The Music of The Matrix
Published on 13 December 2021
Long black trench coats. Eyewear quite inappropriate for the British weather. ‘Tactical’ boots with endless clips and studs. Stern, unimpressed facial expressions.
If you didn’t suffer the ridicule of friends and strangers alike for dressing like Neo and/or Trinity back in the day, then we are afraid you are late to the party!
Yes, the Matrix was quite the zeitgeist when it appeared, entirely out of the blue (or ‘code’ or whatever) in 1999. Released some months ahead of the regrettable Phantom Menace Star Wars reboot, this obscure sci-fi flick starring the then (unbelievably) has-been Keanu Reeves quietly crept up on the cinema-going public and karate kicked them into astonishment.
The Matrix is such a famous film, there’s really no point going into the storyline, nor the groundbreaking special effects. It spawned a pair of bewilderingly obtuse sequels with increasingly diminishing returns but, for a good while, The Matrix was a Cultural Thing.
Now, some 22 years later, someone thought it was a good idea to make another, even after (SPOILER ALERT!) all of the main characters had quite clearly ‘bought the farm’ by the time the lamentable third Matrix movie reached its flat climax.
It was a sore finish for a great many Matrix fans the world over, so this new movie - featuring our old pals Keanu and Carrie Anne Moss once again - has high hopes pinned to it. The Matrix Redemption? Maybe that would be a better title…
The Music of The Matrix
One thing the Matrix movies got resoundingly right was the use of music. The soundtrack to the first movie played a huge part in selling the hip cyber-hacking world of Neo, Morpheus et al, and much of the franchise’s identity revolves around those tunes. In compiling today’s blog of Matrix music, we did notice that most of the best cuts come from the masterful first movie rather than the (make excuse here) sequels. So, we’ll charitably assign all of the tunes to all of the movies, including the first song choice, which comes from the trailer to the new film…
White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
It’s the go-to tune for mind-bending movie moments, and so is a perfect fit for the new Matrix trailer. Of course, the white rabbit is a metaphor used in the very first movie's narrative, so there’s more to this song choice than just ‘trippy’ associations. It’s perhaps unlikely that the song will be used in the movie since it’s a rather on-the-nose reference, but in setting audiences up to expect the unexpected, it’s the perfect first pill to swallow. Will you choose blue or red?
Rob Zombie - Dragula
As our hero walks into the type of unlikely nightclub scene that could only ever exist in a Hollywood movie (why is it so hard to get club scenes right?), the tastefully ‘alternative’ denizens of the premises are already moodily gyrating to this hit from the ex-White Zombie front man. Mashing hard-edged rock with electronics was a very pre-millennial thing to do, and so is entirely appropriate in the Matrix. The feel of the movies themselves - familiar yet somewhat distorted around the edges - bears out the sonic comparison nicely. Can’t really dance to it, though.
Rob D - Clubbed to Death
It’s never pleasant to be named a ‘one hit wonder’ but that’s definitely what Rob ‘D’ Dougan is/was. Even his follow up tune ‘Furious Angels’, which was used in one of the sucky Matrix sequels, comes across as a try-hard fake goth track with a fraud Chris Rhea on vocals. But this initial piece, Clubbed to Death - ironically named in many ways, not least due to its ubiquity and it’s inappropriateness for use in clubs - is a stone cold classic. Moody, swaggery and super-pretentious, this song has ‘The Matrix’ written all over it. Used famously in the ‘Lady in the Red Dress’ scene, Clubbed to Death spawned many a horrific ripoff, but remains somewhat unscathed as a talisman of late 90s cool.
Propellerheads - Spybreak!
Remember a genre called ‘Big Beat’? If you don’t, we won’t bother you with it, but Propellerheads sum up the sound (and basically much of the 90s) with this jaunty tune. Normally, a song with an exclamation mark in the title is cause for concern, but when said tune is attached to a scene of such wanton and gleeful destruction as the Matrix’s famous Lobby Scene, it quickly becomes iconic.
In case you were wondering: that too-funky bassline? It’s from a tune called Bam-Bam Jam by ESG. No? Us neither.
Rage Against the Machine - Wake Up
Rage have the final word in the first Matrix movie as Neo displays hitherto unknown powers of flight, soundtracked by this most rocking of tunes. It’s a deep cut from Rage Against the Machine’s eponymous debut, and packs a boatload of off-kilter riffs and noises into its galactic-sized groove. Given everything audiences see in the movie (almost all of which was absolutely gobsmacking for its time), nothing less than a stomper like this could possibly do for the last shot. Good choice!
Pale 3 - In My Head
Soundtracking another unlikely club scene, this time from the Matrix 3 - sorry, Matrix Revolutions - is this slippery slice of suave synthy darkness. One third of Pale 3 is actually renowned film director Tom Tykwer of Perfume and Cloud Atlas fame, so he’s obviously a talented chap. Definitely a song to stick on when changing into your latex trousers and opting to wear sunglasses inside.
Juno Reactor - Mona Lisa Overdrive
If you’ve ever wondered what a hyperventilating orchestra and a 90s techno DJ would sound like mashed together, then wonder no more! This track pretty much covers those terms comprehensively, and will either be music to your wicked ears or an ‘instant skip’, depending on your sensibilities.
We aren’t exactly sure where in the second Matrix film this piece was used since we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to go back through it all, but it certainly has the franchise's DNA all over it: dramatic strings, cutting edge (for its time) electronic squelches and some - we’ll admit it - awesome sounding basslines. If your average day needs a little more digital danger in it, this tune should provide ample opportunities to soundtrack it.
Bonus points for the title: Mona Lisa Overdrive is the name of a Wiliam Gibson novel, whose game-changing Neuromancer book was famously the source from which the Wachowskis ripped off every single idea in the Matrix. Talent borrows, genius steals etc...
Don Davis - Matrix Score
Amidst all of these wonderful tunes, it’s worth mentioning that the Matrix has a proper score too, and a pretty excellent one at that! Take a listen to this live suite of Don Davis’ score, which contains many of the more memorable moments from the movie. Also, big love to the conductor, not only for wearing a none-more Matrix floor-length coat, but for conducting with such gusto that he seems ready to take off and fly like our man, Neo! You don’t get this down at the local pub jam session!
‘I Still Know Kung-Fu’
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down the circuit boards to the time when the Matrix ruled cyberspace. It may again, with this new movie: who knows? Until then, we have at least one good Matrix film and a raft of excellent music, all of which has the power to turn you into The One. Follow the White Rabbit…