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Sunday, July 22, 2018

DJ Wanted for Fallout: Nukeland

There is one conspicuous absence in the writing I've already done for the Nukeland setting: a music station.

Admittedly, Fallout didn't get in-game radio stations until Fallout 3, but every game since then has featured one or two stations which greatly enhance the mood of the setting, if only because the DJ tends to comment on and dramatize the impact your character is having on the world.

Modders have further augmented those stations with additional genre-appropriate music, or created entirely new stations, with varying degrees of genre appropriateness.
  • "Old World Radio" in particular created about 30 stations, 16 of which have their own DJs, while the remaining 14 or so are primarily radio dramas with no DJ (you can find their Patreon here). That said, several of the initial DJs are distinctive celebrity impersonations, in a way which approaches meta if you follow their development (there is ostensibly a synth Christopher Walken and a cybernetic "real" Christopher Walken).
  • WRVR was another favorite, which added entertaining adventuring companion Casey Kessler, voiced by VO actress Casey Mongillo, breathing life into an existing Fallout 4 location, the WRVR station.
Fallout 3 featured what I imagine to have been a broad spectrum of 50's music. New Vegas featured both classical Vegas and country tunes. Fallout 4 more or less echoed the Fallout 3 playlist, with the sex, satire, and nuclear-era symbology dials turned up a little, in addition to new setting-inspired music by Lynda Carter (who also voiced a mysterious entertainer in the game). Side question: does it count as filk if it is part of the official game?

A tabletop RPG is a hard place to emulate the auditory experience of a single-player RPG. More often than not, my own attempts to bring even ambient music to the gaming table have been divisive: the immersion benefits it may provide are outweighed by the distraction it causes other players. (I once played in a RuneQuest game during which the GM had the soundtrack of "Conan the Barbarian" on repeat for the entire session. I think it looped 5-6 times. That was a little much.)

Having a radio station still remains a cultural touchstone in a Fallout game, and I feel compelled to work on it, even it it never gets "air play". And, one or more DJs in the game setting can provide feedback to the players, acknowledging the impact of the things they have done, as well as providing plot hooks.

Nukeland is closer geographically to New Vegas than any of the other settings, but would the transmissions of Mr. New Vegas have reached as far as post-apocalyptic Oakland? And would it have resonated with post-apolcalyptic Nukelanders if it was heard?

Here are my thoughts on the possible music genres I would have to pick from:
  • Jazz, swing, and blues: The types of music featured in Fallout 3 and 4 would likely have as much (or more) sway in this area as in D.C. or Boston, as would R&B and blues rock. Oakland had a strong jazz/blues scene back in the day.
  • Folk music: The Kingston Trio folk band rose to prominence around the 1950's in the Bay Area. Proximity to Berkeley and its countercultural elements might have meant that folk and protest music would have remained one of the more popular genres in the greater Oakland area.
  • Chicano rock: The genre defined in part by Ritchie Valens had its roots in 1950's Southern California, but it could have been popular in the Bay Area of the time.
  • Country music: this would still have been as popular here as elsewhere in California, though Oakland wouldn't call for the same Western vibe that a game set in the Mojave/Vegas would.
  • Funk music: This genre came up in the 60's, and while the Fallout nuclear apocalypse doesn't happen until 2077*, the setting as established since Fallout 3 more or less freezes cultural progress (in America anyway) around the 1950's. As such, I wonder whether funk would be a valid direction to explore, or would it feel more like trying to jack a blaxploitation vibe.
  • Surf rock: Also coming up in the 60's, surf rock seems like it would be fun for a beachfront California setting, but like funk, it falls just outside of the genre time frame which seems to delimit other Fallout setting musical choices. And while the Bay Area has some fine surf spots, Oakland is on the Bay, and not the coastline.
  • Rap music: Rap is likely to come up in any discussion of Oakland music history, and it is an important artifact of the black experience in America, but aside from its anachronism, it feels cheap, like more than a stretch to include in a Fallout game set in a post-apocalyptic Oakland defined by 1950's Cold War culture. That said, I can imagine a character in the setting seizing onto the Beat poetry of the 1940's, developing it in a way that winds up evoking or inventing early rap, and putting it out on the airwaves, perhaps as social commentary, or simply sounding a "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
  • Beat poetry: This format was very popular in cosmopolitan 1950's areas, particularly San Francisco and New York. In Fallout 4, the player can discover a crew of greaser power armor enthusiasts called the Atom Cats: laying around the Red Rocket fuel station they have made their home can be found holotapes of their poetry nights, which feel inspired by the Beat style. Not all stations in Fallout games need to follow the familiar DJ+music format: perhaps a wasteland resident could decide to use the airwaves for social commentary and artistic expression, either playing tapes of old Beat poetry readings, reciting classical poetry, or even writing and reciting their own work.
  • Industrial: This is a fairly modern genre of music, but one of the setting elements I added to Fallout: Nukeland is a guild of craftsfolk working out of Oakland industrial art school the Crucible. I'm spinning this group as an enigmatic, Goth-like, countercultural element prizing independence and freedom: a group such as this might have had the creativity and technical skill to develop a music tradition of their own, maybe combining industrial sounds with synthesizers, or simply creative remixing of sampled audio elements. A DJ for such a station might fill the shoes of a Three Dog, celebrating or critiquing the players' actions over the airwaves.
And what of Shi-Town across the Bay?
  • The Chinese-American residents of San Francisco's pre-war Chinatown would have had more freedom in the music they could consume than those living in Communist China, so scavengers looting old Chinatown would have had a chance to find old Chinese-American pop music holotapes. Chinese music of the day historically included folk music, symphonies, and Chinese-Western pop fusion. 
  • The Taiwanese Republic of China persisted in spite of Communism taking over mainland China, and evidence from Fallout 4 indicates it was free of Communist control several years before the Great War which destroyed the world. So, despite mainland crackdown on any music deemed anathema to the state, Taiwan's music scene would have continued (as it did in our own history) producing more Western-inspired pop music in addition to more traditional folk classics.
  • Pre-war ghouls surviving the destruction of San Francisco should likely include one or more Chinese-Americans, who would have held onto their beloved music of the day.
  • The Chinese soldiers and crew who settled in San Francisco and founding Shi-Town after piloting their nuclear submarine into the harbor would have been raised in Communist China on a diet of national and revolutionary music, other forms of pop music having been outlawed as "Yellow music". I can imagine a few members of the crew having smuggled contraband music onto their submarine, music which they would take with them when Shi-Town was being built. And as mentioned above, they could have found contraband Chinese music in the ruins of their new home, and a century of cultural drift might make them more tolerant of the music they were formerly encouraged to shun.
  • Chinese spies are established in the Fallout setting as having operated secret propaganda radio stations in America, like the People's Republic of America Radio in Fallout 3. China could have had similar propaganda operations running in the Bay Area. Imagine Shi-Town explorers locating and taking over such a radio station, repurposing it for their own needs, since the original mission of disrupting American faith in capitalism was no longer relevant.
  • That said, I'm currently handling Shi-Town as something close to The Institute, having been driven underground after The Enclave bombed the original Shi-Town, trying to rebuild in secret, seeing as they might be wary of the other factions who threaten to plunder their technological resources or otherwise take advantage of their current situation. But they did manage to drive out the beginnings of NCR attention, so perhaps they would be running a radio station as a sort of warning?
So I'm imagining the following options, though I am unsure whether the setting can handle more than one or two of them, simply for logistical purposes:
  • KJAZ: This Oakland station features jazz, swing, blues, and R&B. The DJ, Coniqua Cherry, is a twenty-something firebrand of a woman. The station broadcasts out of a pre-war Oakland station of the same name. 
  • KIND: This Oakland station features Chicano rock, blues rock, and other rock classics. The DJ, "Destiny Ventura" (Desideria Serafina Makisig Ventura), is a laconic and wry young Filipina/Latina-American who broadcasts out of an old radio station within The International, a fortified settlement between Lake Merritt and the old Fruitvale BART station.
  • KCRU: This Oakland station is broadcast from the Crucible, an industrial art enclave/co-op in West Oakland, not far from the tunnel to San Francisco. The station produces a variety of avant-garde radio plays, and a bizarrely haunting but compelling new type of music called "industrial" featuring synthesized tool noises. The DJ is a collective comprised of Snowball Nashville, Ravensdottir, and Max Sugar, who voice various radio dramas in addition to snarking about the music they play.
  • KSHI: This Shi-Town station plays Chinese swing and jazz pop music, sprinkled with older Chinese folk tunes; the show also includes snippets of national music from time to time, usually sarcastically, as the punchline to a joke. The DJ, Ma Ruogang, is an angry forty-something Chinese woman who broadcasts out of the ruins of an old Chinese propaganda station in San Francisco.
  • KVAULT 24: This radio station operates out of the top floor of Oakland's Tribune Building, under which resides Vault 24, a long-running control Vault which has been trading with the wasteland. DJ Gina Grasso is a Vault resident who plays an eclectic mix of jazz, swing, blues, and rock, and shares gossip about the surrounding wasteland that is exaggerated but more or less based on reality. 
(Side note: though music selection decisions made by the game developers were most probably intended to provide modern audiences with the feel of Cold War-era America (as it might be experienced in each game's region), I wonder at an unspoken implication that the production of music - new music - essentially stopped in Fallout's 1950's. I also thought briefly about the possibility that music distribution in Fallout's 1950's switched to a new, more fragile format which did not survive the apocalypse, leaving only the older, stable holotapes for the succeeding generations of humanity to discover, but that wouldn't be borne out by all the holotapes we find in Vault-Tec vaults, whose victims residents would have had full knowledge of the latest and greatest media technology, including PipBoy wrist computers, which rely on holotapes.)

* I almost talked myself out of including BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in Nukeland because it wasn't available in the 1950's, but tech and population management would have continued whether or not poodle skirts and jazz remained in fashion, so it makes sense that some sort of public transit would have evolved, and after some encouragement, I decided that a version of BART that emulated the subways of DC and Boston, but kept the current train routes and station locations, would not be inappropriate to the setting.

Sources:
  • http://www.playlistresearch.com/history/sfradio1950s.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_California#1950s_and_60s
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950s_in_music
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Chinese_music#1950s
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