Stormzy’s game face: grime artist goes digital for latest hit

Stormzy has filmed the music video for Rainfall, the forthcoming single from his No 1 album Heavy is the Head, entirely inside a video game.

The award-winning grime artist and social activist will also star as a future version of himself in a mission in the game, Watch Dogs: Legion, which is released on 29 October.

Watch Dogs: Legion invites players to join the hacker resistance in a futuristic post-Brexit London under the thumb of an oppressive surveillance regime and its private military. Any of the thousands of different Londoners wandering the virtual streets can be recruited to the cause, and the player can control any one of them.

The game, which is being developed by Ubisoft in Toronto and comes out next month, recreates various London locations from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hamlets and Camden.

Stormzy’s performance and likeness was digitised for the game through motion capture and voice-acting, with lifelike results.

The creative director, Clint Hocking, has said that diversity and resistance are prominent themes in the story.

“We are thrilled for Stormzy to be a part of Watch Dogs: Legion. His music, and what he speaks to as an artist, is extremely relevant for our London setting, and for the larger themes of our game,” he said.

“It’s been almost a year since we had Stormzy in the studio to film his performance. He lit up the room, and captivated us all. He’s a great collaborator, and it was a career highlight for us to get to work with him.”

With live music indefinitely suspended, the industry has experimented with virtual performances to fill the void.

Some artists have filmed or live-streamed their gigs via Instagram, TikTok or Facebook; others have played in the virtual worlds of video games, using them as interesting venues for debuting tracks and performances, and drawn to the huge, young audiences that they attract.

In April this year, the rapper Travis Scott performed a live set in Epic Games’ Fortnite. More than 12 million players took part in the opening performance, dancing and running around in the shadow of a giant virtual Scott, who at one point set the sky on fire and sent spectators flying through the solar system – illustrating that virtual performances open up possibilities far beyond real-life live gigs.

The “geek-rock” band Weezer was the first to debut new music in Fortnite in 2019, premiering the Black Album on a special in-game Weezer island.

Since the 1990s, licensed tracks have brought music to huge new audiences via video games: in the mid-00s, Guitar Hero revived classic metal for a younger generation, where 1999’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’s soundtrack brought The Offspring, Goldfinger, Bad Religion and NWA into living rooms. A spot on the Fifa soundtrack, meanwhile, can make an artist’s career.

o The music video for Stormzy’s Rainfall will debut on 1 October. Watch Dogs: Legion is out 29 October

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