In a tangled network of side streets: neon monoliths beguile and enervate, fractured melodies echo through crumbling halls and analog noise bleeds into nearby display terminals. As dawn approaches, a crimson glow permeates the static sky, and fragments of memory amalgamate like dust on a photograph.
During five years of releases with Project: Mooncircle, submerse has enveloped his listeners within a world of yearning, bliss and regret. Fusing hip hop instrumentals, lo fi textures and splintered RnB refrains, Rob Orme has established himself as a truly singular electronic artist. To celebrate his first five years at the Berlin based label, Project: Mooncircle are releasing a best-of compilation entitled 'works', which drops this Friday.
Throughout his discography, submerse has demonstrated a remarkable talent for balancing stylistic variety with artistic consistency. Whilst each new release has heralded a tonal shift (like the drone and ambient influence of this year's superb Awake); the expansive textural layers, washed out production and lush rhodes keys remain distinct hallmarks of his sound. As a result, ‘works’ can be sequenced in terms of mood and theme rather than chronology; creating a new environment for old favourites to be experienced in. For example, the wistful haze of Melankoly engenders a new intensity to the percussion pirouettes and fluttering chimes of Gloom. The compilation also rewards listeners with four bonus tracks of previously unreleased material. Overall, 'works' is an assiduously curated anthology, to be cherished by long term fans and newcomers alike. Here’s to another five years.
We were honoured to speak with Rob for the site. His recommendation is the superb 16 bit inspired Hyper Light Drifter, developed by Heart Machine.
When did you first hear about Hyper Light Drifter?
Back in 2013, if i remember right it was a post on Kotaku.com with a pre-alpha trailer and a link to the Kickstarter campaign.
What were your initial impressions?
Immediately it made me think of games like Legend of Zelda, Alundra and Boktai but much darker in tone, and with faster more tactical combat like Dark Souls or Ninja Gaiden. HLD's ambient digital bit-crushed score immediately got my attention and along with the rad 16-bit style dystopian setting I was pretty much sold.
The world of HLD is split across four distinct territories. Did a particular location stand out for you?
On my first play through I started with 'West'. I like the 'West' area because of its gloomy forest style and tight combat areas. It's definitely one of the darkest parts of the game and a tough area to start in. Once I had beaten the area boss I was pretty pumped, I then went 'East' and was blown away by the difference in style, mood and atmosphere between the two. The 'East' side is really beautiful, it felt like I had gone from the top of death mountain to some kinda overgrown zen garden (à la The Last Of Us). All of the districts feel entirely separate and unique and it keeps any area from feeling stale.
In the forest area, there was something strangely moving about smashing through countless brittle crystals only for them to reform instantly. It felt like you couldn’t ‘master’ your surroundings, only drift through them...
Yeah for sure. I think the crystals add a real nice touch of character to the game, smashing them can refill your ammo but getting too close can get you stuck inside, it's almost like digging your own grave. The environment and the story are really closely connected: sometimes as much as we want to be able to control things around us, some things are beyond our power to change.
As you mention, the narrative is told so subtly and thoughtfully across the environments. Was this storytelling method something you were intrigued by?
Yeah for sure, I like the idea of stories being told without text and dialog, I can kinda relate to this when making music. HLD for me is all about the atmosphere and gameplay, It's cool when a game that is super challenging and takes a lot of concentration in combat doesn't take you away from your own experience every few minuets with dialog boxes. I think the cut scenes and moments of story shown throughout the game are sparse enough that it keeps you intrigued to find out more and keep you interested into what is happening to 'the drifter'.
I had read some posts by Alex Preston the creator of the game online where he was talking about his health problems, so I did some more research and read some interviews where Alex talks about his heart problems, congenital heart disease, pacemakers and just a plethora of unfortunate things Alex has to deal with and has dealt with since he was born. Everything then made so much sense with HLD's protagonist coughing up blood, passing out and part of the main story of the game him looking for a cure to his illness. I read online that Alex said the drifter is always close to death and that’s something that Alex is familiar with. From that point playing the game had so much more weight, I can really see Alex putting himself into the game and it made HLD so much more personal. It's truly inspiring to see someone with so many obstacles in life turn it into some creative.
What are your thoughts on the gameplay? For me it is analogous to the environment: minimal, stark, but precise and really responsive.
Yeah I'm really into games that are pretty simple to pick up and play but difficult to master. It's not really about memorising complex combos, more about practice. The only way to beat some of the more difficult bosses is to just work on your skill as a player. As the dash gets more essential working on your timing a big factor, I really dig those kind of games, takes me back to the days of Megaman.
You’ve spoken about your love for video game soundtracks in the past… where does this one rank for you?
This is one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. I'm a super huge fan of Disasterpeace, from his early chiptune works to his score for Fez and the movie It Follows. Disasterpeace is a massive inspiration to me, especially in some of my more recent music. This soundtrack since its release is my number one played album on iTunes and probably will be for a long time, I couldn't really think of anyone else more suited to score HLD, his balance of lo-fi ambient with hints of chiptune, lush square-wave pads and moody chords drenched in thick reverb is really something else. Sometimes I don't even pick up the controller I just take in the visuals and listen to the music.
Any particular songs from the soundtrack which particularly stand out? I loved the synth tones in the East Zone, they remind me of this from your Flau label mate Noah. It’s like these old analog machines are lamenting at the demise of their home, and it told you everything about the area without more explicit narrative exposition.
'Vignette: Panacea' is one of my favourite tracks, when I saw the final trailer this track instantly set the tone of the game for me. Also 'The Gauntlet’ really stood out, it's one of the more minimal tracks, the pulsating bass really adds to the atmosphere when playing the game with headphones or through monitors. Like in my own music I almost always go for that melancholic vibe, this soundtrack nails that perfectly, its beautiful chaos. A digital future thats been destroyed with some major chords occasionally placed in for respite.
If you were to compose a soundtrack, would it be in a similar style to submerse, or go in another direction? The drone tracks which bookend Awake would fit perfectly into a game like HLD…
I think you can hear in the ambient/drone tracks on Awake the influence Disasterpeace has had one me. I would love to do more video game music and thats something I'm really pushing for in the future. If I was to compose a full soundtrack I think I would go in a direction thats complimentary towards the style and the tone of the game, maybe more along the style of Awake. I'd like people to maybe be able to recognise that this sounds a little like 'submerse', I would defiantly be taking over the kind of melancholic vibe thats in most things I make.
I saw on Twitter that you’re planning to stream games whilst beat making. How is that going to play out?
Yeah I’ve been thinking about a few different ideas. Finally decided on doing a Twitch & YouTube channel of 'let's plays' with music guests. I figure it should be cool to kinda just talk about video games and music while playing a game of their choice. Still setting it up right now but hopefully I can be up and running in the next couple of months.
Finally, are there any other games which would you recommend in the style of HLD?
All the games I mentioned above have something in common with HLD for sure:
- Secret Of Mana
- A Link To The Past
- Mega Man Zero
- Dark Souls