It’s rare to see a musician follow through on a series of concept albums. To create one collection of songs with a narrative throughline is hard enough, but to commit to laying that story out over a course of years, even through changes in artistic direction and style, is incredibly difficult. Such an attempt requires an incredible amount of forethought, creative control, and time, which does not necessarily suit the modern day process of music production.
One young musician has managed to not only accomplish this, but in a manner that has led to Grammy nominations, collaborations with artists such as Prince and Erykah Badu, and increasingly higher placements on the Billboard charts. By the age of 27, Janelle Monáe has already released three albums full of playful, gorgeous songs ready for the dance floor, with a dramatic sci-fi epic about freedom, class, and acceptance laced throughout the background. This strategy has allowed listeners to enjoy her music whichever way they please, without having to sacrifice either listenability or content.
This story is titledMetropolis, purposefully bringing to mind the classic 1927 film Metropolis, from which Monáe pulled a number of elements. Both involve a female messianic figure in a futuristic city struggling with class divide. Monáe is represented by an alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an indentured android who becomes aware of the unfairness she and her fellow robots suffer at the hands of the ruling humans.
Her self-understanding comes to a head when she is marked for disassembly after falling in love with a human, and discovers while on the run that she is the fated savior, foretold to free the androids from their secondary citizenship and unite the two races. She returns to Metropolis a few years later as the Electric Lady, ready to save the city and humanity throughout time from The Great Divide, a secret society that is using time-travel to suppress freedom and love even in our era. Continue Reading →
It is often the less well known, independent musicians who are willing to take chances on new media as artistic expression. The unfortunate Catch-22 is that these musicians or their record labels are usually unable to fund such endeavors. Now, with the advent of crowd funding platforms, artists can turn to their fan base and other interested parties to help bring new projects to fruition.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is no stranger to DIY. The multidisciplinary art collective has made a career of working in many different mediums, on little-to-no budget. Recently, the group finished a 6-month creative business development with the Canadian Film Centre, and have started an Indiegogo campaign to fund Your Task: Shoot Things, a mobile game set in Pureland, the realm in which their album YT//ST and other rock operas had been set.
YT//ST was founded by Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood in 2007, their mixed Asian Canadian heritage heavily influencing the group’s East-meets-West aesthetic and sound they cleverly named “Noh-Wave.” J-pop, industrial music, Buddhism, and Kabuki are just a handful of influences they have thrown out there. Originally working in strictly black and white (cheaper for printing), they have come to add metallics and the color red to their palette a color synonymous with Chinese culture. “Home-brewed” instruments and cheap samplers and drum machines naturally evolved into an electronic/acoustic hybrid of music.
Said Alaska, “We sort of migrated from a post-modern interdisciplinary arts milieu into some kind of avant-garde anime stoner pop realm and are still straddling those worlds in our artistic expression.” Continue Reading →
From indie rock to hip hop to electronic music, browser-based games are becoming increasingly common extensions for musicians. The element of interactivity, inherently missing in traditionally distributed music, is a major benefit. These games offer the ability to build an actual world for fans to explore that is both easily distributable and accessible.
The most recent and very high quality venture into this realm is Skrillex Quest, an homage to The Legend of Zelda series and the Nintendo Entertainment System set to the music and themes of Skrillex’s work.
Skrillex is a highly successful electronic musician, who is often credited with taking dubstep mainstream in the United States. He has previously done music for various video games, and recently had a small cameo in the game-centric film Wreck-It Ralph, for which he also wrote a song.
Skrillex Quest can be played in any browser, but it runs more smoothly in the most up-to-date versions. After a loading period, the game begins, with title cards explaining that a game world has been damaged by dust getting into its video game cartridge, and is slowly corrupting. The dying king asks Player 1 to try and save their world, by venturing out and destroying “glitches,” which look like moving boxes of pixels.
It is very reminiscent of Zelda, which is of course the intent. Most of Skrillex’s fan base are young enough to have grown up entirely in the video game console age, and have played at least some edition in the series, even if it’s not the original NES game. A young man must save a princess and the world, often wandering the land alone, and occasionally meeting citizens or buying wares from local shops. These same concepts can be found in Skrillex Quest. The art is also purposefully reminiscent of the 8-bit style of earlier video games, yet rendered in very high quality, and dust in video game cartridges is a familiar curse to any former NES players.
A transmedia campaign is only as good as its co-creators. Many originators—filmmakers, authors, musicians—are excellent at their art form, understanding how to use the medium to its best potential. Instead of forcing them to fumble through new and unknown platforms, it is much better to partner with creators who hold an expertise in those areas. These co-creators can advise and produce excellent extensions, fully utilizing the benefits of other platforms.
Co-creations can assist in other ways as well. Partnerships allow for budget sharing, spreading out the costs to allow for larger projects than the musician or record label may have been able to shoulder on their own. If these are innovative endeavors, with partners of significant clout, sponsorships are an additional possibility, allowing a third party to take on part or all of the budget in exchange for some branding or a few moments with the users.
This is the origins of Soundplay, a collection of browser-based games inspired by music. Pitchfork, a music website, partnered with Intel to commission independent game developers to create games for specific songs, often from albums that were about to be released. The games were produced by Pitchfork’s sister site, Kill Screen, a blog about videogame culture. The games range from very literal to totally abstract interpretations, acting as portals into new worlds for fans to explore the songs from the inside out.
“We Were You” was inspired by M83’s “Intro.” A young girl finds herself lost in a snowy land, and she must seek out the help of magical creatures to guide her home. The game incorporates some of the song’s lyrics into dialogue, as the mammoths and the tiger speak of the origins of the world and how it has come to be a wasteland. The game was designed by Jake Elliott, who was nominated for a Nuovo Award for “A House in California.” Continue Reading →
I’m very happy to be hosting a conversation with Adult Swim’s Jason DeMarco at the New York Film Festival’s Convergence program on Saturday, September 29th! We will be discussing Adult Swim’s historic relationship with musicians and record labels, including Flying Lotus, El-P, Ghostly Records, and Stones Throw Records, and the numerous co-productions they have headed up.
Jason DeMarco is vice president of marketing and promotions for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. In this role, DeMarco is responsible for cultivating brand building partnerships and developing promotional marketing programs that extend each network’s reach, visibility and brand messaging off-channel. Additionally, he oversees the development and execution of customized integrated promotions and sponsorships that drive revenues for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim’s Sales and Marketing efforts.
Adult Swim and the Power of Music Partnerships
Saturday, September 29th, 11AM
Film Society of Lincoln Center
New York, NY Ticket sales