Every year, large swathes of people gather around their laptops and TVs to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. A parade of bizarre Euro-pop and questionable outfits, it’s a venue for the European nations to settle their differences, not through violence or war, but by dashing the hopes and dreams of their neighbours’ most promising pop acts.
This year, however, saw the unfortunate but understandable cancellation of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Eurovision fans without their yearly fill of audacious pop performances. As a result, some Dreams players took it upon themselves to host their own music event in its place, taking advantage of the Media Molecule’s ambitious creation engine to develop their own entries..
The Dreams Song Contest was organized by Alexa Wignall, a Dreams super fan and YouTuber from the UK. Upon hearing that the Eurovision Song Contest had been cancelled, she came up with the idea of holding her own similar contest, inspired by others within the Dreams community who had organized in-game activities to keep people busy during lockdown. Gathering together some of the most dedicated players, she challenged them each to come up with a song and virtual performance for the competition.
The Show Must Go On
The requirements to enter the event were simple enough. Players could pick a country or create their own fictional one to represent in the competition. They would then have to create their composition, being careful not to include any pre-existing music to avoid copyright infringement. The winner would be the person with the most votes from both the competitors and the general public watching at home.
Initially, Wignall was worried whether anyone would be interested in taking part, but eventually entries started to roll in for the competition.
“I’ve been pleased with the level of participation,” Wignall told me a week before the event. “There is always the worry that you may throw a party and no one comes. There were a few drop outs, but just the right number of contestants are taking part, and it’s good to see.”
One of the contestants was the representative for Croydon, the appropriately named Girl from Croydon. She entered her original song called ‘I Want To’ into the competition. It’s an electronic groove, accompanied by a music video of breakdancing robots busting some shapes against a trippy background.
It wasn’t her first choice for a song to enter into the competition. Instead, her original plan was to create a jazz track to perform, but after realizing the amount of work that she still had to do, as the deadline loomed, she quickly switched to an earlier, simpler idea, putting the finishing touches to the animation to bring it to life.
“The video came about because I’d have been collaborating with another dreamer, The Tenia, on a shoot-em-up, and had been messing around animating the character for days,” Girl from Croydon explained on Twitter. “It’s just the new Media Molecule puppet. I wanted to have some kind of visual to go with the song, so I did a very quick tweak and threw some paint FX in. It’s a bob’s your uncle kinda’ thing, really. No inspiration, it’s all there: super simple, super quick.”
It’s this improvisational quality of Dreams that makes it the perfect venue for holding a song contest. Compared to other music software like Ableton or Logic Pro, it’s super quick and easy to pick up, and favours spontaneous creativity over meticulous planning or careful production.
Tarot Cards and Terrible Timing
The Girl from Croydon was up against 28 other contestants, representing both real and fictional countries. This included the contestant Schlomonator, who was the representative for Germany. His entry, the piano-led ‘Narrenfrei’ (pictured above) is a song about battling a grim fate, and was accompanied by a video of a shy fox sheepishly singing into a microphone on a stage. As the song progresses, we see this character gradually grow more resolute, with the music building and adding extra layers of instrumentation to accentuate this change.
“My musical experience is mainly playing the piano since I was a kid,” Schlomonator told me. “I looked at PC music making software in the past but found it hard to use and frustrating. Dreams was a dream come true for me because it makes this all so easy. The song is about Tarot cards predicting a terrible fate, and then the person’s resolve to fight that fate instead of giving in.” It’s a topic he attributes to his wife recently picking up tarot as a hobby during the lockdown.
Out of the entries, Narrenfrei was one of the few songs to feature vocals throughout, with Schlomonator stepping up to voice the brave young fox. The scarcity of singing in the competition likely had something to do with a recent update in Dreams, which limited recording to 15 seconds at a time to try and prevent people from inputting copyrighted material into the game. This is something many musicians are hoping will change in the future, and was even the reason for a couple of entries backing out of the competition in frustration.
“I wish they could tackle the copyright thieves rather than the legitimate musicians,” Wignall laments, “but at the moment the methods are more [like using a] sledgehammer to crack a nut.” However, she does trust Media Molecule to find a proper solution sooner or later, suggesting these frustrations were simply “bad timing” for the inaugural competition.
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Only in Dreams
In spite of those limitations, though, Dreams’ players were able to produce some excellent songs for the competition, with standouts including a bluesy track from the Swedish entry Bvysen and an elaborate Fire Emblem tribute from the representative for Fodlan, Pixel Knight.
One of my personal favourites was Stevie128k’s entry for Tanzania, Over and Over, which came with a spectacular video featuring a band of automatons performing on a stage. According to Stevie128k, this was the result of a number of previous experiments he’s carried out, working on creating small animation loops and sculpts. In his own words, he doesn’t really have the patience for “massive projects”, instead preferring to keep the scope of his creations simple.
“The song itself is just a few chords and a beat,” Stevie128k explained prior to the contest. “I sort of wanted an LCD Soundsystem style track. I did write more lyrics but I couldn’t get it sounding great with the in-game recording.”
With no prize on the line besides obviously the bragging rights and the ability to lord it over the competition, I was curious to find out why Stevie128k chose to compete in the competition. He told me that, for him, it was all about the community spirit behind the event and the structure it provided.
“I enjoy the shared aspect of Dreams,” says Stevie128k. “I try not to get caught up in the like-mongering. I see it more as a tool of expression, similar to an instrument, piece of creative software, or pens and paper. I love the fact that stuff is sharable and that others can see what you have made. So the reason I do challenges like this are more because I work well under instruction and to a deadline. I also enjoy seeing other people’s takes on a given subject.”
The final was streamed live on Saturday, 16th May 2020, with Wignall taking on the duties as host. Going through the entries one by one, she gave listeners the chance to listen to each song, before eventually announcing the winner at the end of the night after a tense half hour collecting the final votes. In fifth place was the Australian entry DirtyHarolds with 28 points, while fourth, third, and second went to Germany, Oz, and Canada. The winner of night, however, was the Swedish entry Bvysen, with an overall total of 55 points.
The event proved to be a showcase of one of the most ignored aspects of Dreams — its amazing collection of audio tools. While the visuals that players produce often startle and amaze — and for good reason too, I mean look at this incredible recreation of a scene from the Unreal 5 engine demo — the audio side of Dreams often gets the short end of the stick. This competition, however, helped to reset the balance, acting as a demonstration of just how robust and capable these tools are when placed into the hands of someone with an idea. Add to that the way in which the event brought people together during a globally difficult time, and it’s safe to say the competition was a smash hit.