Hey! Listen is a bimonthly column that unearths music and obscure video game trivia. Today’s column is about ’90s dance duo the Utah Saints on their new music for Final Vendetta.
HHow do you create the perfect homage to old school beat ’em ups such as final fight and streets of rage? It helps if the studio running it, in this case Bitmap Bureau, lives and breathes retro gaming and has a solid track record of delivering quality arcade-inspired beat ’em ups. But you also need a punchy soundtrack that lives up to the legacy of dance tunes that streets of rage composers Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima were pumping through the Sega Mega Drive.
It is not an easy task. Koshiro and Kawashima perfectly emulated the sound of 90s club culture with their 16-bit homages to anthems like Black Box and Inner City. The music in streets of rage is largely responsible for the series’ cult status not only among video game music fans, but also among modern musicians and producers such as Flying Lotus and Just Blaze whom it inspired. It’s fair that fans judge any modern equivalent of streets of rage on the quality of his music.
Bitmap Bureau knows this, of course, and that’s why the music for their latest game, Final vendetta, is in such good hands. Along with plenty of funky breaks from the game’s composer, Featurecast, Final vendetta features four exclusive tracks from the Utah Saints, the headliners of the 90s. NME chatted with the dance duo, Tim Garbutt and Jez Willis, to find out more, but we also got to listen to ‘No Turning Back’, a title NME may reveal exclusively for the game.
“We knew Lee [Featurecast] for quite a long time, and he’s always been into his video games,” says Garbutt. “He’s worked with Bitmap Bureau before and asked us if we wanted to be involved in this project, and we’re always up for doing cool new things, especially given the style of the game.”
“The way it was presented was that we were making this game, and it’s in the style of streets of rage, probably the most iconic soundtrack because of how ingrained it was in club culture at the time,” Willis adds. “A lot of people were just coming home from going out, relatively drunk, and playing video games. We saw the visuals and thought it looked awesome. I hope it keeps one foot in the nostalgia of things and one foot in the future, just like our music, so it’s a good choice.
This is the first new music Garbutt and Willis have released in over a decade, so does it feel weird doing it through a video game? No way. The Utah Saints are no strangers to the benefits of putting your music in a video game and have been involved in numerous video game projects over the years, from Fifa and Erase Merge at Carmageddon and the experimental rhythm game, Ribbon Vib.
“The good thing about Final vendetta It’s the first project where we were really active at the start of the game, when all the other games submitted tracks to us that we’ve already finished,” Garbutt continues. “Lee gave us information about the levels because we couldn’t play the game at this point; we just had video clips and pictures of everything. We understood that the music needed that modern production sound that was reminiscent of the style of the 90s streets of rage.
“If you listen to music in streets of rage, many of the tracks were homages to the music that existed at the time. So we just tried to write music that sounded like us in the 90s!
As crossover kings of sampling, the Utah Saints have made a name for themselves mixing genres you never imagined would work well together. Their 1992 mega-hit, “Something Good,” samples Kate Bush, while “I Want You” samples thrash Slayer titans’ “War Ensemble.” And in the rare cases where these genre mashups were considered too wild to fit on an album, they found their way into video games instead, as Willis explains.
“For our second album, we were working on this track, ‘Hands Up,’ which sampled Nick Cave,” he says. “We were listening to a DJ called Lostgroover who combined full gabber with speed metal and there was so much energy. So we got this sample of Nick Cave from his previous band, The Birthday Party, put that on, and it just had that “hands up that wants to die” vibe.
“We had no idea what to do with that track and the record company at the time really didn’t want to put it on the album. They said it was very intense and you confuse things enough like that, but then they found a home for it in Carmageddon TDR 2000!”
Willis also has fond but frankly confusing memories of when Phillips approached them about making a game for CD-i in the early 90s.
“I still remember that meeting because we went there as musicians and they were there as business people,” Willis explains. “Tim and I sat around this huge table with six or seven other people from Phillips and were asked about the future of the game.”
Willis recalls the team collectively losing their minds when he pitched the idea that games should have an electronic sensor that goes on your tongue to stimulate your sense of taste and smell, like “chewing- electronic gum”.
“That little thing changed the whole meeting,” he says. “We got development money for CD-i and ended up working with our friend Dan Buzzo to make this game, but the project fell apart with CD-i.”
Fortunately, working on the music for Final vendetta was a more successful experience while providing the duo with a refreshing new way to write music.
“The leads are direct,” says Garbutt. “There are no introductions; these are just in there. Usually when we write a track there will be an intro, a 16 bar section that overlaps, and then you can create another section that goes on top of it. It’s also good because with a single or an album, you get as long as you want to write it, which can sometimes end up taking you forever, whereas with a video game, it’s like, ‘we want that by Tuesday at 9am.’
“The perfectionist side of us would say ‘no, you never finish a track, you just drop it’, but for that, it was really nice to have that framework,” adds Willis. “In terms of writing the music, it’s more focused, and having a deadline just helps you realize that there’s absolutely no room to fade away.”
If you are a fan of the music of streets of ragethere’s no escaping the fact that you’ll fall in love with the music Utah Saints and Featurecast wrote for Final vendettaand I say that as an unconditional streets of rage fan. For the Utah Saints, it’s only fitting that their music would now be associated with a fighting game given that they wrote the end credits music for the original. mortal combat film.
As for the Utah Saints’ sequel, they’re working on new music and feel there’s a lot left to give. Next year marks the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut album, so the pair say you can expect to hear plenty of unique edits and remixes on Spotify and other platforms.
“Six years ago we sat down to analyze the music we were making and realized we were making a lot of soulful music, and we thought that was really off-brand and not what Utah should be doing, so we re-evaluated ourselves and the way we work,” Willis says. “Because we were there at the very beginning and because of the way electronic music is now, we still think we have something to say. didn’t think that, we would do different things.
“We would also like to play a few more games. We really enjoyed Final vendetta. It’s a wicked game and a wicked project to be part of, and artistically it’s great not having to think too much about the tracks.
If you enjoyed this deep dive into the world of game soundtracks, check out the rest of Hey! Listen here.