It’s been a tough couple of years. And just when we all caught a glimpse of better times to come, a devastating war broke out in Europe. Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the fourth Game Music Festival in the beautiful Royal Festival Hall. Pinning all the festivities together wasn’t simply just a celebration of music and video games, but also a shared purpose, a connection which brings so many of us together. When scanning around the hall, I could see a diverse audience whose love for music transcended race, age and gender. That is why given the backdrop of current world events, this festival felt even more special than it usually would.
Incredibly, the weekend was put together by the small but talented Game Music Foundation. This Polish organisation brought their concerts to an international audience for the first time this year, and fortunately for us here in the UK, they chose London.
The two day event opened with a series of lectures from those in the business, which can still be viewed on the event’s official YouTube channel. Day two consisted of the concerts, The Jazz of Cuphead and The Symphony of the Spirits. As well as these, Q&As were held with leading industry figures, with a view to inspire and support those looking to break into the competitive world of video game music composition.
As I’m sure you are aware, Cuphead is a challenging action game which adopted a “rubber hose” animation style. This iconic look expertly recreated 1930s cartoons, and was a hit for Xbox. The Delicious Last Course is DLC, which marks Cuphead’s final adventure, and will be released later this year. There is also an animated Netflix series for those whose thirst wasn’t quite quenched by the videogame alone.
Kristopher Maddigan is the Canadian composer who won a BAFTA for his Cuphead score. The eclectic and energetic composition showcases big band jazz, swinging rhythm and harmonic progressions. A carefully selected tracklist was re-arranged for the live performance, and it sounded absolutely fantastic. Despite being sat down, I couldn’t stop myself bopping away to the beats.
At one point, an unexpected ballad toned down the energy and instantly transported me to a 1930s underground American jazz bar (I’m thinking of the Chicago mission from Timesplitters 2 specifically). The fact it managed to feel intimate in such a large venue was a real testament to the skill of Bartosz Pernal and his orchestra.
The evening session, The Symphony of the Spirits, was a celebration of both Ori games – Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps – and their enchanting soundtracks. Gareth Coker is the well known creator of the series’ masterful score, for which he was BAFTA nominated for both games and won the Ivor Novello award for Ori and the Will of the Wisps. He has also worked on numerous other titles, including Halo Infinite. The fact that he introduced the concert in person is a testament to the work of the Game Music Foundation and what they are achieving.
Hearing the enchanting soundtrack live, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, was a very special experience. The hugely emotional score filled the hall with the most well known pieces of music from both games, but another surprise was waiting after the interval. This was teased at the start by Coker who said, “What’s more exciting is that only half of the performers are currently on stage”.
The second part of the concert welcomed the Hertfordshire Chorus, whose talent was simply magical. This combination of vocals and instruments set the stage for a truly epic performance, which lasted for almost two hours but went by in no time at all.
Both performances rightly earned a standing ovation from a near full Royal Festival Hall. The passion, support and joy for the art form was palpable. I can only hope the event returns to the UK next year, because I’ll be making my attendance a yearly tradition.
At the end of the concert, the Game Music Foundation President Mateusz Pawlak took to the stage to say a few words. He really underlined the purpose and drive of his organisation, which is to celebrate and demonstrate just what a powerful force music can be. It binds us all together, evokes memories and is created by individuals with immense talent.
What was particularly impressive is that these industry leaders weren’t just present at this festival, but clearly passionate, driven and motivated to support the art form beyond that. As I sat in on two Q&A sessions, it became clear how invested they were in the Game Music Festival and it was so impressive that such a small foundation had put together such an event.
I was excited about the Game Music Festival before I went along. However, I was not prepared for just how emotionally invested I would become. I’ve always loved video game music, and video games themselves. But, after a couple of years of social limitations, being able to get right to the heart of the community who are demonstrating that video game music is a vibrant and mainstream art form in today’s world, was a genuine honour.
Huge thanks go out to the Game Music Festival team for providing us with tickets for the event.