Halo 4 is almost here (in case the massive countdown on everyone's Xbox 360 dashboard right now hadn't alerted you to that). When it drops, you'll get to hear Neil Davidge's incredible soundtrack the way it was meant to be listened to: peppered with the screams of dying grunts and the popcorn cackle of Battle Rifles and DMRs.
But what's a good electronic album without a good remix album to back it up? That's where the Halo 4 special edition remix album comes in. It's a pack-in with the limited edition of Halo 4, but you can check out one remix by DJ Skee and THX—"Revival"—right now on Soundcloud.
We spoke with DJ Skee about working on Halo 4's soundtrack, his love for both the series and Davidge (of Massive Attack fame), and living up to the Halo legacy. Check it out.
Complex: Tell us about your involvement with the Halo 4 soundtrack?
DJ Skee: Yeah, so basically I took one of Neil's tracks from the soundtrack, and myself, along with THX, sat in the studio and put out what I hope is an epic remix only fitting for the Halo series, for Halo 4.
Can you describe your mix of "Revival" at all? What's the track like?
Yeah, it's like, I mean, I took from Neil—I mean, he's such a legend in music and what he's done in composition, and you know, he added a full orchestra and stuff—so when we got the stems, I was able to play with all those sounds as well as, you know, he kind of has the mixes, you know, the orchestra, like sonic drums, and all that. So we went in the studio and really tried to, you know, take something based off of an amazing combination we had musically, with, you know, full strings, full choruses, and all that, and added our touch. And the great thing about our track is that I feel it really kind of hit a lot of different styles, where, you know, it has the classical composition part of it. It has, you know, something that the hip-hop people like on the drums side, it has a little breakdown that's almost dubstep-y. It has, you know, the electronic dance music foundation. It has, you know—it's inspired by kind of everything, you know? Luckily, I have a pretty vast musical background, from touring with Chris Cornell to all the hip-hop stuff that I've done, to opening clubs like Tryst in Vegas, and all that, so I'm kind of, you know, it's something that I think everybody can like and appreciate. You know, it has a lot of different movements within the song.
Does it sound like a song that you'd hear in Halo?
You can definitely tell it's inspired by Halo and stuff, but we added like, you know, a bunch of effects to kind of make it play outside—that you wouldn't normally expect within Halo, but it definitely stays true to the core. I mean, we have the little chants and stuff in a different language, so it definitely sounds like it's from the future.
What was it like working with Neil's stuff?
It was amazing. As soon as they sent over the stems, you know instantly, because it's Neil, and because it's Halo, a game that, you know, I've literally been playing since, you know, the Xbox came out on my birthday when I was a teenager—and it was like the killer game, the reason that I had to get the system, I was allowed to skip school that day to get it. So when they asked me to do that, and that Neil's involved in it, it was a no-brainer. And as soon as they sent over the stems with the music, it was just, you know, going through it and choosing what I wanted to remix was kind of the tough part, because there were so many, you know, amazing sounds and samples. And the whole soundtrack is incredible. So finally I narrowed down one that I thought had a lot of breakdowns and, you know, had a total different feel than how we came with. Because I felt we had the most room to kind of come in and maneuver within what was already there. So, I mean, it's just been an incredible experience.
So you've been a Halo fan all along?
Oh, yeah. Since day one.
What's your favorite?
Favorite game In the series? It's tough, each one gets better, obviously, and grows with that, but there's nothing like the first time you popped it in and started learning it, especially because it was early on, before Halo was this massive cultural, you know, Star Wars of our generation. It was kind of being in early. So, I mean, it's tough to go wrong with the classic. But you could take it from any of them, and they've just evolved and gotten better over time.
Did you get to play Halo 4 at all or have you seen anything from it?
Nah, I've seen, obviously, all the trailers and everything that's online, and you know, they've showed me some of the trailers, but I haven't actually got my hands on it. So that's why I'm trying to hold Microsoft and everybody up right now so I can get my copy. I'm eagerly anticipating like everybody else.
What do you think about 343's take on the series?
I mean, I think, look: at the end of the day, it's all about how the gameplay is. It doesn't matter who's really making it, who's, you know, anything like that. I think it's going to continue its legacy. It's something that has such high expectations, and it's going to be tough to let down, because I know everybody's putting everything they have into it, especially, you know, a classic series. I don't think it really matter at the end of the day. It's just all about Halo, the series.
Do you feel the pressure of that legacy, working on a track?
Yeah, absolutely, I mean…we spent a little extra time in the studio, THX and I, just making sure it was right and mixing it down and adding sounds at the last second. Because, you know, it's such a big thing, and just how big worldwide, and how big video games are—they're bigger than movies now, they're bigger than anything–you know, so to be involved in that process, to make sure it sounded right and was something that would fit in the game—it wasn't just a targeted audience. Like a lot of times remixes are just done for a club or for this—this one was for Halo, which is worldwide. It's people that love all genres, all, you know, across all boundaries, across borders, languages, and all that, so we really went in and hoped—and luckily, by the early reaction when we sent it in to Microsoft people and, you know, all the Halo people, everybody loved it. So I think we did a good job, but yeah, I mean, it's definitely nerve-wracking to stand up to that pressure and have to make it epic.
Had you ever worked on a song from or for a game before?
Yeah, we'd done some stuff on video games before, but nothing as big as Halo.
We've done some of the stuff with some of the basketball games, and stuff from EA, some of the sports games, and put music in them, and all that, and all of those were great experiences too. But, you know, we're talking about Halo, which is insane [laughing].
Halo 4 seems like a big departure in some ways. Do you think the music, from what you've heard, reflects that?
Yeah, I don't think—I mean, look: with Neil being involved, it definitely steps it up, you know, to what it is. But it sounds very familiar. Like, if you were to go through and listen to the music, you'd definitely say it would fit in with any of the Halo games. But it definitely has an edge, and a little, you know—I think it's going to really impress people when they hear the whole thing.
Is working on game music different from other types of music?
Yeah, I mean, it's almost tougher, in a weird way, because you don't know who you're making it for, and you have to make it work along all these boundaries, and especially with something so big, that crosses—I mean, usually for a remix it's like let's do a club remix, or let's do a hip-hop remix and get an artist on it, or—something like this it's totally different. So it was definitely a different approach. And just figuring out how to, you know—what the sound we wanted to go for when we went in, like, I just had to hear the track and break it down, and the remix that we came up with really kind of takes you a few different directions, which I think will make everybody happy.
Do you have any favorite songs from past Halo games?
I wouldn't say I have any favorite songs. I mean, the music's just always been that kind of futuristic, epic stuff. I think my favorite song would probably be from this one, though. Judging from all the stuff that I've heard, it's just incredible.