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Life, Limbo and Stromae

Life is a predictable mess of unpredictability. It’s something I was reminded of last Thursday when I attended the stellar concert by Belgian musician Stromae, with a little help from Limbo.

Rainy, cold nights in Manhattan aren’t ideal for concerts at Madison Square Garden but who cares really? It lends to some of the fun rushing to subway platforms, and weaving under others’ umbrellas when you’ve forgotten your own. I love everything about going to a concert, and prior anticipation. It’s all in the company. Forsaken dinner plans ahead of time. The buzzing excitement. Whether the concert turns out a poor evening or not, you never know until you’re in the thick of it, and that’s the awesome risk you take. Bad opening acts and lifeless crowds may just be the things to complain about later, but luckily at Stromae, one of the best accompanied him as his supporting act.


The night began with Jidenna opening for the lovely Janelle Monáe. They were both as fabulous as expected. Two high energy sets, lots of dancing, singing and the right amount of scandalous behavior that took us into Stromae’s main event. I frankly did not know what to expect as I engaged in a concert faux pas of being woefully unprepared, and lacking in-depth knowledge of his music. What I definitely did not expect was the video game inspired opening visuals of his performance.

An animated, lanky figured Stromae walked stage right on giant screens, contrasted sharply in black and white. The animation continued through a stage full of spinning cogs, cranes, crates, flickering lights and past the mechanical arms putting it all together. Among the rubble and bustling of construction, the long legs of a menacing spider began stalking our hero. Hiding in the shadows, creeping in at opportune moments…I realized I was watching something familiar, and remembered that unsettling feeling which I experienced some years ago while playing Limbo.

Animated Stromae escaped an attempted stabbing by the spider’s legs, and real Stromae delivered an amazing musical and theatrical spectacle for the next two hours. Stromae’s very much a performer and a brilliant one at that. Between lessons on how his music is layered and created was a stage show that was visually stunning and expertly integrated into his lyrics. Stromae delivered not just music but art for the auditory and visual senses.


At the halfway point of Stromae’s performance, the spider returned.


Stromae’s latest album, Racine carrée features a song called, “Quand c’est”, a phonetic play on the word “cancer”. In the song’s video, the disease takes a symbolic shape as a spider with Stromae questioning who would fall next to its terrible fate. It’s difficult to watch given Stromae’s creepy movements mimicking the beast, coupled with the heavy-handed lyrical content.

At the end of the live performance for “Quand c’est”, the ‘spider’ cornered Stromae and his band, enveloping the stage with its black, smokey foreboding presence. It was the only moment of the evening in an otherwise upbeat and emotionally ranged theater performance which brought down that high with an intentional, sobering purpose.

Stromae’s concert pushed me to finish Limbo this morning. I was only about 30 minutes away from completion—why I stopped years ago I have no idea. Maybe back then, I was not in the frame of mind to deal with constant failures which resulted in the broken, severed body parts of Limbo’s protagonist. Navigating the shadows and greys of his macabre world were mentally frustrating at times, and left me with some measure of anxiety. It’s a beautifully uncertain game, one in which I had defeated the spider long before. During Stromae’s concert, I remembered that horrible in-game spider which relentlessly snapped at my heels, and on a few occasions, pierced its leg through my protagonist’s frail body. I remembered my small moments of harmless panic.


During the closing moments of Limbo this morning, I felt somewhat detached from the game, perhaps in part due to my extended absence with it. When I returned to the forest, a little girl was surprised by my approach. I was surprised myself. Where was I? Who was I? What was I? The answer is one left to interpretation, and no matter how many years in between my playthrough and the ending, those questions are the ones I was supposed to ask regardless.


That’s just how Limbo’s narrative is constructed—vague, thoughtful, mysterious. But on this day, when I’ve managed to be fortunate enough to celebrate a whole other year of life, I’m thinking about my own mortality and Limbo has me puzzling on an unknown future.


I haven’t yet been able to verify with absolute certainty that Stromae’s concert and the “Quand c’est” visuals were inspired by Limbo, but I would be very surprised if they weren’t. If yes, the spider is one of the most powerful, memorable elements plucked from the 2010 Indie game. Stromae’s use of it would be one of many interpretations—adapted to represent an incredibly terrifying and depressing reality.

Even if a mere coincidence, it’s appropriately unnerving much like Limbo’s bleak composition, and life’s sometimes unfortunate and unexpected behaviour.


You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in. Or follow us on Twitter @KoTAYku.


Follow N. Ho Sang on Twitter at @Zarnyx if you’re feeling adventurous, or you can read her articles here.

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