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Shifting Gears: Out Run & Kavinsky’s OutRun

The horrible freedom of the open road and the awesome electricity behind the wheel.

By Derrick Sanskrit • August 5, 2013

Video game music can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to pair your wine with some different cheese. In Alternate Soundtrack, Derrick Sanskrit matches a video game with an album that enhances the experience.

A staple of the booming 1980s arcade scene, Sega’s Out Run—designed by Yu Suzuki—is a car game steeped in luxury and elegance. With your anonymous driver at the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa convertible, palm trees whiz by, and your girlfriend’s hair dances in the breeze. The premise is that you’re participating in a cross-country race, plotting a new course for adventure at every fork in the road.

One of the biggest ideas in Out Run was the necessity of shifting gears. First gear can only get a driver so far before the competition leaves them in the dust, but second gear will only slow a driver down when they’re on rough terrain. Players needed to carefully balance the speed and gear of their ride in order to stay in the race, as they do in real life.

Earlier this year, the French DJ known as Kavinsky released an LP with a familiar title, OutRun, and similar thematic sensibilities. In a post-Napster environment, where a musician is only as relevant as the last stray track someone downloaded, many dance musicians find they have little time to dawdle. They must constantly fire on all cylinders, as their career ends the moment the party ends. But Kavinsky opts for a more patient, cinematic sound, and he has built a small but strong following off a series of singles—and one particularly-well placed song in the opening credits of 2011’s Drive. Sure, you can dance to most of this stuff, but there is a somber sense of darkness at times and a carefree declaration of rebellion at others.

Yu Suzuki

Pairing this game and this album is not an original idea. Vincent Belorgey—a.k.a. Kavinsky—has acknowledged that he named his debut LP after the Sega arcade game. There’s even a photo of Out Run designer Yu Suzuki holding the Kavinsky vinyl sleeve. I can almost guarantee that, during the mixing sessions for the OutRun LP, Kavinsky would sit back and play the 1991 Sega Genesis/Mega Drive port of the arcade game while listening to his own demo tracks.

There is the sense in both Out Run the game and OutRun the album that the open road offers a horrible freedom but also that there is an awesome electricity behind the wheel of a Ferrari. The chugging beat of “Blizzard” is the roar of the engine, while the distant chants of “Hey! Hey!” are the roar of the crowd. The blistering heat of the lead guitar through “ProtoVision” leads the youthful rebellion with fists raised to the sky. The ominous strings and bass of “Rampage” create a claustrophobia that is dashed by the free-wheeling swagger of “Suburbia.” And then that swagger is reformulated into the disorienting machinations of “Deadcruiser” with its relentless bass sequencer.

Kavinsky’s instrumentals undulate between the unfettered abandon of the infinite highway and the tension of street racing. Even the lyrics of Kavinsky’s collaborators reflect on the joys and sorrows of the open road. “I come to life in my fast, fast car,” Havoc announces on “Suburbia.” He’s in control of the landscape as he continues, “My Testarossa, same color as Mars. Buckle up, we’re now riding with a star.” Tyson likens a gearshift to the crack of lightning on “First Blood” while SebastiAn croons about the rush of realizing there’s nobody around you on “Odd Look,” both of which describe real sensations that punctuate the game.

Suzuki has long said that Out Run was not a racing game, but a “driving game.” Fixating on speed will run players off the road. Driving with a sense of reason is what wins the day. Kavinsky’s OutRun is much the same, forgoing the ebb and flow of dance records for a consistent sense of forward motion. These songs don’t have bridges that allow dancers to change up their pace and catch their breath. More often than not, they build in intensity across each song and, just as Kavinsky approaches the emotional apex of a tune, the song cuts out, and we move on to the next idea. We shift gears.

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51 Responses to “Shifting Gears: Out Run & Kavinsky’s OutRun

  1. vinnybushes says:

    I haven’t ever listened to kavinsky before and until this article I had only heard of an ios game he released that wears the influences of outrun and streets of rage on its sleeve. I’m definitely going to look into his music some more now.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      The Ed Banger influence is heavy on the LP, and I’m never sure whether to take them seriously or not.  Your Breakbots, Sebastians, and Justices of the world are great and all, but they’re heavily mannered and behind a layer of irony that’s unnecessary to me.  That’s not to say they wouldn’t pair well with Outrun 1 (I’d have gone with Turbo OutRun or OutRunners), but they’d change the game from effortless progression to stylized trek.  It would be cool to see that for OutRun 3, though.

      I am pleased that musicians not based strictly in chiptune like Anamanaguchi feel fit to use video game sounds.  As far as that goes, Russia>U.K.>Japan>U.S.>Australia, but it’s getting harder to generalize now that it’s not just LuckyMe and Hyperboloid doing bleep boop noises.

      Some of them even create awesome music videos.

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

        “Now that it’s not just LuckyMe and Hyperboloid doing bleep boop noises”.

        I’m sorry, but that means LIST WARZ (Warning: MTV editing and camera angles): That white box with the big black knob sitting between the keyboards? That’s a SidStation, which Timbaland used extensively during the Loose/Shock Value period. Heck, he made people across the globe dance to something he plagiarized from the HighVoltage SID Collection before LuckyMe was even founded.

        On to non-chiptune, but still video game-related music:

        It’s not on YouTube in it’s original version, but you’ll have to trust me that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony sampled Eternal Champions on a 1996 album that went on to sell more than 10 million copies.

        Lightning round:
        Here’s Eminem and Masta Ace rapping over Soul Calibur
        Here’s Kool G Rap rapping over Final Fantasy VII
        Here’s Smif-n-Wessum rapping over Super Mario Bros
        Here’s STF and Kool Savas rapping over a beat made from Quake 2 sounds (and here’s the cover)

        Never-ending appreciation for anyone who can tell me where this intro came from. I want to say Turrican but I’m not quite sure.

        And while we’re at it, put Japan ahead of Russia because to my knowledge Russia never made a chiptune cover of DeBarge’s I Like it with Enka vocals on top.

        • vinnybushes says:

          here’s Del the Funky Homosapien rapping about really niche video games over Darkstalkers 3. “I play games by capcom with the power glove strapped on!”

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @vinnybushes:disqus Holy crap, last time I heard this I didn’t get half the references. Del’s a fool, in the best sense of the word. If you haven’t seen it already, Deltron 3030 started posting tracks from the new album and SPOILERS one of them begins with narration from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

        • vinnybushes says:

           it says something about how hardcore a collector Del is that he raps about Rival Schools, Herzog Zwei, Megaman Legends and importing Xenogears.

        • Sleverin says:

           Good ol’ Del is from my area.  Kinda wish Hieroglyphics would release more albums, but I can happily get behind any albums he releases.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @vinnybushes:disqus And it’s not like it’s just namedropping.
          “To anyone who knew me better

          Know I chose Saturn first ’cause it’s 2D heaven

          Bernie Stolar dropped the ball with the RAM cartridge

          X-men Vs. Streetfighter could’ve expanded the market”
          is practically a NeoGAF post.

      • DrFlimFlam says:

        The Smashing Pumpkins sampled an explosion from Doom for Where Boys Fear to Tread off of Mellon Collie.

    • Girard says:

      That game kind of makes me wish I had a mobile device. Oh well, I’ll do the next best thing and just watch that video. Or the next next best thing and listen to this while playing Outrun. Or the next next next best thing and listen to this while playing Hotline Miami in some kind of videogame reference oruboros.

  2. turboreid says:

    Never stop doing Alternate Soundtrack. I still play Limbo alongside Amnesiac.

    Also, the record stickers for each intro are amazing.

  3. Sam_Barsanti says:

    How sick is that song from Drive? Cause I think it’s like, super sick.

  4. Yeah Kavinsky is fucking awesome. I love Nightcall and Protovision.

    If you guys like his stuff, also check out Velour and Jasper Byrne. Velour makes 80’s synthpop-inspired UK Garage/Bass/House music whereas Jasper Byrne makes music similar to Nightcall.

    The Neo-80’s music trend is great right now, and Power Glove is another favourite of mine

    • You probably already know this, but Jasper Byrne has a couple of excellent tunes in Soundodger. And oh man yeah, Power Glove’s soundtrack for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is fantastic.

    • Weezyfiggs says:

      Thanks for the heads-up on Power Glove.  Loved the Blood Dragon soundtrack (and the Neo-80’s thing in general), but wasn’t aware of the musician.  Can you recommend any other similar artists?

      • A similar auditory aesthetic but noticeably more electropop-tinged, I strongly recommend Futurecop! (the exclamation point is part of the name, not my enthusiasm level, though I do love it).

        • SamPlays says:

          My favorite use of an exclamation point is Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Their most recent album was chock full of exclamation points and their music is consistently amazing.

        • @SamPlays:disqus I definitely catch myself considering how to properly say Godspeed You! Black Emperor (do you pause in the middle?) more often than I do for !!!, mostly because I haven’t heard anybody call them anything other than “chk-chk-chk” since 2006 or so (it was originally just any percussive sound three times in a row, so they could also be called “bam-bam-bam” or “thwok-thwok-thwok”). One of the shortest and sweetest Jets to Brazil songs is titled “*******,” presumably so nobody could ever request it at a concert.

        • SamPlays says:

          I hate in-person conversations that reference !!! because I think chk-chk-chk is a dumb default. I prefer to raise my eyebrows three times in a step progression fashion. As far as obscure titles go, I think Sigur Ros threw down the gauntlet with their ( ) album, which had 7-8 very long, very untitled songs (titles were later released). At least Elliott Smith had the decency to number his untitled (No Name) songs.

        • @SamPlays:disqus Too true, but it was far easier discussing “Untitled track 2” with friends than any track off of Ágætis byrjun, plus it was just so much fun playing with the vellum sleeve on ( ). Tangentially to the Elliott Smith point, I always kind of loved that Death Cab For Cutie had a (great) track called “Title Track.” You got the sense it was more about experiences listening to title tracks from other albums than it was actually in reference to the concept/phrase “we have the facts and we’re voting yes” (title of the album). That or they didn’t know what to call the song but knew it would be the emotional heart of the album they were working on (which it basically was).

        • SamPlays says:

          Good point! Much easier to say play track 5 than hopelessly botch the pronunciation of their titled tracks. (I may not be remembering this correctly but I always had the understanding that their lyrics are written in faux language – I was never clear on if this meant it was actual gibberish, albeit structured, or just a nonsensical string of words compiled based on their sound a la early Brian Eno.) Your DCFC example reminds of another meta example: Wilco (The Song) from Wilco’s album Wilco (The Album). Or, Wilco from Wilco’s Wilco. Very clever indeed!

        • @SamPlays:disqus ( ) was sung in the made-up “Hopelandic,” as were select songs on other albums, but for the most part Jonsi sings in Icelandic. I think I read somewhere that Hopelandic was composed of three or four phrases, which makes sense to me since ( ) mostly sounded like “you sigh unh ohh.”

        • Uncle Roundy says:

          I am indifferent to DCFC, but We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes is one of my all-time favorite album titles.

        • Chalkdust says:

           @uncleroundy:disqus My vote for favorite album title goes to the independent hip-hop duo Grand Buffet, and this particular EP.

      • Baramos x says:

         You mean Power Glove in the sense of ambient techno or Power Glove in the sense of making cool songs based on video game and ’90s cartoon sound tracks? Because there is also the NESkimos for the second one.

  5. SamPlays says:

    I’m sorry to crash the party but the only legit highway driving song is “Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane.

  6. DrFlimFlam says:

    I found this album at the library and thought I’d take it for a spin. But Nightcall really is the best he has to offer, and there are some odd head-scratchers on the album as well. This sounds like it would be a good soundtrack, and I think it pairs well with, say, Far Cry Blood Dragon, but on its own terms it’s merely okay.

    • boardgameguy says:

      After listening to Nightcall on repeat after seeing Drive, I tracked this down after it was released. The album is quite the grower, and my favorite continues to switch as I listen to it more. My current pick is Suburbia.

    • Baramos x says:

       I tracked down his first album. It’s pretty good ’80s electro. Oddly it is very short, though (I guess from being built from singles).

  7. boardgameguy says:

    I’m very impressed if that is Derrick playing Out Run in that video. I was so bad at that game whenever I played it as a kid.

    • John Teti says:

      It is Derrick, and he said that he had to practice A LOT.

      • It’s part of the reason this installment took three flippin’ months. I took the easy way out on the next entry and tricked Matt Kodner into playing for me.

      • George_Liquor says:

        I seem to have a problem playing this video in Chrome. I get either a black window or the player resets to 0:00 after playing for maybe a second.

        • Citric says:

          You have to disable one of the flashes. I don’t remember how to do this or what flash it’s best to disable, but Chrome flash and Adobe flash fight like teenage girls who wore the same dress to a dance.

          Maybe someone else can be more helpful in the actual mechanics, but that’s what I did when I had that problem.

  8. Andy Tuttle says:

    Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I love Drive.

  9. His_Space_Holiness says:

    I like that at the end of the video it’s the woman sitting on the right who gets the trophy. Surprise, it was a British car THE WHOLE TIME!

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      Oh man, I just got that. I always thought it was just kind of like an F You to the guy, like, she gets the trophy because she had to ride with you the whole damn time. That’s fucking mind blowing.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        I think it is actually just a gag at the driver’s expense.

        • It is. There are five different endings, based on which path you take, this one is just the one I thought played best with overall flow of the piece, and was also kinda funny. The guy clearly expects to receive the trophy, then looks down disappointed and twiddles his fingers like an embarrassed school boy when they pass him by. I appreciate your original joke, though!

  10. Baramos x says:

    I heard Nightcall will be on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack (featured on the radio station “Nightride FM”), with Kavinsky as the DJ.

  11. guywhiteycorngood says:

    I listen to this album while playing GranTurismo5 on the PS3, after they added the update for you to be able to play your own music. It’s OK as driving music in real life but in games it’s just perfect synergy.

  12. Citric says:

    So the new Ford Focus has ambient lighting. You can make it any color you want. In an attempt to sell me a Ford Focus, the local dealer gave me one overnight. So, with this album on full blast and the ambient lighting set to pink, I drove around town feeling like the coolest person alive, and was almost convincing myself that the Ford Focus was the car for me.

    Then the next morning I realized the LCD screens were actually really annoying and eventually bought a Hyundai Elantra GT which I liked better and was cheaper, but in that very specific environment, the Focus was badass.

    (Note, the Hyundai is even more amazing driving around at night with the giant sunroof open listening to M83).