Hey! Listen is a twice-monthly column unearthing obscure video game music and trivia. Today’s column unearths Buck Bumble and its incredible soundtrack.
Imagine writing the music for an obscure game in the ‘90s that largely goes under the radar. You forget about it, move on to the next project, and think nothing of it. It isn’t until 20 years later that a friend gets in touch to let you know that music is now on YouTube, and some videos have millions of plays. This is what happened to Justin Scharvona and his soundtrack for the 1998 release of Buck Bumble on the N64.
If you’ve never heard of Buck Bumble, it’s a third-person shooter developed by Argonaut Software, best known for creating the Croc series and programming the pioneering FX chip for the Super Nintendo. You fly around London as a cyborg bumble bee, dealing with the aftermath of a chemical spill as you blast enemy insects into tiny pieces. A weird premise, but you’d expect nothing less from an era where video games were dominated by anthromorphic animals.
But while many regard Buck Bumble as a mediocre N64 game, there’s no escaping the fact that its soundtrack absolutely slaps. This is a non-stop barrage of groovy UK garage beats that could have easily found a home in any nightclub at the time, which makes sense when you consider the game’s composer, Justin Scharvona, was deeply embedded in the UK’s underground music scene, when UK garage was breaking out into the mainstream and spilling out into new genres such as speed garage and 2-step.
“I wasn’t a game composer who thought ‘hmmm, what shall I add in this game that might be cool?’” Scharvona tells me over a video call. “I often made choices because it was the music I was listening to at the time.”
‘90s club culture helped shape a lot of game soundtracks. Streets of Rage brought house and dance music to bedrooms across the globe, while trance, techno and drum ‘n’ bass were all the rage in futuristic racing series such as Extreme-G and Wipeout, but UK garage was underrepresented. Scharvona wanted to change that.
“When you were talking about electronic music back then, you talked about either techno or house, there wasn’t much else,” Scharvona explains. “I grew up with that late ‘80s acid-house movement and was into that, then rave, happy hardcore – I didn’t really like jungle, to be honest – so when UK garage came along, I was really into that. I just thought, ‘why don’t I give that a go in the soundtrack?’”
Speed garage remixes of tunes such as Tina Moore’s, Never Gonna Let You Go and original tracks from UK garage artists such as Double 99, Scott Garcia and Andy Mowat served as constant inspiration, with Scharvona saying he had two CDs, Speed Garage Anthems Volume 1 and 2, on constant repeat.
“That was a lot of what we did back then for games composition; we’d go out and listen to CDs,” Scharvona says. “Tina Moore’s Never Gonna Let You Go, Double 99 with Rip Groove. These were big garage tracks that crossed over.”
Scharvona had the knowledge and the tools to ensure that the music in Buck Bumble could hold its own alongside any UK garage album at the time. But he was missing one important thing: an MC. Scharvona asked his friend Dylan Beale, a London-based drum ‘n’ bass DJ who was working as a composer at rival game company, Bits Studios, to help him out.
Beale had previously helped out Scharvona with some jungle inspiration for the music in FX Fighter on the PC, but the drum ‘n’ bass and jungle fans amongst you might recognise Beale as the other half of Rude & Deadly and Da Dogz, two notorious groups in London’s drum ‘n’ bass scene in the ‘90s. Beale also composed the music in Wolverine: Adamantium Rage on the SNES, credited as the first-ever example of instrumental grime music.
“Justin asked if I had any contacts from my Jungle/DnB crew No Smoking Records,” Beale tells me over email. “I knew a couple of MCs and this guy called Cisco was lucky enough to get the gig. He smashed it!”
Cisco’s bars led to the infamous biggity buck bumble lines in the main Buck Bumble theme, which is, without doubt, the grooviest title theme for a video game that I’ve ever bopped along to. Fans are still going nuts for it today. Buck Bumble’s music has reached a level of internet fame reserved for only a few video game soundtracks, inspiring numerous memes and remixes in the style of Super Mario Sunshine, Undertale and even Animal Crossing.
“The speed garage swing makes it bounce nicely alongside those old funk breaks,” Beale says, acknowledging the love for Buck Bumble’s title theme. “Mix that with North London MC vibez and it can’t fail! I genuinely love this tune, and have played it to a lot of people I’ve worked with in games ever since!”
One video of the theme managed to reach 1.5million plays before it was removed by Ubisoft, Buck Bumble’s publisher, due to a copyright claim. But after Scharvona realised the demand for the game’s music, he’s been in talks with Ubisoft and has managed to get their agreement to give Buck Bumble’s soundtrack an official release for the very first time in May this year.
“Until now, the music has been trapped in the Nintendo 64 cartridge, in a weird format. It’s not a wav file. It’s not an mp3. It’s in a crazy proprietary game format. But I still have all of the sounds and music that I wrote, so that’s what I recreated properly, and I have it now as a proper soundtrack, ready to release,” Scharvona tells me. An official release for Buck means that fans will finally be able to hear that music uncompressed, in the original way that Scharvona wrote it.
“It’s coming out on vinyl and Spotify and is mixed by a DJ who wanted me to give him the parts to do a clubbier version. The tracks don’t lend themselves to being played in a club. The elements do, but the structure doesn’t. So he’s taken the elements and made them longer because most of the tracks were like two minutes long.”
Scharvona no longer works in the video game industry. He now spends his time as a music producer and remixer for DJs and artists, including some big names like Jason Nevins, who he worked with on remixes for Katy Perry and Leona Lewis.
“I got to like 50 or 60 in the charts with a Ministry of Sound remix, and I hope that one day another track of mine will get somewhere in the charts!” Scharvona says.
If, like me, this Buck Bumble vinyl is gonna be a day one purchase, make sure you keep an eye on Scharavona’s website for more information on when it’s going to drop.
If you liked this article, check out our previous ‘Hey! Listen’ column pieces here.