The Rave & Video Game Legacy of CoLD SToRAGE’s wipE’out” Soundtrack

Released in 1995 for PlayStation, the anti-gravity racing game wipE’out” came paired with a breathtaking, rave-inspired soundtrack — composed by Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE) — that ushered in a new era of electronic music in video games. Now re-released alongside remixes from cutting-edge producers, we revisit the importance of this innovative soundtrack. Harry Levin has the story.

12 min
Wipeout Beatportal Header
Nov 22, 2023
·
By
Harry Levin

As soon as Tim Wright turns on his camera for our Zoom interview, three legendary tenets of video gaming appear.

One is Wright’s hat which displays the logo of the Pong developer, Atari, in all its glory. The second is the lanyard around his neck, decorated with the multi-colored ghosts and the dot-eating yellow head from the iconic arcade game Pac-Man.

The third is Wright himself, who, under the name CoLD SToRAGE, created the soundtrack for the futuristic racer, wipEout. Almost 30 years after these tunes were first heard from the speakers of cathode ray tube TVs alongside the humming of a Playstation 1, they’re still being heard within prominent nightclubs as well.

The music is ravey. It’s danceable. It flexes the kind of sound design that is unique to electronic music, and such descriptors also apply to the music of defining electronic artists like The Chemical Brothers and Orbital, both of whom contributed music to wipEout.

The Chemical Brothers provided a remix of the acid-heavy “Chemical Beats” from their 1995 album Exit Planet Dust, and Orbital composed a new track just for wipEout entitled “Petrol.”

But the bulk of the soundtrack was composed by CoLD SToRAGE, and at the time, Wright wasn’t aware, but he was inspiring a whole new generation of electronic musicians.

“I first played [wipEout] in early 1996 at a friend’s house, it felt like the first time a game had actually emerged from electronic music culture, rather than just give it a nod,” wrote John Davies, who produces electronic music under the name Datassette, in answers provided to Beatportal over email. “While playing it, you’d hear this intense rave music blasting out of the TV in full CD quality. It definitely felt like some boundaries had been smashed.”

In 1995, CoLD SToRAGE and wipEout were symbols of the growing legitimization of both video games and electronic music. Their combining forces expanded the audience for both.

On the one hand, raves were (and still are) stigmatized as drug-fueled hangs for grimy cretins. wipEout exposed the people turned off by that reputation to rave music.

On the other hand, people who went out to clubs and raves thought themselves “too cool” for something like video games back in the ‘90s, but when the games featured music they loved, they saw games as something more than a pastime for nerds.

“The Venn diagram of who will listen to this and not be offended had people who were into dance music and trance and electronica, and then people who perhaps like a bit more melody and more variety to their music,” Wright says, speaking to Beatportal over Zoom from his office in Switzerland. “I think I did something without thinking about it that was actually a good thing from that perspective.”

It was certainly a good thing for prominent electronic artists like µ-Ziq, Kode9, and Simo Cell, who are just three of the eight artists who contributed remixes to the new reissue: wipE’out‘ – The Zero Gravity Soundtrack, out now on Lapsus Records.

Wipeout Soundtrack Zero Gravity
Tim Wright Studio

In 2023, when electronic artists like Daft Punk have soundtracked major motion pictures like TRON: Legacy, and Academy Award winners like Gustavo Santaolalla composed soundtracks for AAA games like The Last of Us, it’s hard to think that such mediums were ever discounted.

wipEout was the first step toward those end goals. The high quality of the music lent legitimacy to games as Davies mentioned, adding to their cool factor. But the music itself was also more digestible than previous versions of electronic music like the ambient soundscapes of Jean-Michel Jarre or the synthetic anarchy of Aphex Twin.

In order to achieve this balance, wipEout needed someone like Wright, who came from a unique sector of music-making.

Firstly, unlike many game composers of the day, Wright had a true musical background. He played piano for eight years in his youth, bringing instrumental experience to a field that was primarily populated with programmers rather than pure musicians.

“[The programmers’] music composition style was driven by the limitations of the hardware and what they could code up. They may have been really good programmers so they could get some really crazy sounds and then that influenced or informed their musicality,” Wright says.

A notable example of Wright’s integration of programming and musicianship was the pure piano theme he composed for the Amiga game, Agony.

The intro was so well written that the Norwegian Black Metal band Dimmu Borgir stole it and repurposed it for one of their songs. Wright’s soundtracks were all at this consistent quality as well:

“Without even realising it, Tim Wright’s work had already been a huge inspiration for me in the early ‘90s. My first time seeing an Amiga 500 in action was soundtracked by his Shadow Of The Beast 2 score — something I still listen to occasionally just because the tunes are great,” Davies says.

Tim Wright Beatport 1536x1024

What’s interesting is that despite the human quality Wright brought to his music, gaming music was expected to lean electronic (he himself called the Agony intro “risky”).

This association led Nick Burcombe — developer of wipEout and avid raver around Liverpool in the 1990s — to take the popular form of electronic music — dance music — and integrate it into the medium that had naturally created space for it, video games (Burcombe has said in his youth he would turn down the sound when he was playing Mario Kart and replace it with his own electronic records).

This is where Wright was once again unique. Because along with his musical upbringing, electronic music was not his chosen genre at the time. So, when he was producing the soundtrack for wipEout, his focus was still on one key element of music that was largely absent from 1990s club music: melody.

Orbital was a pioneer of electronic music in the 1990s, and their music (including “Petrol”) flexed the limitlessness of sound design rather than traditional pop elements like melody and harmony. That’s one reason why the genre was niche. The lack of melody alienated the traditional pop audience.

But Wright was a part of that traditional pop audience. The melodies on wipEout tracks like “DOH-T” and “Messij” still take early gamers back to their happy memories of playing wipEout just like “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees takes aging disco fiends back to their first viewing of Saturday Night Fever.

“The earworm — it’s always been invaluable in pop music so I didn’t see why that should be any different,” Wright says. “I was nervous. I didn’t have confidence. I knew that I could write melodies. I knew that that was something I liked and enjoyed. If I brought that to this style. Hopefully that would fill the gap, and that gap was me not being confident,” Wright says.

Wipeout Video Game Beatport 1536x1024
Tim Wright 3 1536x1024

Decades later, it’s clear he more than filled the gap. Tim Wright brought electronic music into the pop realm with the wipEout soundtrack, and artists like Simo Cell are still playing those tracks in their DJ sets to this day.

“It’s pretty wild when you think about it — made for a ‘90s video game and still making people dance in 2023. Different times, different tech, but the music stays,” Simo Cell wrote in answers provided to Beatportal over email. “Also, the soundtrack was so ahead of its time, super innovative and futuristic. It feels like a cool challenge to keep that boundary-pushing energy in mind.”

Frankly, after Wright put that boundary-pushing energy in mind, it stayed there.

Developers he worked with following wipEout on games like Tellurian Defense specifically wanted more music that sounded like wipEout.

Furthermore, on the sequel to wipEout, wipEout 2097, Wright only had two tracks on the Playstation version because the Chemical Brothers had two tracks this time instead of one, Underworld had their own track, The Prodigy had their own track, and Photek had a track as well.

Games were the new place for electronic artists to shine, and while some artists would be insulted to have less space on the sequel, Wright is only humbled to have played a role in that evolution.

“I write the music to please myself, initially. If anybody else likes them, it’s a bonus. The fact that so many people have is humbling and rewarding, and it does spur you on,” Wright says. “Why should I turn the synthesizer on? Because there’s a few people out there who wouldn’t mind hearing another track.”

CoLD SToRAGE’s wipE’out” – The Zero Gravity Soundtrack is out now via Lapsus. Listen below and buy it on Beatport.

Harry Levin is a freelance journalist living in Denver. Find him on X.

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