Jet Set Radio Live: how an 18 year old game broke through into real life

Jet Set Radio Live: how an 18 year old game broke through into real life
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Two years ago, after one of those rare 'gainfully employed' summers, I caved and bought a pair of rollerskates. It’d been a solid decade since I put my heels on wheels. But see, a few months earlier I’d dug out my old Xbox and every spare hour I found was spent grinding (hah) out 100% completion through SEGA’s 16-year old masterpiece, Jet Set Radio Future. I could write ten thousand words on why that game still kicks ass, even a decade and a half on. More than its ageless aesthetic and slick gameplay, Jet Set Radio is a mood – a loud, upbeat world of freedom, resistance, and sick beats.

When I strapped on my skates and tore down the Dundee waterfront, I didn’t have to leave that world behind. Xbox off and out the flat; tune out of Jet Set Radio Future, and tune into Jet Set Radio Live.

'So the story goes: One night in 2016, I was in a deep sleep. You know that movie Wayne's World 2?' That’s DJ Professor K – not Tokyo-to’s wild-haired radio maestro, but the mind behind Jet Set Radio Live. The guy’s so fantastically committed to the fiction that I didn’t begin to think of asking his actual identity, but I caught up with him to get some insight into how Jet Set Radio Live came to be.

'In my dream, a musical cherub with colored wings came to me and said "If you build it they will come… save the future." So… as soon as I woke up I put together a demo of what it could be like. I have some hobby knowledge of HTML5 and the first version of the website just played the soundtracks with different backgrounds flashing. You couldn't skip. There were no stations. No ticker. No chat. No wall.'

Since launch, JSRL has indeed become so much more than a flashing playlist. The site is a chatroom; a TV channel; a hub for community projects; a graffiti wall. One playlist is now ten, themed around various gangs and groups from the games. Tune into Rapid 99 for some chill female vocals; if it’s grunge-rock you’re after, hit up Poison Jam.

When it comes to fan-sites, it’s often easy to fall into a wiki-style listing of every smallest element. Wikia’s Fandom format has the monopoly, here – if you’re into any piece of media, there’s a good chance there’s already an extensive encyclopedia out there. The Wookieepedia approach to fandom definitely has its place (listen, I’m guilty as any for spending hours looking at minutiae between different spaceships), but games are more than a compilation of numbers and names.

Jet Set Radio, as a series, is defined by its attitude – an irrepressible upbeat anti-authoritarian message of freedom and funk – and Jet Set Radio Live taps into this, centering everything around this voice. SEGA might not have hit the streets of Tokyo-to since 2012’s HD remaster, but it’s impossible to argue there isn’t an outstanding level of passion for Jet Set Radio out there.

Approaching online communities can always feel like a gamble, particularly in the current climate. Gamergate and the rise of far-right spaces online have made the act of being online exhausting. Even without those factors, however, chatrooms and forums can easily devolve into cliques and conflict.

'Power struggles can be one of the most toxic parts of an online community. Moderators can literally dissolve and divide communities.' DJ Professor K says JSRL takes a relatively hands-off approach to handling it’s community management – risky, to say the least. 'The community takes a different approach. Everyone is welcome, there are no moderators. No one has more power than someone else. There is just one simple way to join the crew… respect your peers.'

So far, an approach that’s worked well for the community – but it’ll be important to see if this hands-off approach works if-and-when the site grows. Still, more often than not folk are happy to just talk about music and fan-projects. The Wall (a free-for-all image board) has so much potential to be ruined with the worst sort of memes. Fortunately, the community seem more interested in posting anime – but often ranging into the more adventurous territories of Jeff Goldblum gifs and Chelsea Manning’s stomping boot.

With a rapid climb from pet project to community-hub for all things Jet Set Radio, I asked the good DJ Professor K what’s next for the station. I didn’t exactly get a concrete answer, but a fitting one.

'We are reaching a critical point in the FUTURE where art, music, expressionism, urbanism, and so many others topics are beginning to intersect. The FUTURE isn't always clear but you can be sure where it goes Jet Set Radio Live won't be far behind… finding a way to express the feeling that is THE NOW. Being the broadcast of the WORLD.'

Jet Set Radio Live sits as this tiny corner of the internet where SEGA’s skate n’ spray never died. A small community of people have come together to create an unrelentingly positive space. Pirate radio for the online age; a place to completely indulge in nostalgia; and an example of where fans can take an idea, and really run wild with it.

Of course, I had to leave with one last question for DJ Professor K.

'There are so many good jams on JSRL. That's the point. To expose people to a remixed sound of the FUTURE…

But if I had to choose… I'd say Funky Radio.'