~reviewed by Mike Ventarola
One of the toughest things Metropolis Records may have had to accomplish was that of going through the entire discography of Juno Reactor. Odyssey is a sampling and representation of work from mastermind Ben Watkins as well as his many collaborators over a ten year span. In spite of the many changes and fluctuations within the underground music scene, Watkins managed to capture the attention of fans as well as the music industry insiders. The list below may read like a resume, however in light of the achievements of this artist, it is important to emphasize how one of the children of the undergrounds has managed to succeed and come into his own. What follows is information gleaned from the artist and label website.
The forthcoming Summer film “The Matrix
Reloaded” will feature 3 new Juno Reactor tracks on the soundtrack album.
Other Juno Reactor tracks will be featured on the forthcoming The Animatrix, which contains nine original animated short films by the makers of The Matrix. This will be released on VHS and DVD on June 3rd.
If this wasn’t enough to sing about, the track Pistolero will be featured this summer on the trailer for the new Robert Rodrigez film "Once Upon A Time In Mexico." Pistolero also appears in the final film in the Mariachi trilogy, starring Johnny Depp, Salma Hayak, Antonio Banderas & William Defoe.
Previously, in addition to creating music, Watkins has remixed work for such artists as DEVO, FATIMA MANSIONS, SIOUXIE & THE BANSHEES and KILLING JOKE as well as composing and producing four tracks for TRACI LORDS' debut album '1000 Fires'. Watkins’ instrumental work have also appeared on film soundtracks for movies such as 'MORTAL KOMBAT', 'VIRTUOSITY' as well as the trailer for 'ROMEO & JULIET.” The track “Guilty” was utilized in the US during clips for baseball, basketball and grid iron football. The track “Samurai” was featured during the Japanese Grand Prix coverage. Watkins has also recently composed the score for the forthcoming movie 'BEOWULF' starring Christopher Lambert and provided three new tracks to Playstation's Jet Moto 2 game while "Hule Lam" was included on the TV series "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"
Since electronic music isn’t my particular forte, admittedly, this release is a new endeavor and experience. In light of the above accomplishments, one has to sit up and take notice. Watkins, a.k.a. Juno Reactor, is clearly demonstrating how one can remain true to the underground fan base while simultaneously creating enough noise that even the mainstream cannot ignore the work.
Considering some of the past achievements, one would most likely expect this collection to burn with electronic heat that is tailor made for the dance floor. While the tracks are conducive for club playing, the work isn’t geared for mere “oontz” factor as we have come to associate some of the club music as of late. Instead, we are given tracks that are clearly electronic, yet organic at the same time. We must also keep in mind that this is also a body of work spanning ten years. Upon their initial release, the music was markedly different than what was available at the time.
“High Energy Protons” opens with an electronic note and bends it in prismatic fashion. A soundbyte is added and then we are thrust into a pulsing hook. This track is similar to that found in the Mortal Combat soundtrack where kinetic energy is communicated via sound.
“Laughing Gas” plays a bit with electro-synthpop type of hybrids with dashes of trance and goa for good measure. The beat of this song could have easily been substituted as the opening song during the nightclub scene in the film Blade.
“Rotorblade” slows things down after luring us in with two heavy dance tracks. There is an essence of the morose woven between the electronic effects and soundbytes. However, just when you think you can kick back and relax, deep pulsing notes rise to the surface. This track delineates movement during the darkness of night. Ironically, we are left with an impression of the here and now in this dark world. Elements of American Indian intonations blend with the sounds. This track doesn’t provide a sense of closure and chances are that is its intent. Essentially, it is the soundtrack to our past memories which haunt us during our late night, sleepless hours.
“Feel The Universe” has an introduction that would lead one to think it would be a sedate track. This opening marries a bit of the orchestral with electronic sounds. The pulses pick up rather expansively and weave in-between the essence heard at the opening with the cataclysms of intergalactic chaos.
“God Is God” opens as a cross between world beat, new age and a hint of a dirge for a few breaths. The world-beat is assembled between interesting percussion which is also fused brilliantly with the Middle Eastern vocals. Calling this particular track hypnotic is a gross understatement. It is rather intriguing to hear how this particular track manages to combine elements that are intrinsically Middle Eastern, switch up and sound almost Mediterranean and then, without missing a beat, go back to the world beat essence.
“Conga Fury” initially takes an ethereal style female voice and layers it underneath a heavy percussion. This percussion continues to build, expand, contract, release and become tribal. While the percussive elements take center stage, other notes coalesce in the background. Some of these notes indicate a modern electronic rapidity while others are sedate punctuations. As the name implies, this track delivers the feeling of being something from out of the deepest regions of a jungle.
“Komit” is yet another track that provides an introduction with a nighttime sensibility. Sounds bubble and fulminate in the background while other sounds give a feeling of surveying a city from atop a skyscraper. Once the beat kicks in, the element of darkness is maintained while other elements denote a sense of mobility. Interestingly, there is an odd inclusion of what can best be described as a futuristic harpsichord which heralds the next layer of heavy movement and energy.
“Pistolero” embarks on a Spanish flavoring which managed to go from the context of its initial origins and then just kept building upon itself. Portions of the original styling of this traditional sound careen around modern day interpretations.
“Hule Lam” once again embarked upon a tribal and world beat flavoring that was fused between modern day electronic tones. It would be near impossible not to envision an Amazonian jungle while listening to this particular track.
“Masters Of The Universe” is one of those tracks that you can’t get out of your head. It is darkly seductive while also being dance friendly. In between heavy dance beats, we are enthralled with a female voice singing from beyond the mists, luring us inward.
“Hotaka” completely flips the script by providing an introduction that borders on Gregorian. Underneath, the percussive elements build and froth, teasing the listener that it will overtake the vocals. Instead, both fluctuate together, mutated downwards and recombine for a four on the floor thrusting rhythm.
Odyssey is an intriguing collection of work that will change the way many people view the lifespan of electronic music. Essentially, this retrospective of Juno Reactor’s best music over the years demonstrates how it is possible to incorporate more life into what is conceivably a cold genre to some. While many other electronic contemporaries are utilizing every “oontz” factor programmed into their keyboards, Watkins goes beyond the scope of mere dance music. The work takes on a life of its own through varied samplings of a number of genres and styles. The remarkable accomplishment is that this music is able to combine so many elements yet remain club friendly at the same time.
For those new to Juno Reactor, this is
a wonderful introduction to the amassed body of work from Watkins and company.
Long time fans will undoubtedly want to include this work into their collection,
particularly since “Hotaka” is a new track that is unavailable elsewhere.
Collaborators and people Juno Reactor have