Straight From France, a Reinterpretation of the Video Game Music of the Nineties! A Review of Gensokyo 199X: a 90s Touhou album by Nocti.
A Touhou Arranged Music Review of Gensokyo 199X: a 90's Touhou album
Today I’d like to introduce “Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album”, a retro album with game BGM vibes by French Touhou music arranger Nocti.
Like its title implies, the album pays homage to the music styles of the 1990s, particularly R&B, hip hop, and club music, sampling from songs of the time frequently. The album provides a great feel with its slow tempos and playful but engrossing beats. But why take my word for it when you can hear it yourself now?
『Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album』
The entire album is available for free on YouTube, Bandcamp, and BOOTH, so listen to it whenever you like. Nocti, the creator, has even given permission for others to use her songs in videos and media, provided they display a link to the album somewhere.
A Touhou Arranger from France
According to her website, Nocti is a 25-year old Frenchwoman born in 1997. Outside of music producing, she DJs and draws. Her album cover art is her own work. She enjoys Touhou, FFXIV, magical girl anime, and animal videos. She is a VTuber as well, and streams with a dragon avatar. Quite the lady of many talents!
Her favorite Touhou Project character seems to be Gengetsu (An EX Boss from Touhou Gensoukyou ~ Lotus Land Story for all those who forgot).
To date, she’s released three albums. Two Touhou albums, “Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album” and its sequel “Gensokyo 199X 2: Another Touhou 90’s Album”, as well as an original album—all game BGM albums.
The Thrill that is “Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album”
“Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album” released in 2021. As mentioned earlier, the album cover art is her own work: A funky, tasteful illustration of Flandre in overalls carrying a radio-cassette player, with Remilia behind her in (perhaps?) nerdy clothing and sharp-looking glasses. Her art style is great. The title art is very unique and is perhaps influenced by “Jet Grind Radio”, a Sega Dreamcast game from 2000.
My favorite songs from the album are the 5th track, “Busy Line Shuffle”, and the 7th, “Saturday Morning Villains”.
The 5th track, “Busy Line Shuffle”, is an arrangement of “Last Remote” and Hartmann’s Youkai Girl”. The whole phone motif thing probably comes from how Koshi Komeiji uses a phone in Urban Legend in Limbo. The song starts with a familiar pi-po-pop-beeeep dial-up access sound and some gentle reverb, then leads into some loose, rhythmic hip hop beats before unleashing a mind-numbingly smooth rendition of Last Remote’s melody. This loop alone is wonderful, I could easily listen to it for an hour.
In the second half, the melody for “Hartmann’s Youkai Girl” comes descending down in a silly way that makes you want to chuckle a little. The way some high-pitched phone ringing sounds come in here and there provide wonderful accents.
Nocti comments, “This track has single handedly set the album back by a month. Everything else was set in stone but this hellspawn of a beast would not work.” In the end however, she has managed to produce a wonderfully polished song one can easily chill to.
The 7th track, “Saturday Morning Villains”, is an arrangement of Seija Kijin’s “Reverse Ideology”.
A voice sample of a villainous-sounding man plays alongside the melody of “Reverse Ideology” making for a very silly opening that breaks into a hip-hop rhythm. It is unbelievably fun.
The “Saturday Morning” part of the title probably refers to saturday morning cartoons, of which Nocti states she likes on her website. (We have something similar in Japan, although I don’t know if it’s quite the exact same as ours are more often magical girl anime for children like Ojamajo Doremi, which Nocti also mentions liking). If she was trying to capture the vibe of those villains that appear in saturday morning cartoons, then she succeeded perfectly. The villain here is Seija Kijin, of course. Listening to this song makes it easy to imagine her swaggering about as though she owns the place like in one of those western children’s cartoons.
It seems the song took inspiration from Rob Dougan’s “Clubbed to Death”, which was part of The Matrix’s soundtrack. There are definitely some similarities between the two in rhythm and pattern, but the feels of the songs are very different. “Clubbed to Death” gives off a very gloomy and serious atmosphere, whereas “Saturday Morning Villains” is comical, mischievous, and light-hearted.
Nocti also comments that she took elements from The Prodigy and Massive Attack for the song. (The Prodigy is a English techno electronic rock band known for their 1997 album “The Fat of the Land”, famous for its album art of a crab raising its pincer. Massive Attack is also an English band. They are known for their 1998 album Mezzanine, the album art of which features a now-iconic stag beetle.) I can certainly see the listless, down tempo influence of Massive Attack in the song, but I find Massive Attack songs tend to be more darker and introspective. The song also shares the springy and villainous feel of The Prodigy’s music, but The Prodigy is more industrial, rough, and intense—almost like music you would hear made in times of civil unrest.
Nocti retains that key villainous feel, but has added in a simple and silly synth sound for the melody to give it a mood with which a child could feel safe enough to simply relax and enjoy. The song was made with children’s cartoons and games in mind, after all. And just like those young magical girls in saturday morning cartoons, this song has an easy-to-understand charm to it. Truly a delight.
That same charm is present through the whole album and could perhaps be considered emblematic of Nocti’s style itself. Young girls in a light-hearted world slinging surprisingly fierce words at one another as they butt heads—that sounds just like what makes Touhou such a thrill, doesn’t it? Perhaps “Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album” can be considered a retelling of Touhou in Nocti’s own words, then.
A Reinterpretation of the 90s
As mentioned in the beginning, this album pays homage to the music of the 90s and early 2000s a lot. For example, the first track, “Teachin’ my Sister to Dance!”, adopts the 90s R&B genre known as the New Jack Style (more specifically taking inspiration from Michael Jackson’s “Jam”, as Nocti elaborates in a comment).
The other songs in the album also take inspiration from styles like club music and hip hop, sometimes even sampling songs from the time. I’ve mentioned The Prodigy and Massive Attack already, but aspects of Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim are also used, alongside others. (Fatboy Slim is an English club DJ musician that was heavily active in the late 90s up until the mid 2000s. His songs are used in the M-1 Grand Prix, so many Japanese have probably unknowingly heard his music at some point. The fourth track of the album, “Tanku Clubbin”, samples from Fatboy Slim. More on Daft Punk later.)
Unsurprisingly, Nocti’s songs are also heavily influenced by game music. The second track, “Pocket Dimension”, gives off an eerie atmosphere as it takes inspiration from the soundtrack of the horror game Silent Hill. The sixth track, “Lunarian Speedway”, is done in the style of Hideki Naganuma, who composed the music for the aforementioned game “Jet Grind Radio”, the inspiration for the album’s title art style. Hideki is believed to take inspiration from the techno, funk, soul, and hip hop of the 90s and earlier. In other words, Nocti took direct inspiration from 90s era R&B and club music, as well as game music further inspired by similar genres.
Speaking of revisiting retro genres, vaporwave was definitely a big thing from the 2010s. This album also makes a nod to that genre with its third track, “Protag’s Day off”, which was inspired by Windows 95 default midi music and makes use of mouse click and error beep sounds. Apparently, “It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross is also faintly playing in the background (“It’s Your Move” is sampled by リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー, the most well known vaporwave song out there). As you can see, there are layers to Nocti’s music.
Some might already know this, but the album was actually featured on Touhou Station’s “This Touhou Song is Amazing! 2020-2021”.
The cast praised the album’s music as “reminiscent of game music of the time,” “modern while still keeping the feel of the period,” “sounds like something you might hear in one of those indie games out as of late,” and “stylish”. Those who recommended the song to the show also gave words of praise, saying, “It’s got that retro feel without being too retro” and “It reminds me of the SNES and the first Playstation.” Truer words have never been said. They might have just explained the nature of the album even better than I have so far with all this writing! Without a doubt, “Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album” is an album that has the feel of the game music of the past while retaining the polish of modern music.
Let me introduce one more song from the album: The eighth track, “Anemoia”.
This song is an arrangement of “Cute Devil ~ Innocence”, Gengetsu’s theme. It takes inspiration from house music of the 2000s, directly sampling Daft Punk. Daft Punk are world-wide famous French artists that are seen as representatives of the French house (also known as the French touch) movement. Many Japanese know them for their cool songs and eccentric robot outfits.
This is just my personal interpretation, but I believe something can be said about Nocti, a French person herself, using Daft Punk for this song, as well as putting this song near the end of the album as a kind of final anthem. You can feel how much she adores her favorite character Gengetsu with how emotional the song is. Right below is a comment pulled from Nocti’s YouTube video itself.
Anemoia is a word that means “nostalgia for a time you weren’t born for”. Which is how most of us feel about pc98 right? yeah. yeah that’s about right. I love gengen but ESPECIALLY i love how she is clearly a product of her time period. Like, you look at this girl and go oh yeah. oh yeah, thats an end of the millennium girl. Look at those bangs on her forehead thats so 1998 god bless.
Onward to the Next Piece
“Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album” has actually spawned a series, with the second album already released. This one is quite wonderful as well.
Gensokyo 199X 2: Another Touhou 90’s Album
The fourth track, “Food Court Menace”, is especially good. Please give it a listen.
This song is an arrangement of Rumia’s songs, “A Soul as Red as a Ground Cherry” and “Apparitions Stalk the Night”. It’s in the style of New Jack Swing, and a distinctive ding plays in bombastic synth almost like an interjection. I can’t help but smile when I hear it. It’s silly, and lots of good fun.
Personally, the kind of sounds used bring to mind the darkly-lit arcades of the 90s and early 2000s. These bombastic synth sounds are just like what you’d hear from those arcade cabinets with fighting and action games, shouting in a slightly scary voice just loud enough that you can’t hear the din of others around you. I didn’t personally go to arcades much back then, but the sound still rings nostalgic regardless.
According to a comment from Nocti, the setting for the song is: “You are at the mall and Rumia has ordered every single burger in the food court and threatens to eat the staff if they say no.” You can really feel the humor of the artist. She doesn’t try to paint a complicated picture with her music, but something mischievous, silly, cute, and sometimes a little emotional. I hope you all enjoy her music as well.
Translation by Kevin Ishizaka (Tsubasa Cat)
『Gensokyo 199X: a 90’s Touhou album』