Review: Juno Reactor – The Mutant Theatre

The multimedia psytrance ensemble experience that is Juno Reactor, known to some for mainman Ben Watkins’ collaborations with Don Davis on the Matrix soundtrack, is not an endeavour known for doing anything by halves. Juno Reactor – the Mutant Theatre, the latest step in their kaleidoscopic vision, is the soundtrack to a visual and theatrical live show of the same name, performed in collaboration with two Russian performance troupes, a full live band and an eye-popping light show.

From the very outset of ‘The Return of the Pistolero’, it is as if the whole trippy visual experience is planted straight into your mind, and it is easy to feel the thoroughly orchestrated theatrical elements coming into play. The psychedelically infused influences of Goa and other music from around the world are laid out from the very start, before the familiar doof-doof-doof of trance kicks in and the wild dance truly begins. Melodies and harmonies are kept simple, and repetition is of course used liberally, made to get crowds moving throughout, but the whole journey of this opening track is enriched by various ethnic instrumentation and vocals at every turn. ‘…Pistolero’ is a whirlwind of sounds, like a bouncing train ride kept on track throughout the blinding rises and falls by that reliable, underlying beat. None of the instrumental excitement is used purely as novelty texture, either; the flamenco-style guitar around the 5-minute mark is played with exceptional virtuosity, for example. By the perfect, minimal and hard-earned drop near the end of this 10-minute odyssey, Juno Reactor will have you hooked.

The tempo and feel of the bassy thud in ‘Our World’ is a different beast, and this is a more basic and purely electronic-focused track. This more simply focused approach continues into the body of the album, with the tracks also generally sticking around the 6-8-minute mark, and sadly the reduction in overall creativity compared to the technicolour opening number does become notable. That is not to say that anything becomes unenjoyable, though, and there is certainly no let-up in how powerfully danceable the whole of …the Mutant Theatre is.

The rhythmic vocal loop on ‘Dakota’ is something of a refresh and a return to the most absorbing form of JR’s sound, punchy rhythms and melodic and textural variance making this another standout. The quirky, space vibe of ‘Alien’ also takes things in a cool direction, though perhaps a little drawn out again. By the time ‘The Sky is Blue, The Sky is Black’ crops up, pop song-like hooks are added into the mix to craft a real banger of a track, but again the substance is decent but not enough for the given length – a problem that even plagues the undeniable oomph of ‘Showtime’ and the more chill vibe of ‘Voyager 304’.

A caveat is necessary at this point; one should not really review a trance record of any denomination in the same way as one would review most other genres. This is a lengthy release to be sure, but for the hard dancing ravers that Juno Reactor caters towards, this is exactly what is needed to maintain the flow on the sweaty dancefloor. An album such as this cannot be judged too harshly for its repetition and length. The fact that this is essentially the soundtrack to a multimedia show should also be considered here. However, that does not change the fact that there are other psytrance explorers out there doing more with their palette and creating more consistently engaging sit-down listening experiences, without sacrificing the repetitive and pounding rhythms that Juno Reactor have down to a fine art.

Viewed purely as dance fodder either for yourself or the flashing bodies on the stage before you, Juno Reactor – the Mutant Theatre ticks all the boxes. As a listening-only experience, lots of things are done right too, but the fact remains that nothing ever quite matches the pinnacles reached by the excellent twists and turns of the first track, and everything is generally a little overlong if you’re not in a purely shape-throwing mood.

Richard Spencer

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