[Editor's Note: Contributor Justin Pfeiffer is our man in Japan, and I think he's trying to compete with Crystal's Joe Hisaishi concert coverage with the length on this one. This comprehensive report is absolutely worth the read if, like me and mostly everyone else outside of Japan, you couldn't make it to EXTRA 2008]
Coolest event in history? EXTRA – HYPER GAME MUSIC EVENT may just in fact be that. Where else can you see Yasunori Mitsuda playing a Korg DS-10 live on stage, Yuzo Koshiro performing Actraiser on piano, or dance the night away to Hip Tanaka’s “Do The Donkey Kong?” Thinking back to EXTRA 2008 still gives me chills. You saw our announcement and interview with EXTRA creator Masatoshi Nakamura, now we finally reveal an insider’s look at the world’s biggest game music event.
Check our impressions of the show after the jump.
What a colossal event to celebrate the passion for game music. Organized by 5pb Records producer Masatoshi Nakamura with the vision, “Exciting Time Realizes All,” EXTRA was held for the second time at Studio Coast in Shin-Kiba, Tokyo on October 13th. Last year’s unprecedented event attracted big names to the stage including The Black Mages, Kenji Ito, Yuzo Koshiro, Akira Yamaoka, and Shinji Hosoe, to name a few. This year’s roster packed decent punch itself, including returning performances by Koshiro, Hosoe, SEGA Sound Unit H., Motoaki Furukawa with Voyager, Hip Tanaka, and our good friend Norihiko Hibino. One of the most eagerly anticipated performances of the night was Yasunori Mitsuda with “Trio The DS-10,” who were scheduled to perform live on stage utilizing only Korg DS-10 synthesizer software, something fans had never seen before. Having just followed Tokyo Game Show 2008, the event attracted throngs of game music fans from not only all over Japan, but all over the world.
The massive 5-hour show was broken into three parts, with 15-minute intervals for breaks. Here is the complete set list of the show. As you can see, it was quite the juggernaut.
Trio The DS-10 (Nobuyoshi Sano x Yasunori Mitsuda x Michio Okamiya)
1.) Chocobo Theme
2.) Chrono Trigger Theme ~ To a Distant Time (CT ending) ~ Premontion (CT opening) ~ Scars of Time (Chrono Cross opening)
3.) “Grip” from Ridge Racer II ~ “Rare Hero” from Ridge Racer
1.) “Gruplar Genisketmek” ~ “Stage 01 BGM” from Thunder Force VI
2.) “6th Body” from Night Wizard
4.) “Horizon” from 1st original album
5.) “Ray’z Beyond” from Ray Crisis
Yuzo Koshiro x Norihiko Hibino
1.) “Battle Medley” from Etrian Odyssey
2.) “Dungeon 01” from Etrian Odyssey
3.) “Filmore” from Actraiser
4.) “Main Theme” from Blassreiter ~ Culdscept (Hibino on sax)
1.) Star Blade ~ Dragon Spirit ~ Darius ~ Ninja Warriors ~ Crazy Climber ~ Shadowland (Youkaidouchuuki) ~ Fantasy Zone ~ Thunder Scepter ~ Samurai Ghost (Genpei Itoumaden) ~ Karous (Wii) ~ Let’s Tap ~ Technictix Remix ~ Ridge Racer
Motoaki Furukawa with Voyager
1.) Akumajou Dracula Medley (Vampire Killer ~ Stalker ~ Wicked Child)
2.) “Battle Cry” from XEXEX
3.) “A Shooting Star” from Gradius II
4.) “Synthetic Life” from Gradius II
5.) “1st BGM” (“Final Command”) from A-JAX
6.) “Breeze” from XEXEX
quad(luvtrax) x KPLECRAFT “Otomedius G Shooter Medley”
1.) “Challenger 1985” from Gradius (quad)
2.) “Sandstorm” from Gradius III (quad)
3.) “Boost Up” from XEXEX (Hibino)
4.) “In The Wind” from Gradius III (KPLECRAFT)
5.) “Snowfield ~ Blackhole” from Gradius Gaiden (KPLECRAFT)
SEGA Sound Unit H.
1.) “Main Theme” from Space Harrier
2.) Fantasy Zone Medley (Opa-Opa ~ Shop ~ Saari ~ Prome ~ Don’t Stop ~ Hot Snow ~ Dreaming Tomorrow ~ Keep On The Beat ~ Ya-Da-Yo ~ Victory Road)
3.) “Conquista Ciela” from Virtual-On MARZ
Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka
1.) Donkey Kong ~ Light Gun Series ~ Super Mario Land (Stage BGM) ~ Balloon Fight ~ Wrecking Crew ~ Dr. Mario ~ Super Mario Land (Ending)
Idolm@aster / Famison 8-Bit with DJ Uraken x quad(luvtrax) x KPLECRAFT
1.) “Labyrinth” from Pac-Man
2.) “Fly High” from Dragon Spirit
3.) “Positive” from Sky Kid
4.) “1st Stage” from Xevious
5.) “Harikiri Rally” from New Rally X
6.) “Shooting!!!” from F/A
7.) “Agent Yoru wo iku” Hoover & Acid MIX
8.) “Go My Way” Dream Match MIX
The scene outside the concert hall was bedlam as expected. Everyone was anxiously awaiting their ticket number to be called to get a nice spot to stand near the stage. Yes, this massive event was all-standing for the scheduled 5 hours. But then again, you wouldn’t want people sitting down when you have the likes of Sound Unit H. rocking out live on stage and quad(luvtrax) x KPLECRAFT tearing up the sickest Konami shooting DJ set you’ve ever heard in your life. I was lucky enough to have a press pass in, so I coasted my way past the lines of people and found a nice, cozy seat upstairs in the guest bleachers.
Let me take a moment to talk about the quality of production of EXTRA. It is absolutely top-notch. Like last year, there were two stages: one stage in the center for live performances and one stage to the left for DJs. There were two massive screens flanking each side of the center stage for easy viewing. Throughout the show, these monitors would show close-ups of the performers and each of them had their own special array of cool effects and graphic images worked into their live footage. This added a huge effect to the experience overall, especially since it was hard for most of the thousands in there to see their physical bodies close-up. The sound was also excellent. One of my very favorite aspects of the show was the Count Downs. Roughly a minute and half before each PART would start, the lights would suddenly dim and a digital count down with cybernetic graphics would begin on the dual screens. Simultaneously, a pulse-pounding game-like techno track boomed over the speakers that got everyone revved up for the show. Once the clock reached the 7 second mark, the entire hall began counting down in unison. “3..2..1..” Then bam, the performer’s name would whoosh across the screen and land back in the center with a thud and the EXTRA logo, somewhat similar to the vs. screen of a fighting game. With no program to be found, it was always exciting to see which performer’s name popped up next.
The night kicked off with none other than Trio The DS-10. The hall erupted in cheers and three men dressed in black tuxedos took the stage. Consisting of former Square composer Yasunori Mitsuda, The Black Mages guitarist Michio Okamiya, and Namco’s Nobuyoshi Sano, Trio The DS-10 was set to perform music live using only Korg DS-10 software from six DS units. Each of them had two DS units situated on pedestals before them. After a short introduction, they drew their touch pens and the show began. Their performance started with a basic techno beat that evolved into the Chocobo Theme (I thought to myself, “Is Nobuo hiding somewhere around here?”) The sound of the Korg DS-10 was nice. The quality was high, yet still remained somewhat chip-like; perfect for techno remixing. The close-up views on the large screens revealed the trio’s method of performance, showing closely the timing of the styluses tapping patch buttons, loop triggers, and volume knobs. It was hard to believe that such a rich sound was coming from these DS units. I really, really enjoyed the Chrono medley. The song choices were excellent and the dance arrangement lent itself well to the Chrono melodies. A steady beat held the rhythm, which they changed up now and then, while the themes led to one another, sort of DJ style. No doubt the coolest moment of the performance (and possibly the entire night) was when Michio stepped forward holding one of the DSes like a guitar and ripped out an amazing solo using the Chaos Pad feature of the Korg DS-10. This performance was a hell of a way to start off the night, and it had only just begun.
Next was BETTA FLASH, a female duo known for their work with Capcom and Taito. Before the vocalist, Cyua, even took entrance, the stage was darkened and we were treated to two instrumental songs by Tamayo, the keyboardist, from the upcoming and highly anticipated Thunder Force VI, which were supplemented by images from the game on the big screens. I was highly impressed with both of these themes and I’m definitely looking forward to that soundtrack. BETTA FLASH as a unit then performed three vocals, including “Horizon” from their original album. I’m not sure if the feed from their equipment was bad, but they were the only performance that seemed to have a muffled sound. There were hardly any highs and the instrumentation seemed a bit weak. However, they got everyone riled up when they began throwing colored balls with messages in them to the crowd during their last number, “Ray’z Beyond.” Obviously I didn’t get one, so I have no idea what they could have said. Midway into their performance, Cyua addressed the crowd and promoted their new album titled, “BETTA FLASH.”
The last performance of PART ONE was another heavy hitter, Yuzo Koshiro x Norihiko Hibino, my personally most anticipated performance. Their ensemble performed two songs from Koshiro’s Etrian Odyssey for DS which were arranged in a rather bossa nova style by Hibino. The ensemble consisted of a violinist, cellist, acoustic guitarist, percussionist, pianist, with Koshiro up front on electric keyboard and Hibino as the conductor. When Hibino addressed the crowd after the first two numbers, he apologized for suddenly switching the atmosphere to a “resort-like” sound after the first two upbeat performances. Yuzo mentioned he wanted to perform on stage again and that he felt more relieved this time with Hibino by his side. Their rapport was a bit comical, with Hibino attempting to explain the music from Etrian Odyssey but always having to refer to Koshiro for answers. Yuzo mentioned that he was very pleased with the arrange albums from Etrian and the success of the game’s music. Then Hibino suddenly mentioned Koshiro’s work on Actraiser and announced that they would be performing an arrangement of Filmore’s theme. The entire hall began buzzing. This is my favorite track from Actraiser, so I was quite excited myself. The Filmore arrangement too, had a “resort-like” feel with the acoustic guitar and shaker, giving a fresh spin on the theme. Some text from the game appeared on the screens, which I believe were quotes from the angel guide in the game. After the performance, Koshiro said he liked the slow tempo of this version and noted the differences between it and his arrange on Actraiser Symphonic Suite. Then Koshiro suddenly left stage and Hibino went on to play a beautiful theme from the anime Blassreiter on saxaphone with the lead pianist as backup. I must say, Hibino is quite the saxophonist. He gave a very compelling performance and the entire hall was engaged.
After a short break, PART TWO began with another Count Down to get the crowd’s blood pumping. Whoosh! “Shinji Hosoe.” Hosoe received a huge roar from the crowd. He is quite the popular guy, considering he is one of the most active and respected members in the video game music community, with his hand in almost every omnibus composer arrange album that is released these days. Hosoe’s DJ performance was furious. He delivered a non-stop arsenal of techno poundage that went on for about 30 minutes straight. Comprising the widest time range of the evening, his set covered trademark classics such as Dragon Spirit and Darius all the way to his more recent Technictix and Karous work. The monitors displayed the name of each game as his set pushed forward. Every time a new title appeared, the crowd cheered. Dragon Spirit’s mix was especially nice with it’s piano and techno beat arrangement, and his “Daddy Mulk” remix from Ninja Warriors absolutely rocked with a new voice sampling incorporated into it. My very favorite segment however, was from Let’s Tap, one of Sega’s newest games for Wii. It had a very catchy groove that would occasionally chant, “Let’s Tap!” Hosoe’s visuals were also intense. The monitors displayed a very cool effect that showed Hosoe in motion in a half-negative view with equalizer bars thumping and changing colors. It was at this point in the show that the crowd should have been going crazy on the dance floor. Hosoe had created a dance floor for a game music lover’s dream. Instead, almost everyone in the crowd simply stood there clapping their hands, with maybe one or two random guys dancing like mad by themselves. It was then that I realized the problem: game music fans don’t dance. I thought it was a shame, but nonetheless, Hosoe delivered another fantastic DJ set that pleased the entire crowd. Hosoe simply waved to the crowd and left the DJ stage when it was finished.
Next was another of my highly anticipated performances: long-time Konami composer and performance veteran, Motoaki Furukawa with Voyager. This was the first full-scale, rock performance of the evening so their presence on center stage was immediately huge. The band opened up with none other than “Vampire Killer” from Akumajo Dracula, which sounded exactly like Kukeiha’s old version on Konami All-Stars Senryou Bako Heisei 4 Nen Ban (1991) with that distinct electric guitar carrying the melody. It was about this time that I, myself, was going crazy up in the bleachers. This version of the medley moved to “Stalker” (Stage 2) and ended with “Wicked Child” (Stage 3). The sound of the band was fantastic. The drums were loud and the guitars and keyboards sounded perfect. One thing that Furukawa is known for is his solos, and he definitely dished them out throughout the performance. Most of his numbers of the evening had in fact been previously recorded on Konami albums, except perhaps “Synthetic Life,” which had a medium/slow tempo, nice bass, and vintage Furukawa rock beat. The crowd reacted most enthusiastically to “A Shooting Star” from Gradius II, but my very favorite of their set was “1st Stage” from A-JAX. This song truly has the essence of Konami built into it and Furukawa’s band delivered a stunning performance of it with these great orchestra hits on keyboard that had me rocking my head so hard my neck was sore the next day.
Occasionally the monitors would show the people downstairs, and at one point it scrolled by showing two guys who appeared to be sleeping! I wanted to go down and slap them. Furukawa didn’t speak much during the performance and left the MC job to the keyboardist, who was dressed up like Dracula and explained that only him and the other female keyboardist agreed to do cosplay for the evening. The band ended with another classic from XEXEX. Overall, Furukawa and Voyager remained one of my top performances of the evening.
Next were newcomers quad(luvtrax) x KLPECRAFT, two guys who had made their names in the chiptune remixing scene in Japan and have appeared on a number of video game remix albums. Let me tell you something about these guys. They know what the heck is up with game music. I can’t tell you how hard they brought down the house with their Konami shooting remix set based on Otomedius G. They captured quite possibly the single sickest moment of the evening: THE CODE. It happened shortly after quad had begun his “Challenger 1985” remix from Gradius. It started out with a simple techno beat that broke into a bass and cymbal crescendo and “THE CODE” appeared on the monitors. Timed with arrows on the screens, an electric voice began reading off the code in Japanese on the 1st and 3rd bass beat, “Ue ue shita shita hidari migi hidari miga B…A…. STAAARRT!” then the track took off full-blown into the Gradius theme and the entire hall went nuts, including myself. These guys are true DJs too. While Hosoe’s musical performance was intense, he himself worked mainly from a computer and remained relatively still, pointing and clicking. These guys had DJ tables and multiple sound boards which they used to create live effects on the fly. They also knew how to work the crowd. While quad was running his set, pumping up the crowd with fists in the air during the breaks, KLPECRAFT was jumping up and down to the beat. Every single one of their remixes was amazing with tastefully good beats and awesome chip-like synthesizers carrying the melodies. They definitely won DJ performance of the night in my book. Keep an eye out on these two. Oddly enough, before their performance even began, Hibino suddenly appeared on stage again. He introduced the duo and announced that the music to Konami’s upcoming Otomedius G would be available as downloadable content, and went on to name off a stunning roster of arrangers for the soundtrack. Names that included EXTRA’s own Yuzo Koshiro, Shinji Hosoe, Motoaki Furukawa, quad, Hibino himself, as well as other big timers like Akira Yamaoka, Michiru Yamane, and Miki Higashino. This was big news indeed. The crowd reacted after Hibino read off each name so it was evident there were definitely a lot of close VGM followers in the crowd.
Just when you thought they had run out of performers, Sega Sound Unit H. came onto the scene to start off PART THREE (following another wicked Count Down, of course) and received one the biggest welcomes from the crowd of the night. H. seems to have come out of no where. A Sega dream team in a sense, H. is spearheaded by Sega sound veterans Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Daytona USA, Sega Rally) and Hiroshi Miyauchi (After Burner, Out Run) and can be thought of as the S.S.T. Band of today. When they started their set off with the main theme from Space Harrier, even the Japanese guy sitting next to me who had remained still all night started jamming out and going crazy. Mitsuyoshi, who is a funny guy with great presence and personality, handled most of the talking on stage. He introduced the band and commented that this time they actually have a real drummer, who shockingly turned out to be a 7th grade middle school student. Not only that, but the kid had some serious skills. Hiro mused that with the inclusion of the kid, the average age of the band went significantly down. Next on the menu was a medley from Fantasy Zone, and Mitsuyoshi said to the band, “OK, we got the 10 minute number next. You guys ready to go? No, seriously, are you?” They proceded to play the nearly 10 minute Fantasy Zone medley that covered nearly every theme in the game, with Mitsuyoshi on vocals during “Ya-Da-Yo.” H. had a very polished sound. Their ensemble had nice variation with trumpet and auxiliary percussion, distinguishing it from Voyager. When Mitsuyoshi announced that the next song would be their last, the entire crowd let out a big, “Eeehhhh?” (It’s something obligatory that crowds have to do at concerts in Japan) Mitsuyoshi apologized for only having three songs in their set, but mentioned that if you count all the themes in Fantasy Zone, it was actually a lot more. Mitsuyoshi put down his guitar and sang for the last song “Conquista Ciela” from Virtual-On MARZ. Overall, H. probably had one of the most crowd-pleasing performances of the night.
Following H. was Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Nintendo’s famicom composer legend. A look at his set list alone tells you that this guy has been knee-deep in Nintendo’s oldest games. Wrecking Crew? How awesome is that. Tanaka definitely had the most amusing performance of the night, mainly due to his unique visuals. When he came out on stage, he said, “This stage will be the most bleepy of the night. Please enjoy it.” He seemed to be more of a VJ. His visuals were well-thought and hilarious. During his first song, “Come On Come On, Do the Donkey Kong!” the lyrics would appear on screen and it showed graphics of Donkey Kong animated to make him appear dancing. It was a little cheesy at first but I absolutely loved it and it remained one of my favorite songs of the evening. Other visuals of his included falling caplets for Dr. Mario, photos with “Hirokazu Tanaka” signs all over famous places in Japan and department store names, and one that repeated quite often showing a Google Earth-like zoom from space that eventually landed in a crop field in the midwest U.S.A. that had “Hirokazu Tanaka” written on the wheat fields. A lot of his set incorporated heavy use of sound effect mixing with no melody, which I think was a bit of a buzz killer for the crowd. From the monitors you could see that Tanaka had a lot of crazy knick-knacks he was using for sound and would even pull some real DJ maneuvers on the sound boards. He seemed quite busy, but occasionally he would yell out “Hey!” to the crowd and they would react. All of his songs had very smooth transitions, and he ended his run with a very melodic and pleasing remix of the Super Mario Land ending theme. Though his run had its ups and downs, it was definitely one of the most memorable performances of the night for me. Come On Come On, Do the Donkey Kong! I can’t get that out of my head.
The last performance of the night was Idolm@ster, a group of, well, idols, who were backed by the Famison 8-bit unit featuring DJ Uraken, quad, and KLPECRAFT. In the blink of an eye, hundreds of glow bands came out, the hall’s atmosphere changed, and suddenly I was in the twilight zone. Cute girls singing and dancing with ultra high-pitched voices at ultra fast tempos. I felt like I was at an anime idol marathon. What happened to EXTRA? They were in fact performing songs remixed from games, but the high-pitched singing ruined them for me and at a few points, I had to literally plug my ears to keep them from scratching. Most of the remixes that I heard in the background were in fact excellent however, especially the Pac-Man and Xevious ones which layered the short loops from the originals over killer beats. We can thank Uraken, quad, and KLPECRAFT for that. The crowd was loving the whole scene though. They were like robots, with set motions to raise their glow bands on the long notes of the idol’s singing. I found it rather disgusting and wondered how many people had come specifically to see just the idols. I wondered why it required these idols to get the crowd really revved up, and wished there would have been as much intensity during the instrumental-only performances. I do consider the Famison project very cool, but could deal without the “idol” craze, which seems better suited for anime. All things considered, the Idolm@sters did have one of the heftiest set lists of the night and quite a nice range of games covered, including Rally-X and Sky Kid. The four singers ended their performance with “Go My Way” Dream Match Mix and received a gracious applause from the crowd.
Thus brought an end to EXTRA 2008. The event overall was an amazing experience. I’ve been to a good number of game music events in Japan, but none harnessed so specifically the passion for game music and matched the intensity of EXTRA. Just being among so many people who would “oo” and “ah” over the mention of a name like Miki Higashino was a true pleasure. Most people who attend game-related concerts in Japan (like The Black Mages or Falcom Live) tend to be more fans of the games themselves than game music in general. At an event like EXTRA, you know you are among the extreme. Creator Masatoshi Nakamura has said that he hopes to continue holding EXTRA every year. Here’s hoping he makes that a reality.
[Special thanks to DJ Uraken for arranging coverage and providing the photographs]Tags: Capcom, Concerts, EXTRA, EXTRA HYPER GAME MUSIC EVENT 2008, Hibino, Hip Tanaka, Konami, KORG DS-10, Koshiro, Mitsuda, News, Otomedius G, Tokyo Game Show 2008