Christmas has come early for the legions of gamers who've spent quarantine pulling off heists and engaging in armed combat in the streets of Los Santos. That's right, Grand Theft Auto V's open-world online sister, GTA Online, just received a huge, free update: The Cayo Perico Heist. When we first received word about this new heist, we thought the idea of being able to setup heists solo would be the big selling point—aside from this glorious new island location that was being added to the game. Then we caught wind of the massive music overhaul—the biggest to hit the Grand Theft Auto world since the Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2013.
Building on 2018's GTA Online: After Hours DLC update that added DJs like The Black Madonna and Tale of Us to the games new nightclub management aspects, and in speaking to Ivan Pavlovich, Director of Music for Rockstar Games, the new private beach party that is central to The Cayo Perico Heist update takes things up a notch.
"We learned a lot with After Hours in terms of how to motion capture artists and DJs, and how we can improve on what we did before, but this is the next level for us. Now, you're going from The Music Locker"—the underground social club that's literally underneath The Diamond Casino & Resort—"to Cayo Perico, this whole new island with a private beach party. I mean, it’s insane!
"Let’s be honest," Pavlovich continues, "2020 has been a tough year and yet we're able to go out and socialize in Los Santos. If we can bring people together in this space and bring their spirits up, that’s amazing."
With GTA Online helping us deal with one of the worst years in recent memory, it's amazing to think that the motion capture for DJs like Moodymann—who brings with him a stack of vinyl and a group of dancers—was able to happen during quarantine. "They were gracious enough to come from Detroit," Pavlovich remembers, "and it was definitely different than what we did for After Hours, turning our studio into a nightclub. It was a unique experience, and I'm just grateful to all the artists that came through for this. It’s a scary time to travel and to do this, but it’s something we’re all passionate about and we know this is the way to represent them as best as possible."
Representation can be achieved in a number of different ways, though. Take acclaimed DJ/producer Joy Orbison, one of the new artists coming to Los Santos, for example. His inclusion in the game (in the form of a new radio station, Still Slipping Los Santos), speaks to the underground nature of UK dance music culture: pirate radio. As Pavlovich explains, "In The Cayo Perico Heist, Joy Orbison is coming from the UK and he's going to Los Santos to start a pirate radio station. [It begins] in Mirror Park, with a super low frequency, and you have to help put up all these antennas to get his station to the rest of the world, which makes those musical concepts that are integral to the gameplay so awesome." That may feel like a random kind of side mission for a game as massive as GTA Online, but there are stretches of the UK that feed off of the immediacy of the music that's played on pirate radio frequencies. Stations like Rinse FM started out as pirates and became official stations, maintaining that future-first ethos in the music being played. Having that in GTA Online is paramount to the music you can hear while digging into your missions or just cruising the Los Santos streets.
Moodymann and Joy Orbison aren't the only artists being added to this massive update; Palms Trax and Keinemusik (with their custom effects boxes) are also on deck in the Music Locker. The Strokes' Julian Casablancas curated a new radio station, K.U.L.T. 99.1 FM (which will feature new material from The Voidz), and Music Locker FM will bring you selections from the new DJs that were added with The Cayo Perico Heist. Flying Lotus' FlyLo FM will be adding new material from Madlib, MF Doom, and FlyLo himself, as well as appearances from Tierra Whack, while Gilles Peterson's Worldwide FM has material from Kamasi Washington, a gem from BadBadNotGood and MF Doom, and much more. You may even encounter West Coast legends Dr. Dre and DJ Pooh in-game as well! In total, 250 new tracks have been added across three new in-game radio stations, which is huge.
In speaking to Pavlovich, the excitement he has for this expansive music update is real. Part of that is because he isn't new to any of this. Before joining Rockstar in 2004, he worked in the Chicago techno and house scenes alongside the legendary Green Velvet at Cajual Records, before forming Guidance Recordings in 1996. As is the case with most smaller indie labels in the music industry, the label ended up folding; but finding a way to be able to stay engrossed with music in his new capacity was the natural next step for Pavlovich. "To be on this side and still be working with music," he shares, "is incredible. I’m here because of Rockstar and their love of music—they just care so much about it from a philosophical point of view."
One of the biggest boons with their work in really curating sounds from different genres is that games like GTA Online low-key put people on to artists all the time—this is a game that Rockstar says has exposed players to 75 billion minutes of music since Grand Theft Auto V debuted in 2013. "We have this platform to introduce people to new music," Pavlovich says, "a platform to turn young generations onto classic music. It’s incredible to have that position where you can really kind of influence and inspire people’s musical tastes."
It's also an avenue for artists like Flying Lotus, who are hype to add new material to GTA V. "FlyLo has such a strong identity in the game. The same with someone like Tyler, the Creator—they’re passionate about their contributions. Plus, they’re always creating new music, sometimes with us in mind. FlyLo is giving us unreleased tracks he's worked on—he had recorded a Mac Miller verse that never came out for "Black Balloons," but he's putting that on in the game! He's always pushing the boundaries of what he's doing for us, and I think that it comes out of respect to the game."
For a game like Grand Theft Auto V—and now GTA Online—being a bastion of new music discovery is key; I know people who got put onto the Teklife crew because of DJ Rashad's collaboration with Heavee, "It's Wack," being a part of FlyLo FM.
Pavlovich says that music is a part of Rockstar's DNA, and thus makes his team's conversations a vital part of the development of these games. "We’re brought on pretty early to sit down with Sam [Houser, founder of Rockstar Games, who] is incredibly passionate about music. These conversations with Sam start early on, so if we know we’re creating a nightclub in the game, we obviously know we need to bounce around some DJs that might fit in the GTA world, and some of them become a part of the gameplay, so you have to really think about it. This stuff is integrated into the storyline!"
Whether you're making sure that you've helped Joy Orbison get his pirate frequency to the masses or just want to cruise to the sounds of MF Doom spitting in Spanish (yes, that's a thing you will hear in-game), there's a lot going on in GTA Online musically that can help you escape our current, bleak reality, and even help you find artists and genres you'd never interacted with before, which feels like the 1B to Rockstar's 1A aim of creating one of the most immersive video game experiences you can currently tap into.
"We're talking about a game that is popular not only in the US, but all over the world," Pavlovich explains, "so if you’re not up on that scene, suddenly the game propels people to a global audience. It’s a place for fans to discover music and for artists to share their music, even when we’re doing original music. And of course, it’s not all the hits—we’re turning people onto new artists and genres, you know?"
The Cayo Perico Heist is now available for free on Grand Theft Auto Online.