Nostalgia Evoked by Touhou and Internet Music: Gensokyo Midnight Drive Vol. 1 / Violet Delta
A review of Gensoukyou Midnight Drive Vol. 1, a Touhou Arrange Album, by Violet Delta
In October 2018, another new masterpiece was born into the world of Touhou arrange albums.
The album Malaysian composer Violet Delta’s Gensoukyou Shinya Drive (Gensoukyou Midnight Drive) Vol. 1.
In this post, I want to explain why this publicly available and free-to-download album is so wonderful. Please make sure to listen to the demo while you read this review.
Touhou Arranges from Malaysia
Violet Delta is a Malaysian Touhou arranger from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Since their debut in 2017, they’ve been producing arranges which have appeared on sites like YouTube and Bandcamp. They specialize in club music with elements of synthwave, italo disco, eurobeat, trance, and chillwave.
Violet Delta is also a recognized figure in the foreign Touhou arrange community and has organized several compilation albums. They’ve also participated in the annual event founded by the subreddit Redditaisai.
Konntali Records from Brazil is also a guest contributor who’s written two songs for the album. 02PC appears as the vocalist for one of Konntali Record’s tracks, and Hrusa has also delivered a wonderful album jacket cover.
The Masterpiece Album
I’m now going to focus on the fourth track of the album.
“Feel That Bad Apple” has to be the catchiest arrange in my opinion. There’s honestly no words for a track as masterful as this. As the title suggests, you feel the beat of the legendary “Bad Apple!” while evoking the sensation of speeding through a city in the night.
Another fine track is “Lime Avenue Under the Eastern Wind”.
Because this is a chillwave track, the track doesn’t conjure up feelings of acceleration. Instead, it goes for vibes that feel nostalgic and emotional. While the entire album focuses on retro aesthetics, this is the track that really encapsulates the nostalgia the most. This track certainly follows the genre conventions of chillwave—moods of nostalgia and the atmospheric ambiance of space and the future—but in the more-than-capable hands of G Free, the melody elicits something more: ephemerality and sadness with a dose of strength.
Imagine Renko and Merry walking on Lime Avenue, a road studded with trees. It’s as if these two characters have really appeared in front of us. A plausible scene from the Hifuu Club girls naturally emerges in our mind and we let it play out.
If you were to hear this next track at the dawn of the day while clubbing, you might be moved to tears. If you take a hard listen to it, you too will realize those tears weren’t exaggerated at all. I would love it if people listened to this track.
While most of the italo disco arrangements have a modern synthwave vibe to them, this track is the simplest and most innocent of them all. It really does feel like it came from the ‘80s. The disco-like mood helps make the listening experience all the more enjoyable.
Synths that sound like an alarm bell. A beautifully-staged ambient soundspace. 0PC2’s vocals resounding beyond the mellowed cries of the saxophone—dynamic yet charmingly funny at the same time—they make you actually feel the sincerity and earnestness. What’s this… pain in my chest?
Violet Delta’s Connection To the Touhou Doujin Scene
Despite the fact that this album was released for free, it actually has its own website. It borrows the format of Tokusetsu 3, a popular Tumblr for people in the international Touhou doujin scene. The album was announced just in time for the 2018 Reitaisai, which we can read as them joining the convention from Malaysia. It’s easy to feel Violet Delta’s affection towards the fandom.
Something particularly distinctive about the album is that ten of the tracks used for this album are sourced from the PC-98 era and the other ten are from the current Windows era. Indeed, the old and the new have equal footing in the album, hence the album jacket featuring both the old and new Reimu.
While the PC98 works seem to be more popular overseas than with Japanese fans, I don’t think Violet Delta has merely arranged the old tracks for the sake of it. It’s clear that they’ve fully committed themselves to the concept behind this album.
As they’ve commented on the video description for Endless (Touhou Kaikidan ~Mystic Square~), it’s rather rare for anyone to arrange this specific track.
Nostalgia Evoked by Touhou and Internet Music
Musical genres like synthwave surfaced in the 2000s and often expressed a kind of yearning for the nostalgic ’80s past of retro-futuristic games, movies, and more. They make use of recognizable artistic motifs such as the distinctive ‘80s neon light, the exotic imagery of palm trees, the contrast between latticework and sky horizons, and speeding cars. Anyone familiar with vaporwave is likely familiar with the kind of atmosphere being described here.
While the epitome of synthwave has to be Kavinsky’s Outrun and Lazerhawk’s Redline, I would like to bring up Miami Nights 1984’s Turbulence, which was referenced in the video description for Violet Delta’s “Feel That Bad Apple Beat!”.
Italo disco was the trademark music of the ‘80s era and it would later spawn spinoff genres such as Eurobeat. While the synth arrangement may sound unrefined and its BPM too relaxed for today’s ears, this was the music you would listen to at the disco. For better or for worse, Italo disco faded away in the early ‘90s.
The name for the genre came from ZYX Music, a German music label. The following is K.B. CAPS’s “Do You Really Need Me” from ZYX Music’s The Best of Italo Disco Vol. 2. Italo disco as a genre is very diverse, but I’ve picked out a song that resembles Violet Delta’s track.
The ‘80s were a time when Japan was raking in cash from the bubble economy at the very end of its miraculous growth. This was an era that we Japanese had forgotten and abandoned, whether we had strong feelings towards it or not.
We can think of Gensoukyou Midnight Drive Vol. 1 as emanating nostalgia toward ‘80s culture and Gensoukyou. As everyone knows, Gensoukyou is where the lost and forgotten commodities of our world end up. Even now, it remains a never-ending feast of the past by those who have drifted away from our world. Gensoukyou Midnight Drive Vol. 1 appears at the intersection, a mirage between these two modes of nostalgia.
We also see this nostalgic line of thought in how these tracks were arranged.
Much of the album consists of tracks from Touhou Gensoukyou ~Lotus Land Story~. Of the 14 tracks on the album, 6 use songs from this old game.
The first track, “Intro ~ Danmaku Drive!!!”, is an arrange from “Arcadian Dream”. The sixth track, “Feel That Bad Apple Beat!”, is of course a “Bad Apple!!” arrange while the tenth, “Distant Dream Land (feat. 0P2C) (Violet Delta Remix)”, is sourced from “Dream Land”.
“Bad Apple!!” represents Elly protecting Mugenkan, a mansion located on the border between the worlds of dreams and reality. We pass through this section of the game to meet Yuuka where her theme, “Dream Land”, plays. It makes sense that “Distant Dream Land” would be then beautifully sung by the talented 0P2C.
“We are just flowers that’ll never bloom in this ruined land
The dream always ends, the truth is an eternal falsehood
And we’re walking on for the day that we’ll fall in a utopic world
Patience’s running out, time passes more slowly every day now”
We are like flowers that cannot bloom in this wasteland. We must therefore keep trudging to reach paradise, to a place where we can finally bloom.
The noun “moon” appears throughout the album. What an apt word—it brings to mind the never-ending night we must speed through as we listen. In fact, “Intro ~ Danmaku Drive!!!” includes an arrangement of “Imperishable Night” as well.
If we think about it, Touhou Project didn’t exist in the ‘80s. The first Touhou game ZUN published arose in the aftermath of the economic bubble, the year 1996. In a way, Gensoukyou probably could not have existed in that special era. In another sense, perhaps the ‘80s were also a world where reality and Gensoukyou could not be distinguished from one another.
Between dreams and reality, a false moon that never ceases, a past that could not have existed… you are advancing toward this mystical vision, toward what could best be described as the Eden of Feasts. The new and the old. Driven by the thump of the beat, you simply speed through the road bordered by two lines of nostalgia.
“Gensokyo Midnight Drive Vol.1”
Production, Mixing & Mastering: Violet Delta
Original Arranger (Track 3, 10): Konntali Records
Vocalist (Track 10): 0P2C