11.5.2022 Game Music Collective: Restart @ Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki

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It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a chance to see the GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE performing selections of video game songs and scores. There was meant to be a show earlier this year for us to enjoy, which was unfortunately postponed and ultimately rescheduled, though this didn’t seem to have been overly well-informed online. Lucky for us, we were able to arrange to be there nevertheless, despite the change and us not noticing the new date until the last minute. We hurried down to Kulttuuritalo on May 11th, 2022, to make sure we didn’t miss out on what was sure to be another excellent performance. (ed: setlist is approximate)

The show started right on time as the musicians began to take the stage to a long applause, with conductor Eero Lehtimäki last in place. The show got off to a powerful start with some music from some local video games, possibly Battlelands and another game we couldn’t identify (Iron Danger, maybe). Immediately, the bearded violinist in the front proved to be one of those artists who gets lost in the sound, as he didn’t stand still for a moment, providing us with endless joy throughout the whole show. While the music was unfamiliar to us, these game scores did get things off to a hell of a start, as the song choices were pretty epic. Lehtimäki greeted the crowd in between pieces, and the second track allowed many of the musicians their own moment in the spotlight to play some gentle yet powerful melodies. The build-up with the full orchestra was superb; we could feel our hearts pounding with the percussion.

The third piece from Oceanborn started on a gentle note, led mainly by the woodwinds, and also showed off another enthusiastic performer in the bearded stand-up bassist, who was dipping and moving to the music as well. The electric guitarist got a special mention for the next song, from Heroes of Warland, which Lehtimäki said definitely needed that extra electric element to come to life. This was proven true… after the bombastic percussions and catchy strings already caught our pants on fire, a really slick riff then took over! Giving another throw-out to local games, music from Alan Wake was next. The gentle strings sounded beautiful against the lead clarinet, and the dynamic build was wonderful, in an understated way, closing with the pianist alone.

Knowing that Ari Pulkkinen is a big fan of the GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE, it came as no surprise that he was sitting just in front of us in the crowd, nor that a few of his soundtracks appeared throughout the night. The first was from Trine, which included a tale about getting a special flute in for the Trine 4 trailer on very short notice. They weren’t able to get the aforementioned instrumentalist for this night (which made that story, honestly, kind of pointless), but the song from Trine 2 was a fantastic choice. Not being familiar with it, we were quite pleasantly surprised how epic and fun it was.

The aforementioned stand-up bassist got a shout-out for the next Ari Pulkkinen music piece and perhaps his most well-known: Angry Birds. The music is much more fun than the game (in my personal opinion) and these guys are pretty experienced with this song already, so whatever twists and turns the song took, they were all over it and then some!

The choir, who had left after the first few songs, returned for what we thought was Brawlstars, which also saw the return of the electric guitar, which was perfect for the spaghetti western feel of the music, and the extra chants from the choir were great. They even got the audience clapping along, which is rare for a seated show, but was really quite fun. We also noted by this point that it was the bearded fellows having the most fun, as the bearded fellow in the choir was nearly dancing at times, unable to contain his good time.

It seems there weren’t a lot of racing game players in the crowd, but the song from a mystery racing game turned out to be really jazzy and fun, especially with the slick organ parts and smooth bass – they made it pretty impossible not to dance around, at least until the mood shifted into rock ‘n’ roll suddenly and the crowd responded with huge cheers after. Finishing up the Finnish half of the show was the final of Ari Pulkkinen‘s songs, from the game Nex Machina, “Let Me Save You.” This track featured a female vocalist, doing the theme version rather than the instrumental, which was a good choice, especially since the original is mainly synthwave in style, so the orchestra dressed it up beautifully. This was the only song from the first half that I knew beforehand and had been hyped up for, and they delivered!

There was a 30ish-minute intermission then, allowing people to refuel and visit with familiar faces. The show started up again with some more familiar material from Halo – always a good choice and the choir was, per usual, excellent. This was followed by some Final Fantasy material in a melody, featuring songs most notably from my personal favorite, FFIX, as well as FFVII. They slowed it down a little with music from another unfamiliar score (it may have been from Last of Us?), which included a nice part from the choir and some great almost tribal-sounding drums, with the strings really sounding outstanding.

The vocalist was invited back for more Final Fantasy, this time from FFVIII. Choosing the pop song, “Eyes on Me,” was a surprising choice, though backed by the orchestra it was quite a powerful piece. This was followed by more material from Final Fantasy IX, starting with the opening and then kicking into battle music, before eventually going into the devastatingly haunting “You’re Not Alone.” That song tears my heart open every time I hear it, yet I can’t help feel that there was a missed opportunity by not using the electric guitarist here, as the original song does have electric guitar – why!?

The vocalist returned yet again for “The Dragonborn Comes,” from Skyrim. Music by Jeremy Soule is always bound to get a geek crowd amped up, so there was electricity in the air as the song proceeded. We had hoped the choir might join in, but the vocalist took care of business all on her own. Luckily, they took over for “One Winged Angel,” the beloved theme song of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. If the brass had been a little understated so far (in a classy way – brass can be very overbearing), they had some opportunities to shine along the others in this one. Really, everyone seemed to get highlighted, as this is one hell of a busy song and even the lights refused to let go of their grip once it started.

We wondered what they would possibly follow that with, as they really set the place on fire with the penultimate song. Going with “Destati” from Kingdom Hearts… well, it was not the most iconic track to play but certainly managed to be one of the most exciting and dramatic! Again, the brass got to stand out in certain moments, though who didn’t, really? The choir was intense, the strings were relentless, and the percussion immense. The whole thing was utterly magnificent. The crowd refused to let them go so easily though, so we were finally able to hear the choir do their work in the full version of the “Dragonborn” theme from Skyrim, along with the vocalist and everyone else. It’s not quite as exciting as the two previous songs, but that’s easily forgiven because it’s such a favorite.

While this show was a last-minute effort from us, it was definitely worth it! The music was fantastic, if a bit unfamiliar, though that simply means that we have some soundtracks to check out now! If there was one annoying part of the show, it seemed that the (long and rambling) speeches from Eero Lehtimäki were more like paid advertisements than honest speeches – for example, it seemed like he was advertising Trine 4, despite the band not actually playing any music from Trine 4. If there’s another very small detail, I would comment on the entire collective’s appearance: I’m the last person in the world to complain if people want to be comfortable on stage, but rather than a “just wear black,” it may have looked more tidy if they band were all simply wearing GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE t-shirts and black pants. As it stands, they all looked a little messy, with one fellow in black jean shorts, one violinist in front in bright red stilettos, and the conductor’s shirt being way too long for him. If it were the GMC BAND, that’d be a different story, but if I was forced to dress nice in my youth band, surely these guys can do it too? All of the small nitpicking aside, however, these guys put on an utterly fantastic show and filly my undying urge to hear video game music all the time. Here’s hoping we see them again soon. Now the real question is, if these guys like supporting the local gaming scene, when are these guys going to start playing music from Noita!?

Photos – cell phone

Setlist

  1. Brawlstars?
  2. ?
  3. Oceanborn
  4. Heroes of Warland
  5. Alan Wake
  6. Trine 2
  7. Angry Birds
  8. Super Cells
  9. ? (racing game)
  10. Let Me Save You (from Nex Machina)
  11. intermission
  12. Halo
  13. Final Fantasy IX & VII
  14. ?
  15. Eyes on Me (from Final Fantasy VIII)
  16. Final Fantasy IX medley
  17. The Dragonborn Comes (from Skyrim)
  18. One-Winged Angel (from Final Fantasy VII)
  19. Destati (from Kingdom Hearts)
  20. Dragonborn (from Skyrim) (encore)