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Four Electronic Artists Discuss Pokémon's Cultural Impact and Musical Legacy

Celebrate the franchise's 20th anniversary with stories from Kero Kero Bonito, Maxo, Iglooghost, and Celadon City.

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Mar 17 2016, 6:20pm

Image via YouTube

With Pokémon celebrating its 20th anniversary as a franchise this year, and Nintendo set to roll out several new video games in 2016, there's been plenty of nostalgia-heavy articles written looking at the series' impact on gaming, pop culture, and even social media. But what about music? From Japanese composer Junichi Masada's soundtracks to the cheesy-but-catchy "Pokérap," the best tracks have been hotly debated by generations of fans worldwide. The original soundtrack was even recently reissued on Poké Ball red-and-white-colored vinyl by Moonshake Records.

Today, musicians are referencing the franchise in both overt (British rapper JME's theme song-referencing "The Very Best") and more subtle ways (Warp artist Mssingno's moniker comes from the glitch Pokémon). If you've ever caught a live set by Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, you may have heard "Lavender City Theme" mixed with a Danny Brown or Lana Del Rey song.

In the spirit of the occasion, we had four electronic acts including up-and-coming Oklahoma-based artist Celadon City (named after the fictional metropolis which first appeared in the original games) and self-described "superfan" Maxo, share their stories of how Pokémon shaped their music.

Celadon City:

"Having a sense of adventure is what gave me the motivation to write and travel. Pokémon gave me place to grow and it also helped me connect with many wonderful people. The games will always have a special place in my heart, and I thank the creators for letting my imagination be free."

Iglooghost:

"I was about four-years-old when Pokémon started to mold my entire artistic trajectory, but I was actually a little too young to have been a four-year-old in the crux of the "Pokémania" years. This of course meant that I missed the Red/Blue era, never managed to see the Mewtwo movie [The First Movie] in theatres, and never trawled Angelfire sites for Pokégod rumours."

Instead, I grew up in the second generation of Pokémon in the early 2000s. This meant Lugia's movie [Pokémon: The Movie 2000] was my version of Mewtwo's big screen debut, and I was trading Tazos at school depicting weird, grinning, colourful guys like Aipom, Gligar and Sudowoodo. For whatever reason around that time, [video game developer] Game Freak decided the second incarnation of Pokémon would be more bulbous, cheeky, and simplified. This whole captivated me and absolutely seeded my taste in design. All the artwork I now create has to have some kind of silly, awkward-looking character, or I lose interest.

Music-wise, the distinct Pokémon melodrama found in the soundtracks is something I think of as a blueprint for my own production. I believe there's something very strange in hearing music that tonally could be described as action-packed and tense, but has been painted with sounds that are ridiculous and cartoonish. It's a contradiction I revel in, and I feel whenever I open up my laptop I want to be creating very emotive music but crafted from sillier sounds. The battle music of Pokémon orchestral in composition, yet unorthodox instrumentally. As I type this, I've got a boxed Japanese Pokémon Gold behind me on my shelf, and the HeartGold Ho-oh figurine I got from pre-ordering it from Japan."

Kane West (Kero Kero Bonito):

"Pokémon taught us that persistence pays off and that sometimes life takes you to surprising places. It brought out the best in [British morning TV show SM:TV hosts] Ant and Dec and the guy from [American dance duo] D Train. And don't even get us started on the cards."

Maxo:

"Pokémon was and still is huge for me. I remember lining up on opening day for the first three movies, jumping from Blockbuster to Blockbuster looking for a functional photo booth to print out my Pokémon Snap pictures, and even learning how to use ROMs at age 10 so I could play Pokémon Gold and Silver in Japanese before they were out in America.

Some of the first MIDI files I ever heard or owned were fan-made covers of songs from the games, and the first contemporary pop music I ever learned to appreciate came from official Pokémon CDs (The First Movie and 2.B.A. Master in particular). In addition, Pokémon was responsible for the first instance I can ever recall my interest in video game music actually rivaling my interest in video games as a whole.

Like any other video game franchise, Pokémon has an ever-growing laundry list of themes and motifs that familiarize and re-contextualize themselves over a wide variety of media. Hearing a brand new arrangement of the original Pokémon theme song in The First Movie, or hearing a new arrangement of the original Gym Leader battle theme in the following generation of Pokémon games, made me feel something I hadn't really felt before.

The revelation I came to, was that it was possible to achieve strong emotional response from music by experimenting with and building off of the idea of familiarity. And though many of these themes continue to find new life in the generations to come, the music in Pokémon has evolved into something more like a language; like a Pokédex of unique building blocks that all work together to make Pokémon into the immersive and immediately recognizable world it is. That type of concept building is an ideal that I try to achieve with my music today."