Astro Arcade: DANGER opens up on anime, gaming roots that inspired ‘Haven’ OST ahead of live Twitch performance [Q&A]
Writing a soundtrack can be a daunting task for producers, many of whom have found their success by creating a musical universe of their own, but in the case of the enigmatic electro artist DANGER, the challenge resulted in a true labor of love.
The masked producer, whose sound has led the curve since his 09/14 2007 EP over a decade ago, recently shifted focus from his own universe to that of Haven, the most recent adventure outing from French gaming studio, The Game Bakers. DANGER leaves his dark and aggro aesthetic at the door in writing the soundtrack for Haven, instead aligning his sound into the game’s rich and vibrant whimsy like a perfectly fitted gem. The OST goes to great sonic lengths to represent the relationship Haven’s core, but also manages to stand on its own as an opulent and evocative electronic LP.
Dancing Astronaut sat down with DANGER to discuss his approach to the Haven soundtrack, his anime-based artistic roots, and all things gaming. In addition, the French producer will be taking to Twitch on Saturday, March 20 at 6:00 a.m. EST (11:00 a.m. CET) with an exclusive performance of songs from the release. Watch the stream live or catch a recording following the event here, and find the full Q&A below.
You’ve talked about how you enjoy releasing your music so that everybody can interpret it differently and find their own narrative. However, with a project like Haven it seems like you’re producing for an existing narrative. From a creative standpoint, does this feel more like an obstacle or an opportunity, and how did it affect your approach to writing the music?
DANGER: Yes, I’m used to creating my music accompanied by images and a universe that I’ve created myself. I immediately understood the universe of Haven well – it’s the kind of world that I’ve wanted to evoke for a while, one of Franco-Japanese cartoons from the ’90s, the decade I grew up in.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysses 31, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors… These co-productions between Japan and France were often less basic and radical than the purely Japanese or American cartoons, but their atmosphere was definitely more particular and subtle – you could feel their moderate, sometimes almost educational French side and above all they had really great soundtracks. I still listen to them today.
I have wanted to use these musical universes to make an album for a long time. It is the strange scent of those cartoons from my childhood that I found with Haven, and I made a point of giving [it] an original soundtrack that sounds really French with hints of Japan – retro-futuristic sounds. So I listened to a lot of music from French video games of the 90s, when there was already a French style of game: Another World by Eric Chahi, Alone in the Dark, the Dune soundtrack by Stephan Picq, Lost Eden by Cryo, Remi Gazel for Rayman (RIP). All these references played their part in the construction of this soundtrack. I like trying to understand what makes elements of my music sound “French”, and I would like to continue to develop this French touch in music, images, and video games. It’s what I try to do with my label 1789 Records.
From what I gather, you’re a fairly big fan of Final Fantasy games (or at least their soundtracks). One of my favorite things about RPG (role playing game) soundtracks has always been how diverse their soundtracks feel as a total package. You have boss fights, open-world adventure themes, victory jingles, tunes to bop around town and visit shops to, and even tracks written solely for going through menus. Were there any moments of Haven that you were particularly excited to write music for, or that you found yourself pleasantly surprised by the results of?
DANGER: I come from a generation in France which, for the first time, grew up discovering on one side a whole part of “modern” Japanese culture manga, anime, and video games, and on the other side, American comics, Hollywood culture, TV shows, and more. Plus, the arrival of the internet had a huge impact on us all. Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana. Japanese fantasy was cooler and less serious than the medieval European fantasy we were used to.
Final Fantasy was one of the first JRPGs I played and Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtracks for Final Fantasy V, VI, and VII all stuck with me.
For a long time I have dreamt of being able to write an RPG OST with music for the fights in the forest, the theme for the first village, etc. It’s very illustrative and contrasting work that must be fun to do, but it’s an approach that’s more suited to a traditional RPG, and is therefore very long.
Haven is a fairly short game, more concentrated, so I tried to imagine the music as a collection of memorable moments that underly the memories of one day – the morning, the sunset, the night, the fog, the rain.
The HAVEN soundtrack strays a bit from your darker electro sounds. Did you ever consider releasing it under a pseudonym or did it always feel canon to the DANGER alias?
DANGER: I have three other aliases at the moment, @facingthesunset, @iamlilbrain and @franckrivoire42. It seemed obvious to me that Haven was directly related to DANGER and that it would allow me to do things that I might not have done with a traditional album release.
The majority of DANGER’s songs are quite dark but there are always more innocent melodies in the middle of the songs, like “11:02” and “11:30.” I try to evoke something that is scary in contrast to innocent melodies that evoke childhood dreams.
This is what pleases me in the adolescence I evoke in all my projects.
I composed the majority of the soundtrack during the COVID-19 epidemic. I really think video games helped a lot of people deal with the seriousness of the situation. At times, they allowed me to escape from reality, which isn’t always easy to live with even when things are normal. I think you can feel that I was enjoying being able to explore making music without really thinking about the consequences of the pandemic, and that’s what gives the whole soundtrack its vibe, something more innocent and light.
I grew up on a mix of RPG soundtracks and Japanese music games (like Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania IIDX and Pop’n Music), which I think did a great job of defining two ends of the spectrum that don’t see much mainstream attention. Were there any particular soundtracks that opened your eyes beyond ‘popular music’ as you developed your style?
DANGER: Video game soundtracks were truly the first electronic music I heard in my life. That’s all I listened to. My first computer was a Commodore Amiga 500, I learned about music through it, thanks to the fantastic soundtracks of Shadow Of The Beast, Jim Power, Giana Sisters, Lionheart… I’m talking about Chris Hülsbeck, but also Stephan Picq. I have always listened to a lot of video game music, because it evokes epic images, feelings, and adventures that are more rare in pop music. Obviously a lot of games on Genesis, Super Nintendo, Saturn, PS1, 2 & 3 and others have awesome soundtracks, but my roots are in those scary, epic Amiga tunes.
It is for all these reasons that having the opportunity to compose an entire soundtrack is a dream for me.
I’d interviewed French producer SebastiAn last year and was surprised to hear that his dream film to score would be something along the lines of Interstellar or The Arrival, which both stray quite far from his French-electro and industrial sounds. Similarly, what would be your dream video game to have had the opportunity to write a soundtrack for?
DANGER: Like SebastiAn, I would love to compose music for a science fiction or fantasy film. The two films he mentions are at the top of my list too. Many musicians from the French Touch 2.0 generation that I’m part of are very film/picture-driven, often film enthusiasts, so most of us are glad to compose music that accompanies images. Pictures and sound – it has always been my goal not to choose between them. I just want to deeply immerse my listener in a universe, an experience.
I think good soundtracks always come from collaborative work between a director and a composer, like John Williams with Lucas and Spielberg, Hans Zimmer with Nolan, Howard Shore with David Cronenberg, John Carpenter with John Carpenter…
For me there’s no cult film or video game without a cult soundtrack. One has to include the other.
Nowadays I’m more passionate about video game soundtracks. You can do so many things with music regarding interactivity, the narrative, etc. I’ve worked with Riot Games and Sony, and I was so glad to create a whole soundtrack for Haven. I would love to continue down this path. It fits with my project aesthetics and goals too.
I would love to continue to develop collaborations with creative video game directors. I’m a fan of Fumito Ueda, Hideo Kojima. I would also love to continue working with French studios and try to create something different.
Skrillex recently had the opportunity to co-write the theme song from Kingdom Hearts 3, which got a pretty inspiring orchestral version following the game’s release. Which of your songs from the Haven soundtrack do you think would make for the best orchestral rendition?
DANGER: I wrote a lot of melodies for this soundtrack. Most of the songs could be transposed into an orchestral version I think. I would love to hear that.
The most obvious would be “07:41 The Beginning of Something” and “22:12 Until the End of Time.” Both are almost exclusively orchestral.
Why do you think certain types of Japanese artistry (anime/video games) are so coveted, while we see little influence from the culture in other areas like the global music industry?
DANGER: Japan has greatly influenced my generation culturally. Every geek has a fascination for the country. Hollywood is starting to adapt some of the biggest stories from anime and cult manga, but the music scene is still underrepresented. I think the main reason is the language barrier. While you can appreciate the images of a cartoon or a video game without really understanding what’s being said, it’s a real problem with a song. I’m very interested in any kind of futuristic Japanese creation.
I’m a fan of Vocaloid / CeVIO creators like Miku Hatsune and Z-Machines, the robot band. They are going all the way. I’m such a fan that I’ve even created my own Vocaloid: Lil Brain.
I will always have a deep curiosity for these 100% Japanese projects. I like how radical they are, but I think that what will always appeal to the general public is artists who manage to digest Japanese culture to make it accessible to an international audience. It’s always good to keep a part that nobody really understands, don’t you think?