To most electronic music fans and film buffs, if you mention Brighton’s own Juno Reactor, the response will generally be something along the lines of “oh yeah, those guys who made the music for The Matrix Reloaded” or more specifically “ahh, Mona Lisa Overdrive – the infamous freeway chase”. Now my introduction to this group came from an earlier movie soundtrack for mid-90s video game-to-movie adaptation ‘Mortal Kombat’. At that time they weren’t blending orchestration into their repertoire, however they did have that now-signature frenetic, tribal Psy-trance styling full of syncopated rhythms and spiritual, mystic vocal samples. Whilst Juno Reactor have become synonymous with their work on movie soundtracks, this new album comes off the back of multiple extensive tours showcasing a brand new visual spectacle of the same name, entitled the ‘The Mutant Theatre’. The show itself appears to have a very loose, abstract narrative, however its presentation is stunningly impactful and provides audiences with an unforgettable spectacle. With that said, how does the music fare on its own, without the stage show to accompany it?
For the most part this is an album that sits somewhere between Psy-trance and oldschool Tech-trance. The feel of the music is a hybridisation of very organic synthesis and harder, synthetic digital sounds, whilst the influences are wide-ranging, from ethnic world music instrumentation and vocal arrangements to UFO & Futuristic Robot Sci-Fi elements.
Mutant Theatre leads with exotic opener ‘The Return of the Pistolero’ with its infectious lead melody and powerful, entrancing vocals. The Psy-trance and techno influences are immediately recognisable, with the pulsing kicks and snappy, syncopated hissing hi-hats. At 11 minutes, this is the longest track on the album and unfortunately, as with a number of songs, it feels noticeably laboured in places. If a song is going to be this long it needs to switch things up a little to provide a sense of development, but beyond a couple of predictably-placed, chilled-out breaks and the odd melodic switch, there is very little progression on offer.
‘Our World’ and ‘Voyager 304’ are both bass-heavy, with the latter featuring tons of sub with a steady mid-tempo groove. It’s a bit of a sleeper to be honest, featuring very little progression and generally not that exciting, though ‘Our World’ on the other hand has plenty of energy, with a dark, Hard Dance-esque vocal line of “Our world will never feel quite the same again” and some gritty buzzsaw synths for added intensity. Added to this is the Trancey cheese factor, complete with female “wooh”, “ahh” & “yeah” vocal samples, which unfortunately cheapens the song for me, as I tend to find this a lazy compensation for meaningful lyrics.
More interesting is ‘Dakota’, which is multi-layered and has various motifs & a musical structure that changes the dynamic multiple times throughout the song. The rhythmic tribal vocal phrasing is captivating and infectious. It speaks on a primal level and really makes the listener want to move in some shape or form, whether they’re up & dancing, or just sat down listening to it, at the very least tapping their feet and moving their head along with the rhythm. Other elements worth noting are the meaty kick, dark synth lines and the introduction of an operatic vocal phrasing part-way through, adding to the stylistic changes mentioned earlier.
The stand-out track for me has to be track 3, entitled ‘Let’s Turn On’. There is also a stunning music video online to promote both the song and the live show. It’s hooky too, as regardless of whether you can hear that well-known “I Feel Love” bass-line (and if not, you won’t be able to un-hear that now as it really is so similar – sorry!), it still features the most, if not one of the most, memorable tunes on the album.
Now, I have mentioned the lack of progression within a number of the songs, however what I haven’t highlighted is that progression across the album as a whole is very much present, especially towards the second half and more specifically the tracks where the theremin-style synths play a major part in the instrumental makeup of the tracks. There is a heavy B-Movie UFO theme running through a select few songs – particularly the driven Industrial-Dance track ‘Alien’ and the intoxicatingly high-energy ‘Showtime’ – with their eerie yet playful tone really lifting the album. It’s not something I’ve personally heard from Juno Reactor before and it’s great to hear something a little unexpected.
Though I enjoy many forms of electronic music, I do confess that I have never been hugely fond of the Psy-trance or Tech-Trance genres, so it goes without saying that in fairness the album has a slight disadvantage, given that the genre isn’t exactly my forte, nor does this style of music particularly peak my interest. That said, I always give music a chance to grow on me and whilst some tracks here did stand out and would sit nicely within a playlist of Alternative Electronic music, I won’t be in any hurry to return to this for a full album playthrough. As a stand-alone, audio-only presentation it has its obvious limitations without the addition of the original visual spectacle of the live show it was written for and for this reason I would rather pay to see the show, or at least purchase a 4K / UHD Blu-Ray film of the concert should one ever be released. On a side-note, there are some amazing videos to be found on YouTube, so for anyone interested in outstanding live visual performances I’d recommend looking around for the pro-shot footage – it’s pretty impressive – and if you like what you see and a live show is booked to play near you, it would be an opportunity you’d be crazy to pass up on.
Video – Juno Reactor ‘Let’s Turn On’:
Listen to / purchase the album via Bandcamp: