In 1988, a Blade Runner inspired tabletop roleplaying game was published. This game, much like it’s predecessors, focused on the use of dice, paper, and conversation to create stories that would live with the lives of its players forever. The game was called Cyberpunk 2020 and this is where I drew my inspiration. A netrunner within the game is a hacker, someone skilled in the use of the net and it’s interface. I wanted to not just be a netrunner within the game, I wanted to netrun in my own way.

Prior to my exposure to Cyberpunk 2020, I had been experimenting with electronic music for six years, and after plenty of whimsical tales in unknown lands, my friends and I decided our next adventure would be part of the dystopian universe. As we studied the material, figuring out what our characters would be, my mind clicked and as my friends and I began to dig deeper into the lore and mechanics of the game, we realized that netrunning was something we should avoid. I had spent three years of my life studying computing and information technology. I was not going to back down from netrunning. The dots were there. All I had to do was connect them.

On December 8th, 2017, via Future City Records, I distributed NETRVNNER’s self titled debut to the net, following the single Daemon Lair. I knew that this release was only setting the tone for NETRVNNER as a whole, but that I would be shaping this tone and a narrative throughout the coming years.

I’m releasing Episode 1 as the beginning of the overarching narrative of NETRVNNER himself within the universe. This article details the narrative and the intention behind the music that is on this album. So grab your cyberdecks, strap on your headsets and jack into the net as we dive deep into Episode 1.

SUNSHINE

…Above the shining skyscrapers, above the suburban expanse, the sun, through the clouds, radiation, pollution and filth, shines down on the slums of the modern day dystopia that is Night City…

This was the image that was burned into my brain after watching Blade Runner 2049. The film’s soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, sent me away from the theatre and directly into the dystopian world.

The soundscape that was produced was raw, visceral, yet calm and clean. This was something I began to idolize the moment I heard the saw waves crashing into my ears, like the ocean waves to the seawall. The instruments had created a sense of tension, atmosphere and a somber longing. I was inspired and ready. I was on the final stretch before the self-titled debut, and I knew this would be the song of the beginning.

This would set the stage for the release. This would show you through music what Night City is, how it feels, where it was in 2017.

…As the music ends, the view of the Night City skyline fades to black…

OPENING CREDITS

…The neon grid fades in rolling towards you and the text appears “Starring” before it glitches away…

This song was created months before any of my releases and was to be the first one featured on the new release after the self-titled. This is the first song where I fully utilize manual modulation using my Akai MPK45 with Ableton. I’m not a film buff but I always imagine seeing the credits roll, synchronized to the main synth line, with the text fluttering and glitching as it fades in and out of view.

…The last note hangs, with a synthetic roar as the title card is etched onto screen…

SUPERUSER

…Light strobes across your view, the circuit connections fire up, the cyber interface’s indicators flare, the netrunner jacks in and enters the net…

This is the oldest song on the track list. I only picked it back up after the release of the self-titled and began to experiment with the skeleton I had left. My original intent for this song was to create stem tracks for my brother, who produces synthwave as Key Puncher.

I was still creating some sort of lofi hip-hop under my experimental project evergreentree and I was branching out attempting to use what I had at my disposal to create synthwave. At the time I had Perturbator’s “Future City” blaring on repeat in my car and I was eager to dabble.

…As the song fades, the netrunner compiles his program to completion…

SHIFT

…Deep within the heart of Night City, the detective slides his keys in and starts the engine, rolls the unmarked cruiser out of the arcological residency…

One night I was sitting in my basement when I heard some sort of tone or chord within the vents and walls. I couldn’t tell if this was music coming from my neighbours but at the time I figured it was a sign. It was the two similar chords that start this song. With this song I wanted to immediately shift the mood, the setting, the character, going from minor to major. This song underlines the recurring melody found within every song.

…The sun sets as the detective parks the cruiser at the scene, hoping for another routine case, the detective is oblivious to the madness that will unfold…

CYBERWAVE

…A sprawling neon ocean appears into view surrounded by glass towers made of the grid, the netrunner appears over the horizon surfing along the waves just under the night sky…

Originally one of the few songs I would consider a b-side from the self-titled, I had completely reworked the song from the beginning onward. This proved to be the most challenging in piecing all the instruments together, everything had to be just right. I imagine seeing surfers wearing suits from Tron gliding along the waves of a neon, digital ocean.

…The tidal wave grows larger and larger until it crashes down and disperses around a light hidden deep within the ocean…

THE ARK

…High atop the skyscrapers of Night City, a luxurious corporate spinner fires its engines and begins its ascent…

This song is a nod to the various space simulations out in the net. I intended this to convey the view of travelling through a cyberpunk skyline as you weave through the skyscrapers and floating ad blimps. I also could see this as part of an ad for a flying car commercial in 2084. I automated the synths and tones through synth strong to craft a stronger, more computer built 80s song, with the intention of tying retro and future together.

…On the horizon a massive digital super-fortress, towered over the ocean. An unfamiliar avatar speeds through the connections towards the firewalls…

SEQUENCE

…What seems like a shining star within the ocean begins to expand into itself creating a virtual vortex the net has never seen…

Probably my most experimental track on this album. Sequence begins with a punchy bass line laser focused on your consciousness. Further along bit crushed pianos ring through sky. Laser synth cannons fire in the sky while the cyber-ocean slowly implodes. I had laboured over writing the drum lines for far longer than I needed to before I shelved the song. When I came back to flesh out the song it definitely helped it age as it kept things undulating.

…The sounds of the cyber-ocean fade, the waves collapse into the black hole, the bright lights of the grid slowly fade…

TRANSFER

…The sun rises to a new quiet world, familiar at first glance, but drastically different behind the curtains…

Much like SEQUENCE this song was an experiment in production and writing. I threw away any sense of tempo, structure or theoretical cohesiveness and focused on an improvisational approach to creating a soundscape. I’ve mentioned before that my workflow involved purely electronic instrumentation, however this song brings the more human electric guitar into the mix to flesh out the sound.

I always picture, much like SUNSHINE, a view of cyberpunk cityscapes and junkyards and I wanted every instrument to be a part of that picture.

Here I intended to draw specifically from Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack to lend more contemporary instrumentation and writing; however, set in the NETRVNNER world. The overall sound of this song alludes to the full sound of the next release so stay tuned.

…Civilization hangs on the brink of a program. And all the technological advances we’ve ever imagined were being held hostage for a far more sinister end game…

CONCLUSION

With pen to paper and dice to table, stories unfolded for all players of Cyberpunk 2020 that live on with them forever, and I was no exception. Though the idea of my netrunner character within the game never flourished, I took the character out of the game, out of what is considered reality within the universe to create a legend. A tale under the hood of it all.

If everything is connected, then everything can be exploited, and the netrunner lives this. This journey of music is far more than a collection of songs strung together. This is merely a piece of the puzzle, a pawn of the game. I always challenge myself to create narratives for my music and with Cyberpunk 2020 as my catalyst, I made my giant leap from story to experience.

I hope you enjoy Episode 1, whether it’d be just one of the songs it features, or the narrative experience as a whole.

”Watch your back on the net, you never know who’s runnin’ out there…”