We all know how big the music industry is. It’s a titan and dance music is one of the most popular and profitable genres in the world. We’ve seen the big dogs like Calvin Harris and Deadmau5 make nearly $50 million a year and underground dance music has also captivated the minds, hearts and feet of people all around the globe.
You know what, though? It’s nothing compared to the video game world. If you think raves and streaming services are top of the tree, then think again. In 2017, the music industry in the United States made around $9 billion in revenue. Pretty impressive, right? Well the video games racked up nearly $37 billion in the same year and that’s just the US. Around the world it reached around $110 billion.
There are a few successful crossovers between electronic music and video games, like Hudson Mohawke’s soundtrack for Watch Dogs 2 and Soichi Terada’s mind-boggling score for Ape Escape. Who can forget Burial sampling sounds from Metal Gear Solid 2 in ‘Archangel’ and ‘Distant Lights’? The list goes on, of course, but there’s only ever been one franchise sitting at the top of of that list, and it’s done so for two decades: Grand Theft Auto.
Those three words should slap you with a strong sense of nostalgia as soon as you hear them. Whether you grew up begging your mum to let you play it even though it was rated 18, if you spent hours cruising through Vice City listening to Maurice Chavez talk through the most absurd topics on VCPR or if you’re a die-hard player now, GTA has become as much a part of pop culture as it has a best-selling video game.
Even if you’ve never played GTA, there’s a 99.9 per cent chance you’ll have heard of it and it’s just as likely you’ll still be able to explain exactly what it is. Originally released in 1997 by Rockstar Games, it was one of the first games to bring uber violence and mature themes to a console. Of course there were games like Doom and Mortal Kombat that were filled with blood and guts, but with monsters and fictional karate gurus. GTA was set in a city and you could mow down humans. Naturally it caused a stir.
That stir turned into momentum, the momentum into hype and the hype into legend. As it stands GTA is one of the biggest selling video game franchises of all time and its relationship with electronic music in particular has always been fruitful to say the least. The radio stations, whether you’re listening in Los Santos, Liberty City or beyond, have always lived on the cutting edge of dance music.
When the franchise celebrated its 20th birthday, we whittled down some of the best tracks across all of the stations into a list and it was undoubtedly one of the hardest things we’ve had to decide. The point is the wealth of music on offer, especially dance, is vast and GTA V took that to new frontiers.
Radio stations like Soulwax FM, Flylo FM and Worldwide FM, hosted by 2ManyDJs, Flying Lotus and Gilles Peterson respectively, all brought top-class electronic music to the most expansive edition in the series. Soulwax served electro bangers from Tiga and Daniel Avery on their station, FlyLo got weird and wonderful with cuts by DJ Rashad, Machinedrum and Aphex Twin, while Peterson introduced the soul vibe with tracks by Cashmere Cat, Swindle and Mala.
But how do you make the biggest game with the best music even bigger and better? Enter GTA Online, the never-ending expansion that allows users to continue their love for the game long after they’ve completed the main storyline, a feat in itself that takes at least a day or two of continuous gameplay.
You can command jetpacks and fly supercars in wild races, you can take part in heists or you can opt to blow the hell out of the other people playing with you in a team deathmatch. But now you can do something that fans have been asking for years and it’s more glorious than we ever expected. You can own and run nightclubs.
The GTA Online: After Hours update is one of the biggest new additions to the Los Santos universe and if you’re a fan of both the game and dance music, it’s hard not to get a little giddy with excitement. In a nutshell, you can now buy your own nightclub, pick a name, choose the interiors and lighting and book the DJs. It’s a whole lot more than that once you get into it.
Buying your club, alongside your business partner and GTA legend Gay Tony, is only the beginning. You can choose to make your space glamorous and VIP-focused like the Las Vegas behemoths in operation now or you can go stripped back, industrial and grey like the inner ribcage of Berghain. The lighting can be flashy and extravagant or minimal and pulsing, and entry could either be free or a wincing $100.
The level of customisation from the start is impressive to, but the most exciting aspect is, of course, the music. There are four resident DJs to choose from and they’re not just any DJs. They’re some of biggest DJs in the world: Solomun, Tale Of Us, Dixon and The Black Madonna.
Ivan Pavlovich from Rockstar Games has been the company’s soundtrack supervisor for 15 years and choosing four of the coolest DJs on the planet (and three former Mixmag cover stars) was no fluke. As with all of Rockstar's musical decisions, there was method behind the madness.
“I think that the beautiful thing about techno is, even though its massive right now, it always will be underground," Pavlovich said. "In the game, each of the four DJs' mixes represent a different side of dance culture and the great thing is, they are all completely unique. I think that we’ve always stayed on the side of underground and the DJs we’ve chosen are firmly entrenched in this underground culture, and that’s what we’re fans of.”
The first DJ you encounter is Solomun, the founder of Diynamic and one of the most popular DJs in the world. As with all of the DJs in the game, once you book them, you need to pick them up from the airport. From there you enter into a mini mission, all ranging from the absurd to the damn right ridiculous.
“We flew out to the Rockstar headquarters in New York, where they have this whole suite of technology to basically transfer anyone they like into the GTA universe and make a digital duplicate of them," Solomun told us. "In there, they put you in this black bodysuit, which has lots of white little dots on the outside, and they set up cameras which track your every move.”
Solomon’s mission is particularly amusing as his pilot has passed out from one too many sleeping tablets, leaving no one to land the private jet that’s carrying him to the airport. In any normal circumstances, this is potentially the most terrifying prospect you can imagine, but this is GTA and Big Sol is on hand to “press a few buttons” and land the plane himself. All of the DJs' voices and mannerisms have been captured, so to hear them talk and see their body language in these situations is pretty special and damn surreal.
Without spoiling too much of the mission details, every DJ has their own cutscene and intricate storyline before they enter the club and it's obvious that they've all been pretty good sports or big fans of the game. In Tale of Us' case, it was both.
"We both played the game a lot when we were younger and still do sometimes, especially Carmine," Matteo said. "It's one of those games that lets people live out their fantasies of fast cars, money, power and endless possibilities. Rockstar always did an amazing job of storytelling, meaning you can identify with the character in the game, even if their life is crazy and extreme compared to yours."
For The Black Madonna, it was a similar vibe as she told us her love for GTA stems back to playing it when it was first released.
"In the years that I became a professional touring DJ my gaming really slipped because I was working a full-time job and touring at the same time. So it’s only been recently I've got back into it because my husband loves the games in general. He's dragged me back into the world and I’m trying right now to get better so that I don’t embarrass myself. He really enjoys when I will play anything with him. Now I’m getting my GTA chops back and it’s a lot of fun."
Within the club and once behind the decks, every DJ has their own set full of exclusive music and tracks you'd hear them play in the club. Aside from simply booking the DJs for your club, by bringing in new talent, you boost your joint's popularity. For instance, Tale Of Us did something completely unique with their musical offering, something that hasn't been seen before in video games or electronic music.
"After a lot of thought and time in the studio together, we decided this is an incredible opportunity to present a whole album of our own, 18 exclusive tracks," Tale Of Us said. "The game will reach a huge new audience for us, so the best way to express who we are and what we do as is with our own music only."
And with that, a brand new Tale Of Us album is born. Not dropped via their Afterlife label, not teased with news stories around the world but released via a computer game nightclub. This sort of advancement both in the way we consume music and indeed play computer games is unprecedented.
Solomun also took the opportunity to further blur the lines between the real world and the GTA universe by releasing the 100th track on his Diynamic label with a music video created entirely in-game. Watch the 'Customer Is King' footage and you'll see Solomun's character running errands and delivering packages.
If someone told you a few years ago that, in 2018, Solomun and Tale Of Us would be releasing huge new music projects via Grand Theft Auto, would you have believed them? We doubt it.
In addition to the wealth of new music, a new radio station has now been added to the GTA Online experience called Los Santos Underground. This ties together all of the new DJs' mixes and track selections. Once all the DJs have been added in-game, you'll be able to listen to a continuous loop of their sets, so if you ever get tired of Soulwax FM, there's a new hit of dance music radio to get your teeth stuck into.
Every DJ has been kitted out exactly as they would be in the club. Solomun has a Pioneer DJM-2000 with the little screen in the middle, Dixon has a rotary mixer, Tale Of Us both have laptops with Traktor running and The Black Madonna's Allen & Heath has been styled behind the booth. Even their tour managers and riders are the same as in real life.
"The attention to detail is outrageous," The Black Madonna said. "They got my hair exactly right. When I got the first images that were on the internet, I took a screenshot of one and sent it to my mum who doesn’t know anything about video games. I was like 'Hey mum, what do you think of this picture of me?’ and she was like 'It’s nice.' We were laughing. I said 'Look at it a little more closely' and she was like 'What am I looking for?' She didn’t catch it, I had to tell her it was from a video game."
Their dance moves, clothing and the way they walk, talk and move is exactly as you'd see them in real life, but Rockstar has never done things by halves. It's always been at the very forefront of modern technology, immersive gaming and technological advancements.
It should come as no surprise then that when it chose to fully commit to the nightclub experience in-game, it did so by using the best DJs on the planet.
It feels like more than ever before, Rockstar has offered us a true glimpse into the future of what's possible within a gaming universe. It's undoubtedly fun speeding down the freeway with Dixon in the back of the car but it's just as fun to imagine that the Innervisions boss was dressed in a motion capture suit in order for that to happen. It's madness when you think about it.
A new album release, a new video premiere and a new gaming experience all rolled into one and the most exciting part is that this feels like the very tip of what's possible now. Rockstar has Red Dead Redemption 2 to release before we get a new Grand Theft Auto game, but now we've seen just how much can be done in an add-on, we won't lose too much sleep waiting for it.
"Let's get to the disco," The Black Madonna says in-game right after she knocks out a police officer. Trust us, it's the coolest place in the world right now.
Funster is Mixmag's Digital Editor and he's spent 24 realtime hours in his nightclub without using the toilet, follow him on Twitter
For more information about Grand Theft Auto Online: After Hours, click here