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Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor shares his visions of an Indian collaboration, the story of his uphill climb and his latest album

Rolling Stone IN Apr 20, 2009
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He breathes India in his musical compositions; his big hit ”˜Navras,’ which comes alive in the movie The Matrix, spun around mantras from the Upanishad and now he is itching to do an Indian movie. “Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?” he questions, inquisitive to get more information about the Indian movie scenario. Ben Watkins, the face and soul behind Juno Reactor might be hailed as a heavyweight in the electronica scene, but the musician is childlike when the discussion surrounds India. “I would love to come to India and record with Indian musicians. There’s immense talent in the country. I have been wanting do some stuff with Zakir Hussain for the longest time and of course I would love to do an Indian movie. I admire Mira Nair’s work for example,” he says and you discover that Ben knows almost everything about India.

Formed as an art project in the year 1990, Juno Reactor gained popularity through their unique style of cinematic electronic musical presentation; a dense mixture of deep electronic sounds weaving in and out of live orchestral arrangement. The music also went on to become a part of Hollywood movies including Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Eraser, Lost In Space and Beowulf. “Matrix was cross-cultural. It was wonderful working with the Wachowski brothers” he says. The track also went on to be featured on his sixth release Labyrinth.

His performances are detailed with a combination of light and sound experiences and the musician has been mastering this kind of performances for years now. “When I first started out as a normal electronic band, I realised that it had to be something more. The I travelled to the United States and built it up to be a spectacular cinematic show with visual chaos and sounds from countries such as Africa and Japan,” explains the producer also taking note of a large number of DJs and electronic artistes playing with just their CD players. “I think it’s the finances that stop a lot of DJs from going live. I’m sure there are DJs out there who are musicians,” he avers. Quiz him about his journey and he simply says, “It happened piece by piece, over the years. Musically it took me a long time to find my own voice. Nowadays that’s the good thing about the internet offering so many possibilities and you can still stand out using your own imagination. However there are still people writing heavily commercial music. I don’t get attracted to three minute tracks,” he explains.

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Ben has a deep connection with Goa trance, the early dance music that happened in the Nineties, and he satisfies his Indian musical cravings with an earful of Anoushka Shankar. “I keep listening to her albums when I’m travelling. I think she’s so talented,” he observes adding that electronic music gives a musician the advantage to work around with a variety of styles. Right now he’s excited about the reviews he has been getting of his latest album Gods & Monsters where he has again collaborated with musicians from all around the world. “A lot of people have been telling me that the album works while they drive and that it’s an urban experience for them,” he reveals. This is also the first time around Ben has done vocals. “It’s really hard to be a producer and listen to your own voice. I just felt that I had to do it,” he says of the experience of recording himself. The album has also refreshed his experience of collaborating with other artistes. “On Gods & Monsters I have collaborated with this singer by the name of Yasmin Levy. She would just finish her take in five minutes and leave the hair on my arm standing,” he smiles. For him it’s reinforcing the belief in spirituality, of the fact that we are all connected. “There are times when I’m making music and a piece lands magically and then there are a series of strange events that occur,” he says in wonder.

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Ben plans to come to India soon and do live shows with Indian musicians. “There’s so much talent in the country that I don’t want to really work with famous musicians,” he says. As a senior artist he also wants to get involved in helping upcoming artists to get into the scene. “Besides producing, I would like to get involved in a school and helping young talent,” he ends.

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