[In his latest 'Sound Current' column for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska visits a Japanese music fan convention to discover the most interesting, often unofficial game music-related CDs and merchandising on sale there.]

Twice a year, fan remixers of videogame music exchange CDs at the Music MediaMix Market, or "M3" for short. Most recently, Yokohama’s Osanbashi Hall was host to the event’s aisles of booths run by professional and aspiring musicians.

More modestly sized than the comparable Comic Market festival, the single-day meetup caters exclusively to the musical side of fan service. Several dozen circles, or informally run organizations, turned out to the 24th chapter of the gathering's history with pressed arrange albums for sale.

This report takes a look at a cross-section of the remixes, covering everything from classics like Challenger to recent releases like Mamoru Has Been Cursed. Including comments by participants, the report offers various perspectives on the objectives that fuel creativity in the doujin remix music scene.

Outside Japan the art of game cover music is largely a geographically decentralized phenomenon. On occasion you can catch The Megas touring the States, 8 Bit Instrumental live in Brazil, or Mutherpluckin' B rocking in Sweden, but it's unlikely to see them together with other videogame-inspired music bands. By contrast, M3 is held twice a year in the Tokyo area, attracting dozens of cover bands and game remixing circles from all over Japan.

This latest M3 at Osanbashi Hall, an auditorium overlooking the sea from a boat-shaped structure in upscale Yokohama harbor, promised to be a voyage of visitors’ imaginations. Perhaps also of the contents of their wallets, as all manner of music CDs and multimedia DVDs were available for purchase. While these products often constitute a violation of copyright, game companies tend to look the other way when M3 rolls around, so long as the doujinshi (amateur products) remain commercially non-competitive.

That is not to say that all participating booths are run by hobbyists. Game composers from SuperSweep had on hand copies of the recently released Mamoru Has Been Cursed Arrange Soundtrack, music to the Xbox 360 port of the game. Its composer, Yousuke Yasui, was in attendance. So too was SamplingMaster Ayako Saso, who has participated in M3 for years and whose contributions to Tekken 6 Original Soundtrack will be published as part of a three-disc album by Sweep Record on December 12. "It's been over two years since the production of Tekken 6, so I had almost forgotten about it" says Ayako Saso. "Then I played it on the Xbox 360 and realized my song was in there. I recall I was going for a mix of Tekken and Noh theater."

Rekka Katakiri came to Osanbashi Hall with a new rumba album for sale, part of her CLOSED/UNDERGROUND circle. A voice frequently heard in anime, the musician has also collaborated with Shadow Hearts composer Yoshitaka Hirota on the image album Kinema in the Hall. "I believe that human connection is among the most important things in life," says the vocalist. "It makes it all the more meaningful to be given the opportunity at this kind of event to meet people who say 'I love the music of Rekka Katakiri.'"

Bridging the gap between mainstream and underground, techno music label luvtrax had on hand albums whose song titles and NSFW album covers brought new meaning to the word "hardcore." Run by quad, the artist has DJ'd, written chiptunes and mastered 5pb Records albums including Yuzo Koshiro's Best Collections and Nobuyoshi Sano's DG-10 projects. The breadth of these activities echoes the overall diversity of M3's musical identities.

In addition to remixed music from videogames, M3 features audio created using retro game consoles. Tsutomu Outani brought with him copies of VORC Records' previous remix compilations, including Squarewave Surfers ~ Memory of 8 Bit, an album of international chip music creators' arrangements of famous beach songs.

For a recent VORC release, Saitone chose to remix Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller" in an 8-bit style. The arranger cites as a primary motivation the desire to introduce those unaccustomed to 8-bit music this distinctive style of expression.

"I've always been a big fan of his," Saitone says of his MJ EP. "I found myself even more absorbed in the process of adapting his music than in working on my own. An essential part of Michael's music is the quality of his voice, so I spent time thinking about how to emulate it using only non-vocal sounds."

Joining Saitone in Stockholm, Hally performed together with idol/graphic designer/vocalist Julie as the unity JulieHally. "I'm so pleased to have helped with forming the foundation for this genre," says Hally, who produced the chip music arrangement album Chiptuned Rockman. "I am glad to be serving as a bridge between the chiptune scene here and those existing overseas." When asked about his impressions of gatherings like M3 and Comiket, Hally says his feelings are mixed. "Our company was formed to sell chip music based on covers and remixes. We try to distinguish ourselves from doujin groups that do the same but without first licensing the music."


Yousuke Yasui and Ayako Saso of the prolific SuperSweep studio

With some CDs priced as low as 300 yen, others were being given away by their makers. Danjyon Kimura had a four-track album of original compositions created on a hacked Game Boy for those who stopped by his booth. "The Game Boy music of some time ago may have been simple," he says, "but there were so many inspired songs for it." The last track on the demo, "taketonbo," has an especially catchy rhythm along the lines of Hirokazu Tanaka's end theme to Super Mario Land, which Kimura says is among his top ten favorite tunes.

Meanwhile musician *4C* was selling copies of his latest installment in the irreverent dance music series "Sprite." Intended to introduce listeners to techno, house and trance mixes, the chaotic potpourri of musical influences run from Nintendo console triangle waves to JR line announcements, Street Fighter II tunes to "Take on Me" by a-ha (which, incidentally, has never sounded better).

“Yoshicore” from Sprite Volume 4 envisions Super Mario World taking place on the stroboscopic floor of a Shibuya dance club. "I'm proud to see that people like me are achieving their aims and emerging as DJs," says *4C*. "Our label's first event is planned for February 13 in Tokyo, and it ought to get some media coverage because there's going to be cosplayers all over the place."

To stand out from the crowd, it helps to be as clever and original with arrangement concepts as possible. Ebisen's "East Breaks in Thousand EP," for example, incorporates the six-second "Amen break" sample in four assorted game themes. The Wilhelm scream of breakbeat, the Amen break has miraculously touched every corner of hip-hop since the advent of sampling. "The end theme from Front Mission is a favorite of mine," says Ebisen, "but I couldn't find anyone to arrange it, so I went ahead and did it myself." The track sees Noriko Matsueda's melancholic lament for a war-torn battlefield, arranged for piano and strings, swiftly transitioning into a mechanically sped-up drum solo.

Some consider M3 a valuable way to engage with Japan's game music industry without having to weather the pressures of a competitive market. TMZ of Trichromatic went pro before switching his focus to design and publishing ten years ago. He sees his album "wired" as a method of exercising his skills. "Every one of the originals represented on the album are great pieces of music," he says of Trichromatic's latest. "I tried to retain their essence while arranging from a different perspective so as to give the tracks a fresh, new personality. " The album invites listeners to come for the trance remixes of Persona 3 and Saga Frontier II melodies, then stay for “wired,” an original composition.

For over twenty years the music of the Mega Man series has inspired amateur musicians to give Elec Man electronica makeovers and do Wood Man live and unplugged. Takana of the circle Colis Postal set out to treat the Blue Bomber to arrangements of elliptical, dreamy club mixes.

"Mega Man is called Rockman in Japan," says the musician, "so the title 'RockLove' carries a double meaning. It's about the love of Mega Man and the love of rock music clubs." The arrange album showcases active Tokyo DJs, a collaboration with sound house Right Stuff.

Takana mentions that licensing was a concern during the making of the album. "Just after we began distributing the CD, we received word that other circles were being forced to suspend sales of their Mega Man arrange albums. We contacted the company owning the publishing rights and received permission to sell CDs, but it could have easily turned out that this project was never released."

Members of circle “Artificial Heart” hoisted above their heads two laminated oversized posters for their latest offerings, rock arrangements of Smash Bros. and Mega Man X. The dust jacket of “We Will Rock You” depicts X, Zero and Doctor Wily reenacting the front cover of a Queen album. Listening to the cross-fade track on their homepage, a soundbite of the tongue-in-cheek glam rock voice acting can be sampled.


Artificial Heart promotes its two latest albums "Party" and "We Will Rock You"

The arrangements of classic game themes represented at M3 ran all the way back to the early days of home consoles, such as Lunatic Gate's “We Love 8 Bit,” including dance tracks inspired by Raid on Bungling Bay, Shadowgate and Challenger. FMPSG's Burning Stone offered on track “Paradise Planet” a time-warped look at Motoi Sakuraba’s hard rock style circa Valkyrie Profile through the lens of 8-bit famicom hardware.

A collection of circle earth Japan's best works were on display, spanning seven years of remixing. Revisiting Ketsui, Dracula X, Ys and Super R-Type, the album includes primarily high intensity electronic tracks, mixed and remastered using T-Racks software. Since the material was selected from various releases, some made with Recomposer/98 files installed on an old-fashioned NEC PC-9801, the archival process was no small task. "This album covers much of the music that has inspired me most since I was young," says Nijeil, "spanning nearly half my life." The circle's next album will arrange music from Super Nintendo racer F-Zero, due out at December's Comiket.

As might have been expected, M3 included many an offering to the shrine of Final Fantasy. Dynastess was selling the latest installment of the Music Fantasy Tactics series. SunnyVale had a Final Fantasy dance music compilation called Materia Blue, including super cute FF VII vocal covers and matching Yuffie Kusaragi cover art. Taking prog rock and metal as their inspirations, Sound Factory Carolina offered a drum and bass rendition of Ryuji Sasai’s Final Fantasy Mystic Quest as part of the Sound Legacy compilation.

Luna of Lunatic Gate brought to Osanbashi Hall the second edition of RPG-themed "Battle Syndrome." Much of the album, which has no breaks between tracks, never strays from 190 beats per minute. "The opening is a passage from 'Decisive Battle' from Final Fantasy VI," says Luna. "Since it's slower than the source material, the track has been named simply 'Battle Theme.'" Every Final Fantasy fight theme from the 8 and 16-bit eras has been covered by the Battle Syndrome series, except for one. Luna invites listeners to figure out for themselves which track remains to be remixed.

"Ever Green" by EtlanZ features pristine electronic arrangements from various classic Square Enix titles, the first album by the musician on updated synthesizer hardware. "I've been making music as a hobbyist for close to eight years," says EtlanZ. "It seems like you can always find someone to talk with about games, but game music is another story. I'm grateful to the event staff for making it possible for so many like-minded people to communicate with one another."

The delightfully named Magical Trick Society had a collection of Squaresoft remixes titled “Folktale Recollection,” including pastoral flute and steel string arrangements simulated on synthesizers. Magical Trick's "Lead Into Genesis" pays homage to self-taught game composer Shinji Hosoe with arrangements of his first score, Dragon Spirit. Sticking close to the source material while incorporating contemporary instrument samples, the tribute underscores how the composer’s passion over time led to the creation of an influential record label.

F-Zero Mode by Churchmode, a jazzy tribute to the ever-listenable F-Zero, shifts the pedal-to-the-metal thrill ride into mellow low gear. The album takes as its priority shedding new light on tunes you thought you already knew. The circle's "Paradox of Persona" remixes music by Shoji Meguro from the Atlus RPG series. Artist Splice, who dressed in Persona cosplay at Comiket to promote the fan arrangement album, says that what is most enjoyable about M3 for her is the chance to expand upon the experience of arranging game music by interacting with other enthusiasts.


frisbee and splice of Churchmode with Paradox of Persona -Ash of MEGAMI TENSEI2-

While the turnout at M3 remains strong, at the same time an economic recession cannot help but touch a community whose activities rely on having free time. Furthermore while previously many hobbyists dreamed of someday breaking into the industry, more recently many also fear that game companies will begin cracking down on unlicensed tributes.

More popular circles with aspirations of being signed can be heard wondering aloud whether their remix albums will be frowned upon by potential employers. It’s a situation that cannot help but discourage innovation in videogame arrangement. The feelings of uncertainty at events like M3 stand out in contrast to optimism felt across the Pacific, where Capcom endorsed Arizona rapper Random's Mega Man 9 remix album and Metroid Metal performed live at PAX.

Regulations are not firmly in place in Japan guaranteeing the safety of homage from legal action, and uneasiness remains when it comes to what it means to be doujin. Uncertainty notwithstanding, M3 continues not only to function but to outshine remixer gatherings elsewhere in the world. It's the place for the most inspired tributes and imitations the real world has to offer—dust jackets, liner notes, jewel cases and all.


[Images courtesy of VORC Records, Music Fantasy Tactics, Lunatic Gate and Aerophonon. Translation by Yoshi Miyamoto. Photos by Jeriaska.]