The soundtrack of a generation: We spoke to Bad Religion, Consumed, Fu Manchu, Lagwagon, The Suicide Machines, Swingin’ Utters and The Vandals about the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
There had been licensed music on video game soundtracks before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. With the advent of Sony’s PlayStation, a disc-based system that allowed for full reproductions of songs rather than chiptune melodies, came the inclusion of licensed music.
Gran Turismo, released in late 1997, was one of the first. It featured a somewhat disjointed mix of British rock album fillers, including Ash’s Lose Control, Garbage’s As Heaven is Wide. Not that they’re bad tracks, of course, but why not Kung Fu or Girl From Mars from Ash? Or Stupid Girl or Only When it Rains from Garbage?
The only arguably “big” songs on the Gran Turismo soundtrack are Feeder’s Tangerine (the game also features a bunch of B-sides from the band) and Everything Must Go by Manic Street Preachers. But this rocky iteration of the soundtrack wasn’t even universal; in other countries, like Sony’s native Japan, the game featured a completely different list of tunes.
Meanwhile, the Grand Theft Auto series – most people’s go-to for “good” licensed video game music – didn’t really get its act together on licensed soundtracks until it hit its retro stride, with the 80s disco mix of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002, and the heady blend of early 90s grunge and hip-hop in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004.
And then, slap bang in the middle of those two frames of reference for licensed video game soundtracks, is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s the perfect storm of gameplay, music, attitude and style. It’s crammed full of absolute bangers and, on its release in September 1999, fast became the soundtrack of a generation.
I recall seeing Goldfinger at Leeds Festival in 2002. It wasn’t on the main stage, even though other US punk bands – including The Offspring, Weezer, Less Than Jake, and even Sum 41 – got the nod. No, Goldfinger were playing in a tent. It was also two in the afternoon on the first day, while the hungover (or still-drunk, or still-high) masses fought their way from the campsite to the stage area through a literal festival quagmire.
Third on the bill, in a tent, at two in the afternoon, on the first day of the fourth- or fifth-best musical festival in the UK. It was not what you would call an auspicious start.
But Goldfinger had a secret weapon. They still do, 20 years on. It’s a song with enduring popularity and reach that most any band would be jealous of. A song that brings with it a legion of fans and, even better, acts as a conveyor belt to bring in new ones. That song? Superman, the de facto anthem of classic PlayStation game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, released worldwide three years earlier.
I think it was early – maybe I was hungover, or drunk, or high? – but I don’t remember at what point in their set Goldfinger hit the staccato, ska-punk intro to Superman, but the effect was instantaneous and inspiring. A half-empty tent began to fill. The dribble of crowd meandering outside became a torrent. It was as though they had flipped the switch on an enormous electromagnet, attracting every punk, geek, and skater for miles around.
There were, of course, a few gatekeeping grumbles in the crowd, people complaining that the PlayStation generation weren’t “real” fans of Goldfinger. But those dissenting voices were soon crushed under a throbbing mass of jubilation, of far too many people crammed into far too small a space, united in a singular goal: to dance their asses off to the song from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
I really don’t recall much else of that Goldfinger show. It was a delirious blur. I had come dressed for the occasion, in a Superman “costume” cobbled together from a vintage DC Comics t-shirt and some things I had begged, borrowed, or stolen then the night before, and spent pretty much the entire set crowd surfing. At one point, I came together with an inflatable – I think it might have been a rubber dinghy? I have no idea where that came from, or how I collided with it – and was dumped into a crashing heap in front of the stage.
Winded and a little groggy, possibly sporting a concussion, a very kind security guard got me a bottle of water and allowed me to sit on steps on the edge of the stage. I recall singing along to 99 Red Balloons, looking out at the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen crammed into a festival tent.
I’m not saying that Goldfinger owes their success to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, of course. They’re a brilliant band with an incredible catalogue and a killer live show. But the positive impact of featuring on that soundtrack is obvious.
And they’re not the only band who saw a shift following the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
SIDE A: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER
The Vandals, formed in 1980 in California, were part of a burgeoning punk rock scene with the likes of Bad Religion, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Social Distortion. They signed for Epitaph Records, the Los Angeles label run by Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz, in 1982, and the band’s popularity grew.
In 1999, when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched on the PS1 – featuring Euro Barge, from their 1998 album Hitler Bad, Vandals Good – The Vandals had been established for almost two decades. But the impact, even to a group of punk rock veterans, was noticeable.
“We were in our 20s and 30s when the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game was released,” Joe Escalante, founder member and bassist of The Vandals, tells me. “Soon we started seeing 8-year-olds at our shows. It took a while, but we finally started asking their parents from stage what they were doing there and they said it was [because of] Tony Hawk.”
The Vandals, along with Primus and punk veterans Dead Kennedys, were the big-name artists on the roster. For a band like The Suicide Machines, however, who had a much smaller fanbase and were by their own admission struggling to make an impact via traditional channels, being on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack was enormous.
“We were already pretty deep into DIY touring before Tony Hawk Pro Skater and would have a few hundred people at most shows,” vocalist Jason ‘Jay’ Navarro recalls. “We signed to Hollywood Records and they tried pushing our songs No Face and SOS at MTV and radio and it really didn’t work. I swear after the game our shows were packed up to 1000 people a night. It did more for our band then our label did for our band.”
Rumour has it that Tony Hawk himself had a hand in the selection of the bands and tracks. With such a positive impact on the bands involved, it’s yet another story of the good the skating legend has had on the community and the scene as a whole.
“I’m not sure how [it happened], honestly? We were on Warp [the Warped Tour] out West when Tony was on it a few days skating. Maybe he saw us? No clue how that song was chosen. We didn’t pick it,” Navarro tells me, but he is very glad someone did.
“The lyrics [to Euro Barge] are an homage to the pains of touring Europe, that’s why Tony latched on to it,” Escalante says, confirming Hawk’s part in selecting the soundtrack. “He’s paid his dues over there and there are deep cultural differences that all Americans struggle with. The “Euro-Barge” was our term for how Europeans have no problem cutting in lines anywhere. But the song goes on from there, calling them out for all their sins. All in fun, of course!”
The funny thing is, in spite of its popularity among their fans (in no small part due to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), The Vandals rarely play Euro Barge live, if at all.
“We hardly ever played the song Euro Barge, maybe because we played the game so much in the tour bus we were sick of hearing it,” Escalante says. “But over the years, even though we seldom play it, it remains the #1, 2, or 3 top-performing song on any list ranking our songs, in sales or streams, etc.”
“The truth is it’s actually hard to play,” he confesses, “because Josh wrote it in this f’d up 7/8 time signature, so we never thought we were getting it exactly right, even though we love the song.”
Not all of the bands we spoke to for this feature played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – more on that later – but like Escalante, Navarro remembers it fondly.
“It was a fun game to play,” he says. “Played tons of hours on it. I have been skating since 1985? Or 86. I felt it represented skating well. As far as all spectrums of our culture.”
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Neversoft’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was, of course, a very good video game. It plays brilliantly and it captured the sense of freedom that comes with creative skateboarding. But that in itself is not enough. Games don’t get remade, 20 years down the line, unless they’re something truly special.
And Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was something incredibly special, probably because it fell at the intersection of so many different subcultures, a Venn diagram of things that are so close to overlapping, of punks and skaters and nerds. The soundtrack was a core element of that, stitching together skateboarders and gamers with a fabric of punk rock, with hints of ska, metal and hip-hop.
SIDE B: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 2
With the success of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. It was also inevitable that the stakes of the soundtrack would be upped. If people thought it was surprising to see anti-establishment punk pioneers Dead Kennedys on the first game’s tracklist, it was a real shock to see Rage Against the Machine’s Guerilla Radio and Bring the Noise by Anthrax & Public Enemy on the sequel.
But at the heart of the sequel’s California skate scene, punk rock roots, was You by Bad Religion, from their 1989 album, No Control. I asked Jay Bentley, bassist and founding member of Bad Religion, about the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the band and the wider punk scene.
“The game went hand in hand with a burgeoning lifestyle that was taking hold, with the advent of the X Games and the Warped Tour,” Bentley tells me. “Bands like us were the soundtrack to this Southern California lifestyle. The impact of Pro Skater 2 just blew the roof off skate culture. We met a lot of people whose introduction to Bad Religion was from that game.”
For a massive band like Bad Religion, a younger generation of fans is a bonus. But Bentley found one young skater in particular, a lot closer to home, who he connected with over Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
“My oldest son was 9 when it came out. He loved it. Played it religiously. I thought the game was fantastic. I wasn’t any good at it,” Bentley admits, “but it was still cool. It led to us building a half pipe in the backyard for him to skate, and that’s all that matters.”
“Get out and skate!” He adds.
As with the first game, all of the bands I spoke to weren’t entirely sure how their track came to be chosen, but the underlying theme was that the skaters involved – and, of course, Tony Hawk – had a hand in selecting the tunes.
“It is my understanding that the individual skaters that Tony asked to be in the game came in with songs they wanted,” Bentley recalls. “It may have been Eric Koston (but I really can’t remember) that wanted You. Anyway, Tony reached out to Brett [Gurewitz, guitarist with Bad Religion] and that was that.”
Joey Cape, vocalist of Lagwagon, also credits Hawk himself with their place on the soundtrack. He also recognises the power of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 in pushing the band to a wider audience, far beyond the traditional reach of radio and MTV.
“I think a friend at our record label said Tony had reached out and asked for the song specifically,” Cape says. “I remember being offered the chance to be a part of a skateboarding video game backed by Tony Hawk and saying, ‘Hell Yeah!’. I do think the song choice was the right one for the game. I’m so happy they picked May 16th because, whatever song they had chosen, it would inevitably be on every setlist from then on. Lucky for Lagwagon, we still enjoy playing the song, and now we have our own day.”
“I have said it many times before, “Cape continues, “it’s almost like May 16th is our only single. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack made the song a hit in our world and beyond. Somewhat miraculous for a band that did little in radio and video. Other bands involved seem to feel the same way. The soundtrack is kind of legendary now.”
When asked if he enjoyed the game, Cape is one of the musicians that remembers it fondly.
“Oh yeah, I played it,” he says. “It’s a great game regardless of your background in skateboarding and even cooler if you grew up in board sports. I remember not being all that skilled at the game, but thinking it was so well-done and it was a rush to hear our song while playing it.”
But as I said earlier; not every band on this list played the game on their tour bus, jamming out tricks between shows. Scott Hill, guitarist and vocalist of Fu Manchu, is very quick to admit that he’s not a big gamer. But he does recognise the value of a new generation of fans brought in by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
“I’m not the biggest video game player,” he admits, “but I have younger nephews who played it a lot and I did play it. It was fun,”
“We did notice a lot of younger fans getting into the band,” he continues. “A lot of people that would have never heard Fu Manchu heard us because of that game. We get fans all the time telling us that they first heard of us from the game. Not sure about increased record sales, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt!”
“I’m embarrassed to say that I have never played it,” Johnny Bonnel, lead vocalist of Swingin’ Utters, also confesses. “I’ve watched it a few times and it looks fun, but I’m just not that dude. I had a few dreams playing it but my reaction time was underwater. Everyone that has played it says it’s siiiiiiick! I guess I’m missing out on the sickness.”
But like so many of the bands I spoke to, Bonnel doesn’t underestimate the importance of getting their shot on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack. (Even if he doesn’t know how they ended up there.)
“I wish I had a cool story about getting on the soundtrack. Maybe there actually is a cool story but I don’t know it. I remember Erin and Mike being happy about it, so that made me happy. Max was the one who told me and I couldn’t believe it!”
“It seemed so huge at the time that it made me nervous,” he recalls. “Five Lessons Learned was the song choice and it is one of my favourite songs. Jennifer Koski wrote most of it which makes it that much better! I dedicate Five Lessons Learned to all women skaters when we play it at our shows.”
“The game is globally popular so we were seeing an influx of new, younger followers on our tours,” Bonnel says. “It was the height of our popularity and buzz. I heard our sales increased – makes sense. I, often, mingle with the people who come to our shows and there is always a few people that offer unsolicited information about how they found out about Swingin’ Utters and most of the time it is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. All over the world, I am known as the dude who sings on a song on the soundtrack of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.”
“Pretty sweet,” he adds. “Thank you, Tony!”
But for all of the big bands on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack, it was again the opportunity afforded to lesser-known bands that was most exciting. Far from the skateparks and sunshine of Southern California were Consumed, a punk rock band from Nottingham, right here in the UK.
“Consumed was never destined for huge success,” Chris Billam, the band’s drummer, tells me. “We were happy with being reasonably well known within the UK punk scene back in the day, but we lacked any real ambition to push the band to where it perhaps could have got to. After being picked up by Fat Wreck Chords in the late 90s, we were lucky enough to travel that bit further and reach a wider audience. These were good times for the band and we were very lucky to have the opportunities and experiences we had. One of the biggest opportunities for further exposure came when we were told by the label that Activision wanted Heavy Metal Winner to feature on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.”
Like Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Rage Against the Machine, and other bands with an anti-establishment bent, however, Consumed faced some flak from parts of the punk rock world, who felt it was “corporate” and “selling out” to appear on a video game soundtrack.
“Inevitably, there were a few grumbles from the punk rock elite who believed Consumed had sold out,” Billam recalls, “and that we’d let the scene down terribly by agreeing to be involved. I also remember hearing rumours that we’d been paid enough money to set us all up for life. In reality, we did get a small one-off payment which went towards the band’s debt and a copy of the game each.”
I’d argue that if people are giving you the same grief as they’re giving Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, you’re at least in some very good company. Like all of the bands I’ve spoken to, though, Billam was keen to reiterate how positive the experience was for the band.
“We were aware of the success of the first game,” he continues, “and that one of its biggest draws was the soundtrack, so we felt honoured to be asked to be on the soundtrack of the sequel. For a virtually unknown band to be sitting alongside huge names from the world of punk, metal and hip hop will always be something for us to be extremely proud of.”
BONUS TRACK: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 1 + 2
When the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remake was announced on May 12, 2020 – and the initial excitement over playing them again (without having to dig my PS1 out from the attic) subsided – my thoughts immediately turned to the soundtrack. Which songs would be on it? Would Activision be able to reacquire all the licenses? Would the bands involved the first time around even still be interested?
So began this feature and, over the intervening four months, I reached out to (pretty much) every band on the soundtrack from the original games. Some of the bands involved no longer exist, while others haven’t made it back onto the remake’s soundtrack for unknown reasons. But every band I spoke to, without exception, is thrilled to be back on the soundtrack for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.
“I’m honoured and grateful to be part of the remix,” says Jay Bentley of Bad Religion. “I hope it spawns a whole new generation of skaters. That’s how I grew up and look at me!”
Like Bentley two decades earlier, building a halfpipe in the garden with his son, Lagwagon’s Joey Cape sees his band’s presence on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 soundtrack as a link to his teenage daughter’s love of skating, in addition to a great opportunity for the band.
“When Pro Skater was first released, many of Lagwagon’s fans were already skaters. I do think the new version could bring some younger fans to the soundtrack and in turn, the bands,” he says. “My daughter, for example, is 16 and she and her friends are skaters now. It’s really cool to witness the relationship between skateboarding and punk rock resurface. It always made sense. The sound and sport reunite over and over again.”
“It’s great. It did turn a lot of people onto our band and if people like the song on the soundtrack, I think they will do some digging around to find more by our band,” Fu Manchu’s Scott Hill tells me.”
“Always looking to gain new fans!” He adds, acknowledging the function of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as an on-ramp for fans, turning them on to a band’s whole back catalogue through hearing one song while playing the game.
Johnny Bonnel of Swingin’ Utters, meanwhile, promises to make the most of being on the soundtrack for a second time.
“I’m really pleased with being on the remastered soundtrack! Looking back, I was not in a good frame of mind at the height of our popularity,” he recalls. “We were touring with Social D [Social Distortion] and NUFAN [No Use For A Name] and Lunachicks! I should have been ecstatic at the direction we were headed. Instead, I was a grump. I want to make a promise to the new generation of fans: I will love you unconditionally.”
“I played the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 a year or so ago and it still feels great when our song pops up,” Chris Billam says, of Consumed’s return to the soundtrack. “To be included in the remake feels just as exciting as it did 20 years ago. As well as a welcome nostalgia trip for us older folk, it’s a chance for a whole new generation of gamers to hear the original soundtrack and discover musical avenues they may not have explored without playing games from the THPS series.”
“Yes, I’m pretty excited,” Jason ‘Jay’ Navarro of The Suicide Machines tells me. “We are also on the documentary about the game with a new song. I just hope it’s as fun as the first game and or better. We were insanely lucky to be on this game it changed the path of our band I believe. I just hope it interests gamers of all walks of life to go out and get on a board for real.”
Only time will tell if Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 has the same impact as the original games. The critical reception to the game has been incredible (our review is coming soon) and if the game’s popularity follows the same trajectory as the originals, then the experience should again be positive for everyone I’ve spoken to.
But for a new generation of bands, they’re also getting their shot. For every song that didn’t come back for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, another three have taken their place. There are over three dozen new tunes on the remake’s soundtrack, including punk luminaries like The Ataris, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. But there are also bands you might not know, bands you may never have heard of if they weren’t featured on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack.
And that’s the most exciting thing, isn’t it? The idea that any scrappy little band can be given a meteoric boost, just because they got the nod from Tony Hawk and his crew.
The soundtrack of a generation is back, then. It’s still the soundtrack of my generation, but now, it’s the soundtrack of the next generation of skaters, punks and geeks, too.
I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the bands who took part in this feature, and to all the representatives who made it happen. You’ve all been excellent sports and this article literally wouldn’t have worked without you.
(And if you’re reading this, John Feldmann, I’d still like to talk to you and hear your thoughts on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Goldfinger quickly turned into my white whale for this feature!)