Focus Up! Hbox's Concentration Playlist

April 13 2022

Focus Up! Hbox's Concentration Playlist

Music has long played a weirdly large part in Hbox’s career.

Across the years he’s built a growing vinyl collection, been interviewed by notable music critic Anthony Fantano (AKA The Needle Drop), he’s beaten a major bracket demon while vibing to Yeezus (The Legend of Kanye Rest), he handicapped himself through much of the COVID era by using Bluetooth headphones, and he’s done a bit of singing himself. He’s more musically cognizant than most players I talk with, recommending me Ichiko Aoba - a not-so-known, Bon Iver-esque artist from Japan - when I asked him what he was listening to in 2021.

With the COVID era, music has also become a part of Hbox’s stream identity. The Melee community knew it since the Kanye Rest set or earlier, but the nature of online play and streamed tournament runs meant that the music was all public. All part of the show. All soundtrack.

And that soundtrack is a subtle but notable part of why Hbox became one of the biggest forces in Smash content. The hype songs build out the identity of each bracket run and create overall motifs. Much like a boss theme lets you know you’re in for some shit, Hbox’s song choice lets you know the mood of the moment - to the point where you can sometimes tell if he’s won, lost, or not even in a bracket just by listening.

Given how big music has been in Hbox’s career as competitor and streamer, we asked him for his favorite hype songs, grabbed some from his stream and his history, and then put them all into a Spotify playlist. These are the tunes that not only help him focus up, but also build atmosphere for his streams, and put some character in his wins. We’re gonna go through and give the tracks some background but the playlist is straight at the bottom if you want to skip to it.

Myth: Yeezus

Kanye West’s Yeezus will probably always be the most historic album in Hbox’s career. It’s the only album that feels like it was a difference-maker. And in truth, it probably wasn’t. Given how Hbox was shaping up over 2016 and 17, there was a solid chance he’d have figured out how to fight PPMD without Kanye’s most aggressive album.

But damn, if the idea isn’t cool. Cool enough to be worth the myth. And in the world of fighting games and grassroots esports, that’s what it’s really about sometimes. The myth of things. In the original days of Melee, where sets could be exchanged via VHS tapes and MLG ran the world, the myth was sometimes all you had - and it made combo videos like Rollout, Shined Blind and Soldier of Fortune take on outsized cultural importance that kept Melee’s fire burning, sparking talents like Mang0 to play in the first place.

Yeezus - any song from it, really - and that PPMD set… It’s the half-life of that old beast; it’s that myth that mostly died with the birth of the VOD, flashing the teeth in 2013.

Apeshit: Off The Grid

Hbox’s love for Kanye carries forward onto Donda’s hit track, “Off The Grid.” It’s a song that puts Hbox in the mood to, “go apeshit” - and it’s been humming in the background for some apeshit moments. When Hbox rallied through losers in the GALINT Melee Open to reset the bracket on Aklo and beat him 3-0 in the True Finals. The pop-off that ensued might make the top 5 for Hbox.

If Hbox is a thunderstorm of pop-offs, Aklo is a lightning rod for them. On top of being perhaps the campiest Fox in Melee history, Aklo mixes in a ton of taunts. It’s an effective strategy designed to frustrate the opponents into bad decisions - and any Liquid fan hating on it should remember that we signed Nuckledu at his peak. But this all means that when people beat Aklo, they pop off like they won the lottery. Far as the song itself goes, it’s a bit more about the struggle and the build-up than Yeezus - and in that way, it fits Hbox’s fight to regain form over the COVID era.

It’s also a hype rap song with good flow and emphatic lyrics. Hbox has a few of those on the list I won’t touch on as deeply, like “Come on, Let’s Go” by Tyler the Creator or “Dreams & Nightmares” by Meek Mill.

Flow: Ordinary Days, Open Eye Signal

Opposite to intense and driving rap beats, Hbox listens to a lot of trance and EDM that borders on old-school, traditional techno. “Ordinary Days” and “Open Eye Signal” are the ones that really stick out - two titles he had on repeat for a lot of Slippi and Ultimate runs. Though Hbox also points to the less-known Slim Hustla as another flow state artist. The repetitive, slow-build nature of these songs help to get into a flow state - a scientifically documented frame of mind in which you are fully immersed and completely undistracted (ideally, even by the self).

“Ordinary days is a good flow song,” Hbox says, “staying focused, staying in the flow, staying in the rhythm. [...] Music’s pretty important, it’s not necessary but if you’re someone who needs to get into that flow state, it’s not a bad idea.”

Loud and Heavy: Stress, Mombasa, BFG Division, Dark Souls

And then there are the flow songs that go hard. Hbox points to “Stress” by Justice. Fitting to the name it’s a “super tense song, [that] makes your blood boil,” and makes you want to, “body an opponent.” He’s also got some flare for the metal, pointing to “Mombasa” - from Deafheaven, a noise or post-metal staple - as one with a good climax and build.

But for me, the most memorable heavy track is BFG Division. It comes from the DOOM soundtrack and is really entertaining to hear next to an Ultimate set. There was definitely something tongue-in-cheek about it, seeing Hbox furiously try to will his way to the win with his bubblegum pink low/mid-tier, DOOM music blasting in the background. In complete contrast to blasting Yeezus, it’s nothing big, mythic, or self-serious - it’s just fun.

Random: Spill the Milk, Canned Heat, Dark Souls

When you’re really into music and you’ve listened to a lot of genres, your taste gets accented with some truly random stuff. For Hbox, that’s “Spill the Milk” by Eartheater, an “incredible song, extremely transcendent” that he found by accident. For his stream, it’s more “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai. “The best groove possible,” according to Hbox, it’s really common in his Ultimate runs and fitting to the Sisyphean but fun grind that is Ultimate Jigglypuff.

For me, it was the Dark Souls soundtrack. Hbox recently blasted a Dark Souls OST compilation while playing Llod in Grand Finals of iBDW’s tournament. Hbox ultimately lost but he took a set off of Llod for the first time in the online era, in what was a 90-minute affair. The Dark Souls music was weirdly perfect - these two floaties simply refusing to approach each other if they did not have the lead. Waiting there for the other to fuck up, like two bosses in Elden Ring, repeating pressure cycles and rolls over and over in a dance that took over an hour. Random, but fitting. (I left the track off the playlist partly because Hbox was listening to a whole OST and because it was already very hard to get these disparate genres to blend and a Souls track somehow clashed the most with the rest of the tracks.)

The game:

“At certain times I’ll just play the in-game music to remind myself of what it’s like to be in a real-life tournament. Sometimes that’s what does the best for me.”

That might sound odd at first but Hbox is an offline player at his core. At his apex, he played in merciless ways that would frustrate stoic philosophers and Buddhist monks. Nothing personal there, it’s just a proven strategy across many fighting games. Online, it’s hard to read the opponent, to feel when you’re gaining that mental edge, and to take power from the crowd and the venue. If Gourmet Race gets those vibes back, then go for it.

And if nothing works, then maybe nothing works. “More recently, especially my rank 1 year of dominance, I’ve learned to rely less on it and treat it as a placebo effect.” There’s probably a logic to that, too. Auditory reflexes trigger faster than visual ones, so hearing in-game audio can be crucial sometimes - especially for really distinct sound cues like a spacie side-b. Sometimes, you might need to hear the game for what it is. Nothing more.

The playlist

But come on. Are you really that zen? Or do you just want something new to jam to? In either case, here’s the playlist:

It’s not exhaustive either, some remixes and songs not being on Spotify. And frankly, Hbox streams so much that you probably wouldn’t want it to be cluttered up with everything that’s ever been played. But if you’re looking for even more, this playlist from CandyDrop covers a lot. (Particularly, two VanilluxePavillion remixes that feature in a lot of Hbox’s Ultimate runs.)

If you’re looking for more about Hbox’s general music taste, we’ve done two different top 5’s for his albums - one video and one written. It’s something we’ve explored before and will probably explore again, in part because of how music weaves into Hbox’s career but in part because of the way Melee is. The way that Melee mythologizes little things like these, like the combo videos, the rhythm of the game matched to a song. The way that it leans into creativity and even gives inspiration from avant-garde artists like Dogleg or Wavedash. Maybe Melee players date the game (and themselves) a bit too much but there is something creative living there, inside all that self-expressive movement.

Writer // Austin "Plyff" Ryan
Graphics // Zack "Zack Arts" Kiesewetter

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