig in for fanciful descriptions of cryptozoologic sound and loving details of field recording and archaic audio equipment.

We can mention this again, because this fall 2019 title came into its own in 2020, and gets an extended edition in the first part of next year. Buy it on sale now, and you’ll get those additions as a free update. Because the game embraces masochism generally, I look forward to replaying on tough mode – the early dive into that I found completely hilarious.

And you can get the soundtrack on vinyl, though … uh, digital I enjoyed just fine. Burn, baby, burn.

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https://store.steampowered.com/app/632470/Disco_Elysium/

Also worth noting, you can grab the full soundtrack from Steam – and it appears to be for now the most price-conscious way to get it.

Thumper

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Most rhythm games now feel pretty dated. THUMPER still feels like immersive synesthesia. It might even keep your impulses nimble in studio breaks. And the rest I can’t say any better than its description:

You are a space beetle. Brave the hellish void and confront a maniacal giant head from the future.

It’s great to see this come back to a two-person development team, and that distinctive music comes from composer (and Lightning Bolt bassist) Brian Gibson. So part of what makes this game gel so well is that it is a creative duo.

Oh yeah, and it used all procedural coding, plus you can use it in VR so you can get sick.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/356400/Thumper/

Post Void

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This is honestly one of the most punk games I’ve ever ever seen – ear and eye bleeding speed run carnage that looks like an old alpha DOS build of Doom went crazy in a drawer and then took over your PC. And it has this single to go with it.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1285670/Post_Void/

Hotline Miami

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VIOLENCE WARNING / NSFW or kids.

Do you like overabundant synthwave music? Do you like video game violence, but prefer it in a top-down view? Do you have a couple of bucks? Good. (Starting with a 2012 gem, the two most recent games in the series and both soundtracks are heavily discounted now.)

Retro Grand Theft Auto graphics (from the 2D era) meet ultra-violence that would make even the modern GTA cower under some covers.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/219152/Hotline_Miami_Soundtrack/

In Other Waters

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This quick indie favorite might seem an unlikely hit – it’s got a mysterious and non-standard UI, and then you slowly navigate alien underwater species in the ocean by… reading. The mechanics, despite some eye candy, resemble some older text dungeon games. But it’s simply beautiful, and apart from being a game that again encourages you to use your imagination (and inspires you to do so), In Other Waters surely is partly successful because of its beautiful score.

Portlander Amos Roddy has a deceptively simply ambient masterpiece here. Its genius is evoking floating colors, producing that dreamspace, and crucially, finding a pacing that matches the gameplay. The experience of playing the game becomes wonderfully trancelike – perhaps the opposite of a lot of today’s game experiences.

This makes me flashback to the game score we hosted here for Osmos, which I should move and make available again, in fact.

STEAM’s third-off sale this week also includes the soundtrack, but you can nab the latter on Bandcamp if you choose. The game – as many critics have already said, but sometimes they’re right – is a must.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/890720/In_Other_Waters/

Control

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I’m going to throw one AAA title in here, as it’s the obvious choice. Take Brutalist architecture, and add a chilling score from game composition veterans Patri Alanko and Martin Stig Andersen. Alanko has some especially chilling percussive bits and … yeah, it’s just a beautiful score set against a ton of ugly concrete architecture with 70s typography and a bunch of weirdo sci-fi references, so I’m in.

50% off sounds good. The music is not there, it appears, but it’s available on (gulp) streaming services.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/870780/Control_Ultimate_Edition/?curator_clanid=33027220

Honorable Mentions

Cloudpunk is a fascinating title that skips all this overblown cyberpunk stuff to just let you focus on flying around like you’re in Blade Runner. Sonic Mania for five bucks deserves special mention because Naofumi Hataya and Tee Lopes nailed the chip music feel of the original Sonic games, while bringing them into our century.

Composer Darren Korb also continues on a roll, but let’s point out specifically that the excellent Transistor Roguelike – from the same creator as the ultra-hyped Hades is like a couple of bucks. You can’t not get it at that price, which is what makes the sale so much fun.

I don’t know your tastes, but the moody chilled melancholy of the score is one of my favorites. 85% off, wow.

Plus, the games I mentioned earlier this year are also on sale. Let’s talk about VirtuaVerse. Oh, it’s brilliant. (Broken Reality is barely a game in comparison to Paradise Killer, but it also has a psychotic weirdo vaporwave soundtrack.)

There’s still time left, so what did I miss?

Also. Steam. Thanks for the Steam Points, but seriously… no thanks.

Steam Points: My friends all got a new GPU and a copy of Cyberpunk 2077, and I got… this bird.

U.S. vinyl sales hit new record high twice in a month

U.S. vinyl sales hit new record high twice in a monthVinyl Sales Cr Emma Boey

As live music takes a back seat and U.S. citizens spend copious amounts of time indoors, the numbers show music devotees are indeed indulging in their favorite records this holiday season. Reaching a record-breaking high for the second time this December alone, vinyl record sales are flying off the shelves.

According to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, U.S. record patrons purchased 1.445 million vinyl records in just this one week alone, from December 11 to December 17, becoming the largest number of vinyl sales since the start of music sales tracking in 1991.

The record broke the previous high of 1.253 million vinyl sales during the week of November 27 to December 3 of this year, attributed largely to Black Friday. Sales also charted more than 1 million in the first two weeks of December, a number that hasn’t been reached since December 2019. Given this data, it certainly seems like vinyls are drifting further away from the days of novelty and ornamental home decor and into a more preferred and functional means of listening.

Via: Billboard

Featured image: Emma Boey

Square reportedly interested in acquiring TIDAL

Square reportedly interested in acquiring TIDALScreen Shot 2017 12 13 At 10.03.25 AM

Square Inc. is interested in acquiring streaming service TIDAL, according to reports from Bloomberg News. Square’s CEO Jack Dorsey (more famously known as Twitter’s CEO) reportedly met with TIDAL’s owner JAY-Z to discuss the potential acquisition. So far, no news of a finalized deal has been made public.

Square, a merchant services company most associated with their credit card readers, is reportedly looking to diversify their portfolio, thus the interest in TIDAL. TIDAL last changed hands five years ago, when JAY-Z purchased the service for $56 million.

Tidal is the only artist-owned streaming service and has often used platform-exclusive music to draw in listeners, including 2016’s eventful The Life of Pablo rollout. However, at the moment TIDAL’s unique selling point for users is that it offers the “highest quality audio available” for an increased monthly rate. Earlier this year in March, TIDAL hosted a week of free streamed concerts exclusively available to its users.

Via: Bloomberg News

Featured image: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation

Carl Cox condemns partying during pandemic in new interview

Carl Cox condemns partying during pandemic in new interviewCarl Co Resistance Ultra

In a new interview, Carl Cox reflects on effects of the pandemic, divulging not only his opinions on partying, but also where the industry goes from here.

Having been a figure in the evolution of dance music through the years, from the height of the UK superclub scene to modern day festivals, the superstar DJ knows more than anyone the return of full-scale events will take time. Condemning partying during the pandemic, Cox stated,

“It’s irresponsible to be out there at the moment based on how everyone is trying to do the right thing to get past this. Having a party in a pandemic, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever…If you are really into it, you’ll wait. If you are not into it and you just want to react or act out, it’s going to be the very thing that makes it worse.”

Cox also had wisdom to share regarding the future of the club and festival circuit, which he believes has effectively reset as a result of COVID-19. The longtime performer discussed,

“We have to go back to the small clubs again…and what’s going to happen eventually with the recession and people spending and how they feel about being around other people, have a massive impact on what we do next and also how we do it.”

Like other creative peers, Cox has also used quarantine to launch new projects including 19-track album Carl Cox Mixes Awesome Soundwave and livestream series “Cabin Fever.” On advice for DJs and producers, he says to simply make music now, on the basis that,

“At the moment we don’t have a dancefloor. So, there is no point making hit records for the dancefloor…This is a great time for creativity now. Something is going to come out of it in the sense that you’ve made a point, a statement, about what’s happened to you individually.”

Via: Mixmag

Featured image: Ultra Music Festival

New Year’s Eve livestream guide: David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Major Lazer, and more

New Year’s Eve livestream guide: David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Major Lazer, and moreDavid Guetta

Even though in-person events largely remain at a standstill, would-be New Year’s Eve festival-goers can still ring in the new year the way they would any other year: with live music. This December 31, artists from across the globe are taking their sets to what has become known to the musical masses as the savior of 2020: the livestream.

New Year’s Eve virtual shows are nearly limitless this year, promising performances from main stage favorites such as Steve Aoki and David Guetta to more niche artists such as SunSquabi and Beats Antique. All can be enjoyed from the comfort of viewers’ own homes, and to simplify the process of identifying which streams best suit your 2020 New Year’s Eve tastes, Dancing Astronaut has rounded up the most rousing and innovative NYE livestreams to leave 2020 in the past (where it belongs). View the complete list below. Click each grey hyperlink in the “Where” field to visit the livestreams’ respective streaming platforms.


Beatport x Absolut

  • When: December 31. Begins 7:00 a.m. EST / 4:00 a.m. PST
  • Where: YouTube, Facebook, Twitch
  • Who is playing: Carl Cox, TOKiMONSTA, Honey Dijon, Jamie Jones, Nastia, Jaguar Blot, RayRay, Jinxo & Danz

ABRACADABRA

  • When: Deccmber 30 – January 1
  • Where: AbracadabraTV, Twitch
  • Who is playing: John Legend, Kaskade, Major Lazer, Aloe Blacc, BLOND:ISH, elrow ft. Claptone, Jermaine Dupri, Marc Rebillet, Poolside, Shiba San, Secular Sabbath ft. Rhye & Friends, AMEME, Apache, Bastian Bux, Differ, Don Quez, Eden Prince, FNX OMAR, Islandman, LUVU, Malone, Marc Maya, Mary Droppinz, Monoky, Mòo & Jo, Mother of the Sun, Poranguí, Salomé Le Chat, Santino Le Saint, Saqib, Scarlett de la Torre, Stavroz, Stephan Jolk, Suigeneris, Super Flu, Tini Gessler, Thandi Draai, Toni Varga, WhoMadeWho

Tomorrowland NYE

  • When: December 31, 8:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m. in all time zones.
  • Where: NAOZ digital venue
  • Who is playing: Armin van Buuren, Duck Sauce, Tchami, Major Lazer, Martin Garrix, DJ Snoopadelic, David Guetta, Diplo, Boys Noize, CamelPhat, Coone, D-Block & S-te-fan, ARTBAT, Maceo Plex, Charlotte de Witte, Netsky, Da Tweekaz, Brennen Heart, Jack Back, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Kölsch back-to-back Joris Voorn, Lost Frequencies, MEDUZA, Sub Zero Project.

Defected “We Dance As One”

  • When: December 31. Begins 12:00 p.m. EST/ 9:00 a.m. PST
  • Where: YouTube, Facebook, Twitch
  • Who is playing: Dom Dolla, Eats Everything, Gorgon City, Inner City Live, Low Steppa, Roger Sanchez, Sam Divine, Sonny Fodera

John Digweed Bunker Sessions

  • When: December 31. Begins 4:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 p.m. PST
  • Where: Mixcloud
  • Who is playing: John Digweed

United At Home with David Guetta

  • When: December 31. Begins 6:00 p.m. EST / 3:00 p.m. PST
  • Where: Twitter
  • Who is playing: David Guetta

Destructo Sunrise Sermon

  • When: January 1. Begins 8:00 a.m. EST / 5:00 a.m. PST
  • Where: Twitch
  • Who is playing: Destructo

Tycho Sunrise Solo Ascent

  • When: January 1. Begins 10:00 a.m. EST / 7:00 a.m. PST
  • Where: No Cap Shows
  • Who is playing: Tycho

Day Trip LA

  • When: January 1. Begins 3:00 p.m. EST / 12:00 p.m. PST
  • Where: Insomniac TV
  • Who is playing: Benny Benassi, David Penn, Detlef, Ferreck Dawn, Gene Farris, John Summit, Lee Foss, Mark Farina, Mark Knight, Marshall Jefferson, Monki, Paul Johnson, Ron Carroll, Sam Divine, The Brothers Macklovitch, Yotto

Spybar Chicagos Keep Us Dancing

  • When: January 1. Begins 1:00 p.m. EST / 10:00 a.m. PST
  • Where: Facebook
  • Who is playing: Anthony Attalla, Ardalan, Boris, Carlo Lio, Dennis Cruz, Dubfire, Gene Farris, Gorgon City, Hiroko Yamamura, Huxley, Hyperactive, J. Worra, John Summit, Josh Butler, Kate Simko, Lady D, Lee Foss, Mat.Joe, MEDUZA, Prok|Fitch, Seth Troxler, Sharam, Sydney Blu, Technasia

Steve Aoki NYELA

  • When: December 31. Begins 2:00 a.m. EST / 11:00 p.m. PST.
  • Where: YouTube, Grand Park digital channels, The Music Center Offstage.
  • Who is playing: Steve Aoki, AQUIHAYAQUIHAY, Andrekza, BIA, 2DEEP.

SunSquabi: Live from Knew Conscious

  • When: December 31 – January 1. Begins 11:45 p.m. EST / 8:45 p.m. PST
  • Where: FANS Live
  • Who is playing: SunSquabi

Fuck 2020: A Transcendental New Year’s Eve Celebration

  • When: December 31. 7:00 pm – 3:00 a.m., adjusted for EST, PST, CET, WET, JSTAEST, and AEST.
  • Where: Primavera Sound
  • Who is playing: John Talabot, Daniel Avery, Lena Willikens b2b BSS, Paranoid London, Dave P, Zillas on Acid, Jessy Lanza, DJ Nobu, Moor Mother, Lovefingers, Nídia, Shanti Celeste, and Nabihah Iqbal

Beats Antique NYE

  • When: December 31. Begins 11:30 p.m. PST (adapted to MST, CST, EST, and GMT).
  • Where: The Virtual Mushroom
  • Who is playing: Beats Antique

Featured image: Rudgr.com

Yardhaus – Blame

Yardhaus – BlameYardhaus Blame

Up and coming duo Yardhaus make their end-of-year debut with a powerful new single “Blame.” A dance-pop crossover track that will hit home for anyone who has experienced the hell of modern dating culture, the New York natives craft an easy listening vibe with deep basslines and groovy melodies. The duo’s dynamic fusion of genres has appealed to a broad audience and helped cultivate a growing fan base even early in their career by opening for the likes of Marshmello, SNBRN, Zedd, ASAP Ferg, and more.

On their latest, they go for relatability, lamenting short-lived relationships gone awry and the finger-pointing that follows. Aptly titled “Blame” is a sonic catharsis for anyone going through a recent split. Built on elements of pop, dance, and electronica, and driven by its lead vocal, the single stands out as one of their best releases to date.

MIDI-Controlled Robo-Trombone Blows

MIDI-Controlled Robo-Trombone Blows
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iSax Laboratories shared this demo of their MIDI-controlled robo-trombone, the RoboTrombo Music Machine.

The music robot may not be entirely successful as a MIDI-controlled virtual musician, but it does demonstrate that you don’t need a complex modular synthesizer system in order to make fart noises.

Here’s what they have to say about it:

“The original idea was to produce a MIDI controlled music machine that could play any song. It was however extremely difficult to control it reliably. When a human trombone player produces a tone it is a combination of lip tension, pressure against the mouthpiece, airflow, air pressure, resonance in the mouth and probably some other variables.

The lip part proved too hard to recreate. The machines will not take over the trombone playing profession any time soon and I’m left with an over-engineered noise machine.”

If you’re wondering how the magic happens, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the RoboTrombo works. Sex toys are involved:

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Build details are available via hackaday.

DAYLIITES – GOODBYES

DAYLIITES – GOODBYESDayliites Goodbyes

The Gold Coast continues to produce some of the most feel good melodies in any hemisphere. Dayliites is the brainchild of producer PACES and vocalist Cloe Terare, a electro-pop outfit that’s sweet like saccharin and just as delightfully produced. Already Triple J favorites, the duo’s emotional new single “Goodbyes” pairs its intimate musings with a bed of computerized instrumentals. Dusty percussive hits and digital guitar licks make space for Cloe’s enchanting vocals to shine through. The result is a charming ode to past relationships that has all the hallmarks of PACES’ production pedigree for blurring the lines between club and pop music. The track is electric, Cloe is enchanting, and Australia continues to shine as home for some of the most tastefully produced and downright infectious dance pop in the world.

ARTY shines in remix of Griff Clawson’s ‘Chasing Highs’

ARTY shines in remix of Griff Clawson’s ‘Chasing Highs’14311488 1169511929758384 3001406574595059838 O 1

Emerging pop artist from Los Angeles Griff Clawson has enlisted ARTY‘s electronic prowess for a remix of his acoustic original, “Chasing Highs,” which receives a sparkling reconstruction. The singer-songwriter has previously displayed his vocal talents within dance music through his respective 2019 and 2020 released tracks “All I Want,” with Boombox Cartel and “You and Me Now,” with Manila Killa and Devault.

The distinguished Russian DJ breathes new life into the mellow-toned track, elegantly crossing over synth-pop and progressive as he deploys lush layers that provide a glistening spectrum of modern and nostalgic resonance. The remix follows ARTY’s EP From Russia With Love (Vol. 3), released in October, and marks the second time collaborating with Clawson following their Armada Music single, “You’re Not Alone.”

Listen to ARTY’s “Chasing Highs” remix below.

Featured image: The Mid Chicago

Good Morning Mix: Charlotte de Witte showcases techno mastery in Tomorrowland 2019 set

Good Morning Mix: Charlotte de Witte showcases techno mastery in Tomorrowland 2019 setTomorrowland Charlotte

Come December 31, Charlotte de Witte will close out 2020 in style at Tomorrowland‘s virtual New Year’s Eve event, where she’s slated to bring her inimitable techno touch to the Melodia stage. The performance caps off a momentous year for de Witte, who not only released three EPs—Vision, Return To Nowhere, and Rave On Time—this year, but also quickly followed this triptych with a stunning flip of Bob Moses and ZHU‘s “Desire” on December 7. de Witte has been pumping out high-quality content throughout her tenure in the underground scene, and this pattern was well-exemplified in her Tomorrowland 2019 set, a full hour of main stage techno mastery available to stream in full below.

In the set, de Witte guides listeners through a beautifully curated techno journey that features a handful of originals and remixes from herself, as well as tunes from the likes of Hell Driver, Tobias Lueke, Phuture, and Rob Acid. Acid rave arpeggiators and banging techno drums combined with the unmatched atmosphere of one of the world’s greatest electronic music festivals make this an exceptionally enjoyable experience.

In the time leading up to Tomorrowland’s virtual NYE eventDancing Astronaut will revisit Tomorrowland sets from artists slated to perform at the dance-focused finale to 2020. Follow the journey with our Tomorrowland NYE Good Morning Mix series, and learn why Tomorrowland’s Around The World festival was named our top digital event of 2020 here.

Featured image: Jokko Photography