Cyberpunk 2077 is a dystopian video game set in the year 2077. We’re not going to talk about the game much. Just take note that, whatever else is said about the game, from an artistic perspective there is plenty to appreciate. An exceptional amount of effort was put into worldbuilding. To create the look and feel of Night City, the game’s fictional setting, involved the collaboration of hundreds of artists weaving together individual threads of narrative, visual, and sound design. This article is going to focus on the music. Music plays a big role in Cyberpunk – multiple main characters are musicians, all the side quests are named after songs, and as you’ll see, the soundtrack put together by Lakeshore Records is both very ambitious and successful in that ambition.
What I mean when I say worldbuilding is songs like Night City by R E L. She wrote from the perspective of a Night City resident, and takes you on a journey through the streets, showcasing the beauty and danger of the City of Dreams. The song is instantly recognizable, moody, and expressive. She transports you to the rain slick city streets with an otherworldly backing track and stunning vocal performance. When it plays on the radio in game the effect is tangible, breathing life and feeling into the world. It becomes one of the threads I was talking about, the individual works of art that when viewed together are Night City. You will not be disappointed.
Punk legends Refused get in on the worldbuilding as well, playing the role of in-universe band SAMURAI, and feature more heavily in the game’s content than any of the other artists on the soundtrack. Creating and recording music in character is a fascinating process that blurs the lines between acting and music. The songs are written from the perspective of Johnny Silverhand, a cyberpunk rockerboy and anti-corporate rebel. Frontman Dennis Lyxzén discussed the process of becoming SAMURAI in a behind-the-scenes video saying “I wouldn’t write these lyrics for myself, so it’s kind of interesting to get into the mindset of who is this character and what would they write about? What is their agenda? […] It’s interesting as a musician to play another musician. […] to try to capture language that’s his and try to capture language that’s part of this game.”
Chippin’ In, Never Fade Away, A Like Supreme, Black Dog, The Ballad of Buck Ravers; Refused serve up a slate of SAMURAI’s supposed hits to lend credence to the band’s legend in game. Though they would not sound out of place on their most recent album there is a subtle shift in tone and content that gives these songs an identity that is part Refused and part something else. It’s definitely worth checking out what is effectively a new Refused EP.
Never Fade Away:
A Like Supreme:
Ballad of Buck Ravers:
The developers didn’t want players to hear a song they knew and lose immersion. They might associate it with something else in their life, think of where they first heard it, what they were doing, who they were with. So the soundtrack consists of 157+ original exclusive songs by 88+ artists, submitted to Lakeshore Records over the four-and-a-half years the soundtrack took to complete. This mammoth project includes plenty of big names: Grimes, Run the Jewels, A$AP Rocky, Refused – but where the soundtrack really shines is the huge amount of great new music from up-and-coming talent and less well known artists.
Among the up-and-comers is Le Destroy. The dystopian sci-fi musical project of Austin based Kristina Olson, Le Destroy put out an EP in 2018 and a full length album, Trashumanism, is being co-produced by Danny Lohner and slated for release later this year. Her dark sci-fi sound and visual style works seamlessly with the setting. Her tracks blend heavy industrial riffs, danceable beats, and an impressively varied vocal performance into a sound that is right at home in the dark future of Cyberpunk 2077. Pain is the song that first caught my attention on the soundtrack and inspired me to dig deeper and write this article. It’s an evil dance banger with sharp vocals, lots of distortion, and a fast crunchy beat. It feels like protagonist music, a pump up jam for very cool people, in very cool places, doing very cool things. You may feel the urge to don sunglasses and swagger into rooms like you’re the boss and everybody knows it.
Her vocals range from soulful and emotive in Violence to the cold mechanical musings of a malfunctioning android in Kill Kill, trying her very best to kill everyone she meets. She manages to inject a note of humanity into her voice while singing the part of a robot, giving the distinct impression that the android really hopes she does a good job of murdering you. The juxtaposition makes for an unforgettable sound that keeps me coming back for more.
Electronic duo Rezodrone introduce themselves to the world with lots of distortion and gritty vocals in a trio of hard hitting songs. The dark, heavy sound is contrasted by sudden shifts in tone that make them instantly recognizable. Resist and Disorder gets off to a killer start with punchy beats and overdriven guitars. The chorus hooks you with quick transitions between throaty growls and pleasant harmonies. The constant tug of war between these extremes is what drives the high energy of Reaktion. They ditch the harsh vocals but keep the energy high in their third offering on the soundtrack, Kill the Messenger. If their first three songs are any indication Rezodrone is an act worth keeping an eye on.
Resist and Disorder:
Kill the Messenger:
From CD Projekt RED composer P. T. Adamczyk and Polish actress/singer Olga Jankowska is a cover of Refused’s “cover” of fictional band SAMURAI’s hit single Never Fade Away. You read that right. The worldbuilding has gone recursive, and it’s worth it. This version of the song takes on an ominous, poignant tone. Olga’s vocal performance is beautiful and evocative. There’s something really special about this song. When I first heard it play during the credits I’ll admit to tearing up just a bit.
Never Fade Away (cover):
There’s a massive amount of music by an extremely talented and diverse group of artists that this article doesn’t even touch on, so if you like what you’ve heard so far check it out. There’s a ton of new music and new artists on there for you to discover. A few last minute shout outs if you’re looking for a good place to start: Black Terminal by Blue Stahli, Makes Me Feel Better by OnenO, and Friday Night Fire Fight by Aligns & Rubicones.
Words: Tom Bottom
Makes me feel better:
Friday Night Fire Fight: