Gaming

Meet The Self-Trained Composer Funky-fying Final Fantasy Music

You may have seen his videos floating around social media, relatively short snippets of him jamming out to groovy remixes of songs like Final Fantasy VII’s “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu. What Alex Moukala is attempting to do, he explains on Twitter, is normalize video game music to make the sounds he grew up with and was inspired by more accessible to the masses. His process: take a popular video game track, split it in half, send a funky bassline and catchy kick drum pattern through the whole thing, and crank the volume all the way up.

In order to start the conversation of normalizing video game music, Alex started a YouTube channel a couple of years ago to upload the full remixes of his funky-fied tracks. He also uses his skillset as a self-trained composer and producer to analyze his favorite video game songs, which includes tracks like Devil May Cry 5’s “Bury The Light” and Persona 5’s “Last Surprise.”

But what does bringing video game music into the mainstream actually look like? Popular music award ceremonies such as the Grammys don’t include video game soundtracks for consideration and the revived MTV Video Music Awards killed the Best Video Game Soundtrack category in 2006, just two years after the celebration was originally established. The only other place where video game music is admired is in circles specific to video games, including shows such as the Game Developers Choice Awards and The Game Awards.

The topic of normalizing video game music is a motive Alex remains committed to. GameSpot had the opportunity to chat with Alex over email about how influential Final Fantasy was on his career, what can be done to normalize video game music and how to do it, and which of the currently released Final Fantasy games he would compose music for if given the chance.

The below interview has been edited for brevity.

GameSpot: How did you get started in your career?

Alex Moukala: I’ve always had an incredible love and fascination for music ever since I was a kid, especially because of the OST of games I played a lot, like FFVII, FFVIII, and FFX, but instead of learning to [play] instruments, I played too much PlayStation! Despite having zero talent or skill, I still wanted to give it a go (I have Zack Fair from FFVII Crisis Core to thank for that infusion of courage, believe it or not).

GS: So Final Fantasy was a big influence on you.

AM: I can’t even imagine what my music would be like without the inspiration I got from video games in general, especially Final Fantasy.

GS: You’ve generated a lot of buzz off those funky video game remixes. Tell me about them.

AM: It all started kind of randomly to be honest. I’m not great with any instruments, but I love to play around with them a lot–just for fun. One day I woke up with this idea of a custom 15-second bassline for Giorno’s Theme from JoJo: Golden Wind. I then remixed it to make it a bit more Nu-Disco/Funky, recorded the bassline over it, and posted a video of me playing it, again, just for fun. I didn’t understand just how much people [would] love these remixes until the day Square Enix [retweeted one] I made for an FFXIV track. FFXIV composer Masayoshi Soken [then asked] me to make a full version, [who] then re-remixed it himself. When that chain of events happened, I decided to make it an almost daily occurrence, both to make people’s days a bit better during quarantine and as an excuse to practice bass more seriously.

GS: And so, you hope to normalize video game music by creating these funky remixes?

AM: Casual music listeners who only listen to whatever is popular on the radio very rarely push themselves in the realm of instrumental because they’re not used to hearing it separately from the media they’re meant to accompany. I think if people were simply more exposed to in places like clubs or radio stations, they’d definitely learn to appreciate it more. This is also why I like to remix video game songs into something danceable. Another way to make video game music appeal to the masses is to add lyrics and vocals to it. This is a huge reason why Persona 5’s soundtrack became as big as it did. Same for FFVII Remake’s main theme, “Hollow.”

Alex and his seven-string Ibanez.

GS: What would help bring video game music into the mainstream?

AM: I think normalizing video game music is only possible when we make sure to keep its soul intact, which is incredibly hard to do when you turn something “niche” into something more “pop” and easily consumable by all. For example, do you remember the anvil sound that accompanies the main melody in FFVII’s battle theme? It’s not a coincidence if they kept it in FFVII Remake’s re-arrangement of the same theme. A simple sound or idea like that can trigger a lot of memories, but you can also modernize it while keeping the “sauce” intact. If there were video game music awards on places like MTV, it would definitely help bring a lot more exposure to video game music independently from the games themselves, which I think is very important.

GS: Have you used video game music in any of the movie trailer songs you’ve worked on?

AM: One track that comes to mind is the one I wrote for the John Wick Chapter 2 trailer with a friend of mine. The track was supposed to be made of aggressive electronic sounds only, but I played too much Final Fantasy XIII and just couldn’t help myself. Specifically, there’s a boss theme in Final Fantasy XIII-2 by Naoshi Mizuta, which I like a lot because of its tragic choir. When I was writing that trailer track, I decided to add some tragic marcato choir like [the one in the boss] theme, soaring on top of all the aggressive sound design and adding a degree of humanity/anger/tragedy to everything. It’s not an idea that originated in FFXIII-2; I think there’s plenty of stuff like that in classical and opera music. However, I was exposed to it while playing FFXIII-2. It stuck with me a lot, and I ended using [the] marcato choir a lot because of it.

GS: If your dream is to score a Final Fantasy game, which would you work on of the ones released?

Alex looking like an anime villian.
Alex looking like an anime villian.

AM: Definitely Final Fantasy VII Remake. Just a few weeks ago, I released a video where I put together a custom FFVII Remake Trailer with the music entirely re-orchestrated by me, just to see what it would feel like to see an epic FFVII Remake trailer that references many different musical themes from the game. I’d definitely love to contribute to it in some shape or form for the next installments if the chance ever arose!

GS: Last two questions: favorite video game (and/or Final Fantasy) soundtrack and favorite video game composer?

AM: Hard questions! I can tell you a few which stand out to me a lot of all the ones I heard: Ace Combat, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV, Kingdom Hearts II, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Persona 5, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and The World Ends With You. As for favorite composer, probably [Final Fantasy VII composer] Nobuo Uematsu and [Final Fantasy XIII composer] Masashi Hamauzu.

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