Following in the footsteps of Danny Brown and Frank Ocean, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes and The Voidz now has his own in-game radio station, KULT 99.1 FM Vespucci Beach Low Power Radio, on GTA Online.
Based on a real-life 99.1 FM station operating out of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, it’s an eclectic mix of tracks from Misfits to LL Cool J, supposedly curated by Casablancas. But while I’m told he sent Rockstar “like 200 songs” to consider, the studio didn’t end up picking the ones he wanted.
“They just chose the ones that I guess they thought matched what they’d imagine I’d listen to or something,” Casablancas notes. As for The Voidz songs on the tracklist… “I sent like ‘Xerox’, ‘Nintendo Blood’, ‘Human Sadness’, ‘Take Me In Your Army’. Yeah, they didn’t want any of that, they wanted like… *rock and roll*”. Casablancas sings that last part, I should note, for extra sarcastic effect.
“But it’s fine,” he adds. “It’s a side of my 12-sided die.”
What’s interesting about KULT FM is that despite the fact it’s said to be hosted by Casablancas, his shift is mostly covered by the comedian David Cross. The running joke of the station is that Casablancas is just out of shot, or right behind “DJ Zachary” as he introduces new songs.
The duo are friends in real life stemming from the frontman’s love of Mr. Show, with Cross playing radio DJ Morning Wood and famously introducing The Strokes as ‘Stroke’ in the video for ‘Juicebox’. Casablancas and Cross weren’t in touch about the KULT FM collaboration as it was Rockstar’s idea – Cross played Zero in the now-iconic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, so the pairing just made sense.
As part of the collaboration, GTA Online also served as the virtual medium for an exclusive premiere of a new track from The Voidz called ‘Alien Crime Lord’, on which Casablancas auto-croons over a catchy, video-gamey wall of sound.
The song was originally a Soulwax tune before it was covered and chopped into the slick Voidz song we hear now. Casablancas jokingly calls it “QYURRYUS squared” when I mention its similarities to the ‘Virtue’ track.
As for his ambitions in the scene, Casablancas once said that he had multiple ideas for a video game of his own back in 2009. 11 years later, now that he’s had a look behind the curtain with Rockstar, the interest is still there. “The dreams never die, but the world does around it,” Casablancas says. “I’d still love to – but so much time and energy and you kind of need to be plugged into that world. I was banging my head against the wall trying to so I just kind of gave up.”
While none of The Voidz will admit to being regular gamers, guitarist Beardo has played every GTA game, and synth maestro JB says that he gets his kicks from FIFA, but not how you might expect. “I like it when they leave the FIFA controllers out and I can pick up the controller and design players, and just make hideous beasts.”
“I can’t find a game that I like,” Casablancas tells me, so I told him that he has to design it. “That’s kind of why!” he ripostes. “Back in the day, everyone loved the James Bond game, and I just couldn’t reconcile the fact that you’re the world’s most lethal assassin, but also like, you couldn’t walk through a doorway. You know what I mean?” To demonstrate, Casablancas mimicked the tank controls of Goldeneye over Zoom, gun fingers in tow.
One of his game design sticking points is how a game controls, and he’s not convinced that proportionally, games have gotten much better in that regard.
To try and remedy this I ask Casablancas about the potential of virtual reality, which frees up movement and physicality, putting it into the literal hands of players. “I did the Star Wars thing at Disneyland, that had some really amazing things about it,” Casablancas says. “I feel like that’s the tip of the iceberg of what it’s going to be like… pretty magical, flying around and space battles.”
While researching for this interview I fell into a late-night YouTube rabbit hole watching Casablancas speak thoughtfully to Henry Giroux and Chris Hedges, among others, about the looming threat of fascism and the state of the current Democratic establishment. The frontman is switched onto politics nowadays and thinks video games have some catching up to do.
“They touch on it, I think right now it’s more like a caricature,” Casablancas explains. “There’s like the, you know, ‘the world has been taken over by communists game’. There are different versions of the future and the present,” Casablancas adds. “I think that appeals to how people see the world or their political stances, but I don’t think it’s gone all the way yet. I bet it will soon.”
We talk a little more about political video games, and Casablancas (joking or not) brings up The Division as an example, which is ironic, given Ubisoft’s laughable insistence that the series isn’t making any political statements. Eventually, Casablancas asks me what I’m currently playing, and I reply “Cyberpunk 2077”, to which he jokes that “it almost seems like our song fits more with [Cyberpunk 2077],” alluding to the futuristic milieu of ‘Alien Crime Lord’.
Gorillaz recently filmed a music video using GTA Online, for the Beck collaboration ‘The Valley Of The Pagans’. The Voidz are also open to using video games to visualise their artistry, but per Casablancas, “You’ve got to go big though, It’s got to be something insane.”
I bring up the statement the band issued upon the release of ‘Alien Crime Lord’ as a touchstone for their potential game-based video. The Voidz say that they wanted the song to sound like “Jean Claude Van Damme standing up on a speeding motorcycle while firing perfect bullets through the windshield of an oncoming nemesis, then finishing the job with a controlled flip over the top of the vehicle that ends in a maelstrom of denim and flames.”
Through laughter, Casablancas tells me that this was due to a clip from the 1993 Van Damme flick Hard Target that the band were sharing at the time. And yes, it’s just as absurd as the publicist-friendly quote suggests. JB calls it an “inside joke that walked outside”.
GTA Online: The Cayo Perico Heist and The Voidz’ ‘Alien Crime Lord’ is out now.