Q&A: Junkie XL's Need for Speed

World-famous Dutch techno DJ talks about laying down the tracks for EA's latest racer, as well as how he sees games and music merging in the future.

Though it never quite became the "next big thing" some predicted it would in the 1990s, the electronic music scene is alive and well. It's also more balkanized than the former Yugoslavia, with various genres (house, techno, drum & bass) splintering into subgenres (deep house, trance, techstep) and into sub-subgenres (chicago house, hard trance, dark techstep).

Junkie XL

One of the more widely known purveyors of the sort of "anthem" techno favored in the world's biggest clubs is Junkie XL. Born Tom Holkenborg in the Netherlands in 1967, the DJ and producer released his first solo recordings in the mid-1990s. Since then, he has released five proper albums and one EP, as well as scored several films.

For gamers, though, Junkie XL is best known for his series of game soundtracks, including five for Electronic Arts. Earlier this year, his soundtrack for SSX Blur was released as a stand-alone album on iTunes. A current resident of Venice, California, he is also a signed artist on the Artwerk record label, a joint venture between EA Trax and the record label Nettwerk.

Last month EA released Need for Speed ProStreet, the latest game scored by Junkie XL. The busy producer and DJ took some time out of his current world tour to speak with GameSpot about his involvement in the industry.

GameSpot:So how many game soundtracks have you contributed to?

Junkie XL: I’ve been involved with game soundtracks and doing scores since 1995, and I lost track of how many I have done now. I've done five for EA--an early Need For Speed, SSX Blur, the Sims, Burnout, and the latest Need for Speed.

GS:Why do you keep coming back to game soundtracks?

JXL: It’s not really that I keep going back, it’s just a part of my life. I found that I have a very suitable audience for my music in video games. It’s much better than relying on traditional TV and radio.

GS:Are you a gamer yourself? If so, which games do you play? What consoles do you own or prefer?

JXL: I used to be a big gamer; now I don’t play as much as I used to. But, yeah, I played intensely up until 1997. Then my career took off and I didn’t have as much time to play anymore. I have an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2, and I still play now and then. I definitely check out the games I’ve worked on.

GS:Besides your own, what are your favorite game soundtracks?

JXL: I really like Splinter Cell. I also like Destroy All Humans--I know I was involved there, but lead composer [Garry Schyman] did something very good. I like when somebody tries to do something completely different.

GS:If you could score any game, what would it be?

JXL: In the near future, I would love to work on a suspense game or horror game.

GS:Some consider game soundtracks either an afterthought or a resting place for tracks that couldn't make it into proper albums or other media. What is your response to that?

JXL: I totally disagree. Of course, that has to do with who put out the soundtrack and their reason for putting it out. But the games that I have been involved with have all been interactive games, and if there is a demand from the consumer side for good music in the game, I think the music stands on its own. SSX Blur is a great example of a successful game soundtrack; it sold great on iTunes.

GS:Do you think that--like film and television soundtracks--game soundtracks are becoming a prime method of getting your music to the public?

JXL: I think it’s equally important--the traditional way and the new way. Obviously the video game industry is growing, and for me, it’s an amazing way to present myself as an artist. It always generates interest in one way or the other.

GS:You've also scored films. How does the process differ from scoring game soundtracks?

JXL: It’s a big difference. A movie is linear medium: The picture is set and "locked." You have to come up with music that fits to that picture. With video games, it’s interactive music, which means there will be an interactive experience. The music needs to be altered with how the player is playing the game. Kind of difficult to explain, but I guess the similarity is that you need to come up with music that fits a story.

GS:Which medium offers you more flexibility for creative expression? Which medium offers you less?

JXL: It’s hard to tell. Obviously, as an artist, you do what you feel like doing when you are creating something. When you work with video games or a movie, you always work more in a team spirit. In the beginning, you set up some boundaries together, but after that, I do have a lot of freedom while I’m creating the music. When you work with an artist, you talk with the record label, the manager, and the artist about boundaries. Usually I have no complaints when working on video games or movies. I know from the beginning what the company is looking for, and then I have the creative freedom to experiment and come up with the best I can.

GS:Which pays better: film or game soundtracks?

JXL: At this point, film pays better, but I am sure that will change in the future when video game budgets become bigger.

GS:As an artist, do you think games will eventually be as accepted an art form as films or television? If so, when? If not, what do you think it will take for the medium to be accepted?

JXL: This totally depends on who you talk to. The new generation would most likely say that the game is an art form. Many of the older people can’t relate sometimes with video games as an art form. Believe it or not, but I still meet journalists all over the world who don’t know what a video game is!

GS:Now you've worked with Microsoft on Forza, but you've most often worked with EA. Need for Speed ProStreet marks your fifth collaboration with the publisher--what brought you back?

JXL: Well, in general, EA is happy with the games I have worked on. If they are looking for a music approach within a certain style, they know I am the guy for it. I’d love to point out that this feels very natural for me. Sometimes people ask me, "How can EA have tricked you into doing music for video games?" But it’s not like that. It fits my style of music and my audience very well.

GS:Often racing game soundtracks just sound like music you'd be listening to on the radio while driving. However, you've composed original electronic tracks for racing games--how do you try to convey a sense of speed in a song?

JXL: It’s not easy. When you make music in these types of games, it needs to have a certain vibe and it should work on your nerves so that the experience becomes very intense. It’s always hard to come up with a score that makes everybody happy, but I believe that since the music is interactive and is there to enhance the game experience, it’s not really a problem if the music doesn’t fit the gamer's music taste exactly.

GS:Would you consider doing a soundtrack for a more story-driven game, as Amon Tobin did with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory? If so, what kind of soundtrack would you construct?

JXL: Yes, I would! It would depend on what type of game, the settings, and the atmosphere of the game, but I really like the organic blend of acoustic instruments and mixing that with electronic music and samples. That combination really appeals to me, and it works well in those games.

GS:Do you see it as the first of many record labels that will integrate games and music? Or is this merely an offshoot of EA Trax?

JXL: It’s a completely different thing; it’s a traditional record company. I mean, sure, EA games is a partner in it so they have the first chance to use the music in a game. But at the end of the day, Artwerk is a traditional record label.

GS:How are Nettwerk and EA collaborating on the project?

JXL: The release of my albums--which have nothing to do with the score work I do--are handled by Nettwerk, which does all the day-to-day business.

GS:What other artists are participating with Artwerk?

JXL: They have five bands signed. It’s Datarock from Norway, Airbourne from Australia, Jupiter One from the U.S, and me.

GS:How do you see the relationship between games and electronic music evolving?

JXL: Well, electronic music needs to be creative and good, but no one knows how the winds will flow in the future. I think it will very much depend on what people like--what is working well with the games. In general, I think music as a medium and video games as a medium will grow closer. There will be more integration into one thing. We have not seen all the possibilities yet. In five years, it will be very interesting to see where we will be.

GS:What's your take on Guitar Hero and Rock Band?

JXL: I love it! It’s totally fun and a great experience. People can have fun with instruments and play around with it. However, I don’t see that as an example of how music and games are integrating. It’s more in the genre of teaching programs and teaching DVDs, but it’s definitely fun.

GS:Do you foresee an equivalent for electronic music (DJ Hero) coming out? If such a project were to come out, would you want to be part of it?

JXL: Hey, I’m fine being part of everything...

GS:Do you foresee a time when a player can buy tracks for regular games as they do in Rock Band? Do you foresee some kind of iTunes-like store where players can buy tracks individually for custom in-game soundtracks?

JXL: Absolutely, it’s part of the development of music and video games. There will be a better and bigger integration the further we go. Maybe in the future when you pick up a new game, you can pick between two or three different soundtracks.

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Discussion

76 comments
Kaspar694
Kaspar694

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

rissbo
rissbo

Music in games can be great.I liked "Deus Ex" music and "Hitman blood money "specially. In fact I listened this track "Deus Ex - NYC Streets" even outside the game. As for racers I think there's to much nu-metal there , but thats just me.

pathogenb
pathogenb

"peeweeshift i wish they had more music in shooters. the lack of it is dissapointing. halo has made good use of it always but there arnt that many. some games play a a default tune that comes in whenever there is action(far cry). but it doesn't work that well" amen. Chaser had a freakin' fantastic soundtrack.

CASwim1111
CASwim1111

AdaptorLive : "Junkie XL makes me proud to be dutch The music he made for the EVE Online trailers was awesome too" Unless there is a trailer out there I have not seen yet, I believe the music for the EVE Online trailer was actually done by Black Sun Empire, a dutch drum & bass group. The song is called "Arrakis"

Gagga666
Gagga666

"JXL: They have five bands signed. It’s Datarock from Norway, Airbourne from Australia, Jupiter One from the U.S and me." Is it just me or does he only mention 4 bands? :P

Darthnaevus
Darthnaevus

TECHNO NO! JUNKIE = PROGRESSIVE. capiche?

pathogenb
pathogenb

awesome. thanks so much for posting this interview, GS!! now i have to go listen to 'love like razorblade' and 'youthful'. mmm.....

Colt_1911
Colt_1911

Junkie XL is a great electronica artist, as well i think that he did an excellent job with the soundtrack on forza, i think it adds a good menu surfing tune to the game, meanwhile listening to your own music while racing. he also contributed a song or two on test drive 5 on the original playstaion as well.. jesper kyd does do good music for hitman and freedom fighters as well.. but his music is set more towards just that, sneaking around and killing people, and doing heroic deeds while freeing POW's. electronica, aka "techno" is more than just one genre.. like the intro of the column says, its broken into many, many sub-genres as well.. i myself, favor D 'n' B (drum n bass), but i mean if you dont like the music, take it off the list in the options, but EA always puts good music on their games, i NFSMW had a good ST on it, Underground 2 could of had some different ones, but i just took them off the list, carbon could of been better, but developers now days are leaning more towards graphics and making things look more realistic, but the gameplay is starting to fall off the clif.. but the music score on games may get better, or it may not. but you see alot of racing games now days full of nothing but electronica music, some metal/rock, and rap on the menus while you fix up your car, etc.. but i think junkie xl has great music, and TCM, (the crystal method) did do a really good soundtrack on splinter cell as well. thats my 2 cents.

RockMFR
RockMFR

Techno is solent green. Solent green is USA people. Final destination.

Montrealien
Montrealien

Basically the USA people call everything electronic Techno lol.... and all the non USA people call USA people, USA people? Man, nothing but moronic stereotypes from people who have no clue what electronic music is. Detroit House anyone? look up the real story of electronic music`s americain invasion from the people who invented warehouse parties. And say what you Will but Disco is the tru grandfather of all of this, even before Midnight Espress made its analog electronic debut in the late 70`s, 909 beats where being pushed on real drums with full bands with the Disco Fever of the 70`s just to get its natural evolution pushed in the underground of the 80`s.

bodylotion
bodylotion

Basically the USA people call everything electronic Techno lol....

tanocapo
tanocapo

First time i hear about this dude! And he talks like a pro! You are not a musician, you are a thief. Make your own music or get a job, Freckles!!

CyberJoy
CyberJoy

his music has always been defined as electronica on beatport.com,neither trance,techno nor any beat genre.generally we call it techno for short if you can't tell what it is. you might have heard the album big sound of the drag one of his pieces produced in early days,and the game test drive released in 2002 selected 3 trax from the album in the OST.his work on Forza Motorsport is quite disappointing,just sum simple guitar riffs edit which made the game sound not that cool,i have to find some other trax to replace the original ones. if you wanna find out the best OST producer ,i 'd really say it's jesper kyd,the composer and producer of the game Hitman and Assassin's Creed.he is quite talented and the music is very impressive that made the game like it is there.especially when you play Hitman Silent Assassin...totally immersing. if there's any other good ost.Mafia is another choice. talkin about Djs and electronic music,suggestively i recommend djs: elite force,boogie army,stephan bodzin, genres:break beat,minimal,electro house.

msudude211
msudude211

Cool interview, even though I'm not too fond of his music.

bodylotion
bodylotion

TraxXx: Junkie XL is not Techno nor is it Trance. It's experimental dance music or "big Beat" or something. And it's true that Dance music really was the next big thing in the 90's , at least it was in Europe and in many countries. It's like saying "Soccer was never populair"

vass86
vass86

"Who cares who got there first, it's who does it best that counts" that would be the english :) hallucinogen, aphex twin, squarepusher etc

LittleJon2000
LittleJon2000

"Though it never quite became the "next big thing" some predicted it would in the 1990s" That statement may be true for the USA, but in many other parts of the world dance music (or EDM as it's called here) became huge and even mainstream.

TraXxX
TraXxX

Junkie XL is a trance DJ, not techno.

Fauij
Fauij

why don't they work more on gameplay than music.

rose_please
rose_please

i didnt read the whole thing, but i believe this article is senseless and boring.

VinLieger
VinLieger

Disgraceful no mention of EvE which hes done a fair few songs for

eezzy_rider
eezzy_rider

Agreed on Grant Turismo 3 soundtrack. Junkie XL is ok, very repetetive. They need some fresh and old blood doing more video game music. Harry Gregson-Williams for example, he did the MGS soundtrack also man on fire/deja vu, chronicles of narnia and countless of other ones

Daffron
Daffron

Gran Turismo 3, Best game soundtrack ever.

GovtCheese
GovtCheese

I actually found Junkie XL through one of his songs on Burnout Revenge. Now I own two of his CD's and consider myself a fan.

halofan1295
halofan1295

wow good no anoying stupid music on need for speed anymore even though i love the need for speed series.

345669
345669

Cool Music, Nice

Endogene
Endogene

Funny that i was just playing blur before reading this, he did a great job on it that's for sure and i wish him the best of luck on his future projects

DJGOON
DJGOON

I liked the music they have had in the Half-Life series, but there were only glimpses of it unfortunatly.

_Cab0ose87_
_Cab0ose87_

"ryan-man: what an utterly moronic take on music. Who cares who got there first, it's who does it best that counts"- end quote. yea, exactly. But at this point its the Dutch :P

TongLong
TongLong

Thank god, finally a decent soundtrack after all of EA's recent garage band crap. I almost cried when EA bought out Criterion and messed up Burnout's soundtrack, but with Junkie XL on board, hopefully things will start looking up again music wise!

sonictank
sonictank

eh i like his music too is all i can think of saying.

caossbr
caossbr

If he keeps scoring in racing games,those race games can be more cooler to play with great soundtrack

p0rkp1e74
p0rkp1e74

music in games are getting a lot better i would say and the sound effects definitely seem to be getting better...still there is the occasional game that you here a song and go....What the heck is that doing in this game.

fallconet
fallconet

raverrozza, i'll forgive every one who made ready,steady,go or somthing like it! though that was just my idea,not more dude.

raverrozza
raverrozza

fallconet WHAT??? Oakenfold shouldnt be anywhere except in the corner. i stil havent forgiven him after that train wreck of an essential mix. it was actually a joke.

zzbigz
zzbigz

Does anyone else think he looks sort of like Uwe Boll, how unfortunate. He is a great DJ,

AdaptorLive
AdaptorLive

Junkie XL makes me proud to be dutch ;) The music he made for the EVE Online trailers was awesome too!

fallconet
fallconet

yeah he's great, they (GS) should do the same thing with paul oakenfold,i guess. ;)

chimairawr
chimairawr

ryan-man: what an utterly moronic take on music. Who cares who got there first, it's who does it best that counts.

ryan-man
ryan-man

wow americans discoverd dance, trance etc about time were they living in the stone age or something.

TheFlush
TheFlush

I love Junkie XL, I still remember his performance he gave from out of a window in a house in Amsterdam. All the people (and me) in the street dancing, that was cool! He's truly one of the better producers of electronic music.

okassar
okassar

As long as he makes our gaming experience better, he's cool.

raverrozza
raverrozza

junkie a techno dj? really? dont make me laugh

Viper_GTS-R
Viper_GTS-R

Im a big fan of Junkie ever since Ive heard def beat for the first time,his remixes are great.

Nicolas00-0g
Nicolas00-0g

JXL is the best ! Def Beat is his best song (featured in NFS High Stakes & Test Drive 5)