MAGFest X Recap, Part III: The Dessert

In case you missed them: Part I: The Appetizer Part II: The Meat

Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas were set to perform at 10:30pm on Saturday.  After a long number of hours at panels and gaming, a bunch of us stood in line at Elevation Burger for a long time only to be told that they no longer had milkshakes.  That was the worst.  However, we quickly devoured what we got and headed to meet our friends at the show.

When we got there, The Year 200X, one of the many bands named after something Mega Man-related, was playing.  I think we arrived 45 minutes early, and that was time enough for us to get optimally positioned for the Earthbound Papas.  We were slightly left of center-stage, 5-10 people back, I’d guess.  After some moshing and a rendition of “Dancing Mad” that was highly praised the next morning by Uematsu and his band themselves, the stage crew immediately started getting ready for the headliner amidst a sea of Colossus roars.

As you can see in the picture, the crowd for the Earthbound Papas was, as you’d expect, enormous.  That wasn’t even the whole crowd, either—I took that well before they came out, if I remember correctly.  Of course, everyone was going wild the whole time, and the crowd got especially pumped when Uematsu came out during soundcheck for a couple of minutes. Meet, left to right, Stephen Davis, me, Jen Doo, Brandon Rothenberg, and Nick and Natalie Parisi!  We had a bunch of other friends with us, but we were the guys available at picture time.

Nobuo Uematsu is a goofy guy.  Check out this shepherd garb!  I think he knows his influence over us, his sheep fans, haha.

Man, did they start the concert off on the right note.  After their first song they went right into “Those Who Fight Further,” which, I think, is one everyone wanted to hear.  They could have played Yanni the rest of the time.  It was just so awesome to see the legend himself playing that tune.

If you're wondering why he's red, aside from him playing his butt off, midway through the concert he and his band were clamoring for some BEER.  Naturally, the staff indulged them.

There isn’t much I can say about the concert because it was all just a feeling, really.  There, twenty feet in front of me, was the man who wrote so much of the VGM that I loved, first, as a kid and now still love.  And he looked like he was having the time of his life.    Watch this video of him doing the Colossus roar:

That video plus the “Those Who Fight Further” one say it all.  There was this mutual love and respect between the Earthbound Papas and us.  Us respecting them as composers of some our favorite games and them respecting us as lifelong fans.  It was unreal.  None of that Miles Davis “I’m gonna turn my back to you and play to the floor” bullshit.  Watch that Colossus video again and look at how Uemastu just prances around like a little kid.  That was the vibe whether they were playing or just talking.

As for the music, of course they played a good number of Uemastu’s tunes (also including “Dancing Mad”) as well as some originals.  To be honest, I didn’t even care how objectively well they played—I wasn’t even paying attention to the level of quality and it really wasn’t about that.  There was so much energy and, again, love going around that their shredding cut deep into everyone present.  Not to mention, that was the loudest concert that I’d ever been to—it was like a wall of sound was seeping into every pore of my body.  If someone there didn’t feel the love they sure felt the sound waves--heavens to Murgatroid!

After the concert people stood in line for hours to get their autographs.  The line was still quite sizeable at 1am.  We went to Family Feud (where the UVA team won big time!) and afterwards checked out chiptune artist Inverse Phase.  Actually, Inverse Phase is Mr. MAGFest is Brendan Becker, a friend of ours from college.  I’m going to feature his stuff later here, but you if you’re feeling in the mood for chiptunes, head over to his site.

But yeah, the Papas were up late.  And then their panel was at 10am.  There were tons of chairs set up, but effectively two-thirds of the available seats were empty.  I don’t blame people for not coming, honestly—asking people to get up at 10am to go to a panel on the last day of MAGFest… that’s asking a lot.  But Jen, Mog, and I went and I jotted down a ton of notes.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything to ask him.  Have you ever been in the presence of someone you admire so much and then are dumbfounded as to what you should ask or say even though you know that somewhere in your head you have a billion things you want to?  My first real experience with that, I think, was in my first year of college when Kurt Rosenwinkel held a masterclass at UVA.  I didn’t even know where to begin and sat in that room trying to think of something good the whole time.  Nothing came.  I learned that one should either prepare questions ahead of time if one can or just relax and soak in being in the presence of someone great.

Now, without further ado, I present to you:

“All You Ever Wanted to Know and Didn’t Ever Want to Know About Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas”

Pic L-->R: Arata Hanyuda (drums), Michio Okamiya (guitar), Nobuo Uematsu, Tsutomu Narita (keyboard), Yoshitaka Hirota (bass)

  1. All of the members of the Earthbound Papas are game composers in their own right.  They all, at one point or another, have worked for Square.
  2. Uematsu’s favorite composition is “Slam Shuffle” from Final Fantasy VI.
  3. Uematsu has been doing a lot of work recently for anime.  The difference in writing for the two, he said, is that in anime, he might write long compositions only to have them cut up because a certain scene turns out to be a lot shorter than expected, while in games he is worried about how long a player might be in an area so he doesn’t want to make his work too short or repetitive.
  4. He is currently working on a new 3DS title called Fantasy Life. The game will feature 70-80 different compositions of his, and those compositions explore multiple genres, “show[ing] different sides” of him.
  5. His best experience at Square was watching the company grow after the first Final Fantasy game.
  6. One time when Okamiya (guitar) worked with Square, he went into the break room and overheard execs and Uematsu discussing what jokes to tell people.
  7. Hardware doesn’t matter to Uematsu in terms of writing for old gen. vs. new gen. systems—“melodies move people.”
  8. What summon would you be? L-->R: Ifrit; Shiva; Shiva; Mog; Bahamut
  9. What FF monsters would you have as pets? L-->R: Knights of the Round; [couldn’t understand the answer]; Chocobo because vehicles are bad for the environment; Mog; would like a younger brother like Gilgamesh
  10. Hirota (bass) would love to return to MAGFest. He values the community and noted that it is much different than similar events in Japan.
  11. Regarding the: FFVI Opera scene, Uematsu was told to do something fun. After it was released he received a call from Koichi Sugiyama of Dragon Quest series, who asked, “Why didn’t you ask me [for advice] I know how to write for opera!”
  12. Uematsu’s turning point in deciding to make a career out of music was when he started listening more to rock and pop genres as opposed to his classical LPs in middle school. He felt as if he could write that sort of music.
  13. When composing a character theme, Uematsu reads a lot of the character’s dialogue from the game script. From the voice and personality of the character arise ideas.
  14. US music inspiration L-->R: Metallica; NIN/rock; 70s music; classical/film music, but had a dream to play in a rock band in the US; same as others plus funk/James Brown
  15. The name “Earthbound Papas” derives from a King Crimson record called “Earthbound”.  Uematsu added “Papas” to the name to make it sound more like middle-aged men rather than a hardcore progressive group.
  16. A couple of the members cited that they would like to arrange some of Yasunori Mitsuda’s music for the band (for Okamiya, Chrono Cross and Shadow Hearts tunes in particular). Uematsu is not into arranging music; to him, composing comes from the heart and core of the human body while arranging is more like “changing clothes.”
  17. The band really loved 200X’s version of “Dancing Mad” and said that it was their favorite fan-remixed song that they have heard. Note: From their responses, I believe that it is because they hadn’t heard many remixes, though that observation does not detract from the sincerity of their love for 200X’s work.

After the panel, Jen and I stood for about 15 minutes in a [much shorter] line for autographs.  I had exactly five [Score.] t-shirts left over, so I presented them to Uematsu in Japanese and asked them to sign my copy of Final Fantasy X (there’re long stories as to why I don’t have VII, VIII, and IX anymore).  Then, Jen and I got our overdue shakes at Elevation Burger, hung out for a little bit longer, and jetted.

Another year, another great MAGFest.  Thank you so much to all of the staff and guests of the festival, as well as to the community at large.  You all rock, and I look forward to more mayhem next year!