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Junkie XL Rises From The Perils of "300" To The Power Of "Divergent"

Profile of Tom Holkenberg aka. Junkie XL Composer of the hit films, "300: Rise Of An Empire" and "Divergent"
Profile of Tom Holkenberg aka. Junkie XL Composer of the hit films, "300: Rise Of An Empire" and "Divergent"
Courtesy of Getty Images

Before I started to do my interview with Tom Holkenborg, who we know as Junkie XL, I was a little nervous since I was meeting one of the film music world's most interesting and promising musicians outside of his mentor, Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer. Through his touteledge with the great Zimmer, Tom has become a masterful composer in his own right supplying powerful additional music of his own to Zimmer's projects.

Now with films such as the thriller "Paranoia", and back to back hit films, "300: Rise of An Empire" and "Divergent", Tom's work is now front and center giving those films the added power that they really needed to become memorable in their own right. His music transcending to the apex of what a film score should do for the film it is written for. Tom is a very versitile composer who is ready to take the major leap into the big time as his work on "300" and "Divergent" currently demonstrate.

For this brief and every engaging interview I had with Tom over the phone which was very lively and exciting, he was able to share with me his thoughts on work on "300: Rise of An Empire", "Divergent" and "Paranoia", how his scores for the films came together, the recording sessions and working with composer Hans Zimmer. Easily one of the more energetic interviews I've had to date and I'm really glad to share it with you all.

Let’s talk about your recent work on the upcoming action-thriller “300 Rise of an Empire” What got you interested in this project?

Junkie XL: I was pulled into the project with about five to six weeks left on it. I knew what they wanted right way, I started to experiment, and bulls-eye!

What were the recording sessions like?

Junkie XL: I recorded mostly at night in the hallway! It worked out really well, with an aggressive sonic palette, but I was making the music organically. I used live bass guitar and drums. A particular scene with the wave sound effects was an inspiration, where I took the actual sound effects and looped them over and over with rhythmic drums and synths dominating, playing over and over again, creating a big downbeat. Then I stretched it out with brass and strings, making it sound bigger and bigger. 300 is not necessarily about the past. With Frank Miller’s starting point you can take liberties and take things out of context.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack album. How did you put it together?

Junkie XL: Once the music was done, I took all of the pieces in the film and extended, shortened or created new parts. I let tracks go a little bit longer to create a great listening experience. I also extend themes that appeared in short form in the film.

Let’s talk about Divergent. What interested you in the project?

Junkie XL: The film is very interesting that it takes place through the eyes of this young woman. The whole film is pretty much from a first person perspective. Throughout the film, we feel that she’s in danger as a Divergent, and the audience also feels that. I needed to write music that we feel along with her, with a more futuristic approach that echoes the yearning of pure melancholy.

How much music did you finally end up writing?

Junkie XL: Within the film there’s about between 70 to 90 minutes. I wrote, all told, about two and half hours worth. I mean the film is really wall to wall. I spent ten weeks on the film.

What’s it like working with Hans Zimmer?

Junkie XL: Working with Hans is a real blessing! I met him in Berlin, ten years ago, and he asked me to work with him at Remote Control. He’s a blast to work with and a real collaborator. I feel very blessed!

I want to give very special thanks to Tom for spending his time with me and being very candid about his passion for music which is refreshing!

Please feel free to visit Tom's official website @

The soundtrack to "300:Rise Of An Empire" is available on Watertower Music and available to order on iTunes and @

The score album to "Divergent" will be released next week on Interscope Records available for pre-order on iTunes and @

Here is Junkie XL's Bio:

"If the mark of a great artist is experimentation, then Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) is this generation’s Thomas Edison. Now over fifteen years into his career, he has survived in the industry longer than most producers have been alive and conquered almost every genre that music plays a part in. “When I found out in 1986 how my sampler could produce sounds, I knew it was pointless to ever leave the studio,” says Holkenborg. In an age where living past your 21st birthday makes you an ‘old-timer’ ripe for the proverbial comeback, Mr. Holkenborg has been there and back…and back again to tell his tale.

Junkie XL is a one-man musical revolution. He is a teacher, producer, remixer and composer, but most importantly, he is something few today still are – a musician. After many years and as many successful collaborations, the forthcoming Synthesized sees Holkenborg go it alone, playing every instrument himself. The beautifully Salvador Dali-esque cover art sees Holkenborg return confidently to his tough, take-no-prisoners, bass heavy stylings on his sixth LP and first studio album in four years. Synthesized features tracks such as the unrelentingly heavy “Klatshing!,” the Ministry-by-way-of-Ed-Banger “Kill The Band.” On “Leave Behind Your Ego,” it’s hard to tell who’s doling out harder acid – a Timothy Leary sample or Holkenborg’s 808. Other vocal cameos include Tommie Sunshine and Curt Smith (Tears For Fears), Fredrik Saroea (DATAROCK) and Isis Salam (Chinese Flash Mob, formerly Thunderheist). But it’s not all-scathing aural abuse, “The Art of Luxurious Intergalactic Time Travel” and “Take Off On Molly’s E” see him chilling it out with beautiful, “lysergic” lullabies.

Not content to just release an album of original compositions; Holkeborg has been scoring films the past few years. Recently, Holkenborg collaborated with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer on one of the highest-grossing films of all time, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in the Batman series. Zimmer is a Junkie fan, as this marks the fourth film that Holkenborg has helped him score – including Megamind, Madagascar 3 and fan favorite Inception. Moving into Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions’ studio, the two have worked together on other musical projects, including this year’s remix of the The Academy Awards® theme song.

But why stop at films? Tom has also provided music to countless videogames including EA’s Burnout: Paradise, The Sims 2, Forza Motorsport and most recently Shinjuku which features graphics from famed Japanese designer Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame.

His entry to this high-profile world was his Junkie XL moniker, which he began on 1997′s Saturday Teenage Kick. Unlike most producers swept up by the so-called ‘Electronica Craze,’ not only did he hang on, but ended up flourishing even more in the early outings. Following his debut, he released a steady stream of solo records starting with Big Sounds of the Drags (2000), Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin (2003), Today (2006) and Booming Back At You (2008); all the while doing production for other artists, supervising films, scoring commercials, video-games and more films than one can count.

Holkenborg has done it all. It’s his understanding of electronic music in its many forms that keeps him working in said arenas whereas most composers are just beginning to dip their toes in those quantized waters. “Many people in Hollywood appreciate electronic music and can ably utilize its hallmark instruments, but few have ever performed it live in front of several hundred thousand dancing maniacal kids. No studio can simulate that.”

With a deep commitment to collaboration, Holkenborg has worked with a grab bag of superstars including The Sex Pistols, Justin Timberlake, Peter Tosh, Michael Bublé, Tiësto, Sarah McLachlan, Jan Hammer, Fatboy Slim, Sasha and Madonna. 2003’s Radio JXL included collaborations with Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Gary Numan, Robert Smith (The Cure) and Chuck D (Public Enemy). The album included the breakthrough remix of Elvis Presley’s 1968 single, “A Little Less Conversation” – marking the first time the Presley Estate ever granted permission to any producer to retouch any Elvis material. The JXL mix became the soundtrack to the 2002 World Cup, initiating the hugely selling Greatest Hits compilation and the rebirth of Elvis to a new generation of late-night dancers and music fans. It was many, many weeks before the remix “left the #1 building.” Featured in several films, including Ocean’s Eleven, the song became a number one hit in more than 20 countries worldwide.

Mr. Holkenborg now seeks to pass the torch to a new generation of producers, remixers, composers and artists by teaching at The ArtEZ Conservatorium, one of the major art institutes in the Netherlands. As an Associate Professor, he is able to infuse his students with his passion for classical music and years of experience, “it’s something I really love to do. To see the look in their eyes when I unlock the hidden language of music. It’s worth more than 200 Oscars or Grammys…well, maybe not 200, but a lot!” Now an elder statesman in a game where few exist, Junkie XL has defied the odds and the ticking tweenage clock to stay on the dancefloor as long as he likes."

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