When someone mentions ‘passionate’ online communities in 2021, you may find yourself recoiling in horror. Yet, as the calming smiles of Yoav Landau and Sam Haft populate my Zoom window, I’m reminded of the early 2000s – and friendlier fandoms. Listening to the excitable duo reminisce about their formative years, it’s hard not to think that these very online pals could be any message-board-lurking ‘90s kids. Except they’re not – they’re the internet’s biggest gaming band.
Raised on old-school internet forums hidden across the playful corners of the web, Yoav and Sam saw the net as a way to forge exciting connections over misunderstood passions. Creating and performing under the name The Living Tombstone (TLT), this Warner Music-signed duo tapped into their favourite fandoms, recruiting a loyal army of YouTube and Tik Tok followers. Thanks to a unique 1-2 of catchy synth tunes and slick Daft Punk-esque music videos, TLT is now a bonafide online sensation. Yet for founding member Yoav Landau, his first foray into music was anything but cool.
“At the time, people were really crazy about the whole brony thing,” Landau says, recalling his formative years spent in the My Little Pony fandom. “They were like ‘Oh my god, an adult male enjoys a little girl’s show! Yes….okay, amazing?’” he pauses, rolls his eyes. “But the brony Fandom was a huge part of my life. It introduced me to a lot of people who are very talented and very creative. It really taught me what it means to be part of a community.”
Quickly finding himself connected to a global network of passionate, creative misfits, Landau released a My Little Pony remix that can only be described as a brony banger. Suddenly, he found his bedroom-made track generating tens of thousands of hoof-slamming hits.
With Landau’s fire beats tearing up the bronyverse, he realised that there was a way to create music that appealed directly to a niche, but passionate community. It was only a matter of time, then, before he set his sights on a subculture absolutely begging to be pandered to – gamers.
Watching the buzz grow around indie horror sensation Five Nights at Freddy’s, Landau channeled his latest interactive obsession into a series of pop tributes to the game. They swiftly became a viral sensation, racking up millions of views on YouTube. Now, much like cosplaying violinist, Lindsey Sterling, The Living Tombstone creates a mix of tributes to beloved games and their own entirely original music – leaving the safety net of beloved IP behind them.
“I think TLT’s roots in the fandom world have informed how we’ve taken the next steps as a music act” reflects Sam Haft, The Living Tombstone’s main vocalist. “We know that our fans really care about stuff like lore, characters, and world-building. So that has always been at the forefront of everything we’ve done.”
It was this unique mix of lore, beats, and wiki-baiting that caught the eyes of Warner Music. Seeing the passionate and growing fanbase that TLT amassed, the prestigious record label jumped at the chance to sign a very online type of new artist.
“When we started working with Warner Music… that was such an exciting transition,” Haft explains. “As a DIY, YouTube-based musician, you spend so much time on the industry outskirts, just making bedroom music, alone with a laptop. So it’s definitely been something to adapt to, but it’s really exciting! It feels kind of validating after such a long time, to have people in the industry be like ‘come on in!’”
Imbuing their internet band with a series of memorable avatars, this Gorillaz-esque approach to music videos has seen fans build up a whole narrative around The Living Tombstone’s fictional characters. The question for TLT was, what’s the next step to immersing fans into their musical multiverse? The answer – make their own video game.
Launching later this year, The Living Tombstone’s gaming debut is an autobattler called AudioClash: Battle of the Bands. Unsurprisingly, it’s a music game through and through. Channeling elements of Scott Pilgrim, Pokemon, and rhythm games, this unique take on the absurdly popular genre aims to create an utterly enthralling turn-based timesink.
“Essentially, it’s auto chess… but it’s really a battle of the bands.“ explains the game’s director, Battlezone alumni Mike Arkin. “It’s not combat, like every other auto chess game, right? So I have to tell people in every pitch meeting, you’re not running around clutching a guitar as a weapon, or stabbing people with drumsticks – you’re playing awesome music! It’s the power of the awesome music that overwhelms the other team.”
Playing like an eyebrow-raising mix of Pokemon and School of Rock, the goal in Audio Clash is to meld together a unique mix of different musicians and instruments to create your own weird and wonderful band. A rhythm game would have been the obvious choice for a game based on a band, but for Landau and Haft, it wasn’t the right choice.
“Rhythm games take a lot of focus and there’s a barrier to entry. We didn’t want to gatekeep anybody from enjoying the experience,” says Haft, “so it made sense to do something more like an autobattler. Here, you’re simulating a battle of the bands: you’re putting together the band and you’re putting together the moves that you’re doing, which correspond to music. The moves that you do and the sound that your band has is unique enough that you really feel some kind of ownership over it. Like, when I’m playing a Pokemon game, for instance, I feel very attached to my roster. I’m like, ‘that’s my team!’ We’re kind of hoping to give people that experience with their band.”
Featuring a huge roster of playable musicians designed by long-time collaborator, Maria Villacarlos, the duo are confident that there will be enough variety to keep players battling it out for just one more song. Their solution to extending the game’s shelf life? Adding in guest characters based on real-world musicians.
“My favourite thing about Audioclash is the guest musicians!” reveals Haft, with a smile. “It’s the idea that other people that we know – or even don’t know – in the music business, can see how music and gaming really fit together in a really awesome way. I’m excited that other people in the music business can look at this and see all these kinds of otherworldly and outlandish musical characters that we’ve created in this game, whilst adding characters that are from the real world. That’s super exciting!”
While it would be easy enough to slap your branding and music onto the game, for Landau and Haft, this isn’t just a glorified licensing deal.
“We are involved every step of the way, not just on the music side” says Haft. “In terms of the creative of the characters, backstories the band managers designs… We are involved super, super closely. We are not just people who create stuff in the gamer world, you know? We are gamers ourselves. That kind of attention to detail is important because we really want people to have the best possible experience playing this game. We want people to know that we’re not just kind of licensing our name to something, we are fully involving ourselves.”
AudiClash: Battle Of The Bands is currently in closed beta, with the game still scheduled to launch in 2021.