Inside The Studio Of Junkie XL


Junkie XL shared this photo from his studio, and it’s pretty clear what he’s addicted to: modular synths. 

While Junkie XL ( Tom Holkenborg ) is best known for his dance music work, but in recent years has developed a second career in film scoring. He’s collaborated with Hans Zimmer on The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and other films; and scored 300: Rise Of Empire; Divergent, Mad Max: Fury Road and Black Mass. 

Holkenborg is featured in a new interview at Grantland that looks at he made the transition from making electronica records to scoring blockbuster films:

“If you talk to other film composers and to people who work in the industry, the fact that you’re an original, talented musician is a given fact,” says Holkenborg.

“What is left then? It’s, how are you as a person in a room? Do you deliver on time? Do you make the movie better? Do you understand what the director wants? Can you walk that really fine line of politics when things get sour and you help solve the problem? If you have a good handle on that, you might become a successful composer.”



45 thoughts on “Inside The Studio Of Junkie XL

  1. Man, i love modular synths as much as the next guy, but this is too much. i feel sorry for whoever has to patch this monster 🙂

  2. That is just stupid!

    If boy’s toys are a penis-extension…. well, then I refuse to say more than that, on the grounds of it being misinterpreted as a personal insult, yet again, by an over zealous moderator – haha.

    1. The people that make that sort of crass statement are the ones that haven’t done the work to have a successful career, get the hit record, score the film – or to know what they hell it takes to do any of those things.

      Kudos to Holkenborg for making it and knowing what he needs to do the job the way he wants to.

    2. It would be stupid for him to NOT have this gear

      Composers that do scoring have to work under insane time crunches. If they can’t deliver under that sort of pressure – because they don’t have the gear or because they just have writer’s block – they won’t get more work.

  3. This isn’t about music, it’s about acquisition… having as many shiny toys as possible to sit in front of and admire, to show off to party guests and dates, to post on instagram and bask in the shares and comments.
    It’s the musician version of the middle-aged dude rolling around town in an expensive car to compensate for insecurities.
    The stuff Junkie XL did for Mad Max Fury Road is killer, but did he need all this to make it? I am guessing no.
    The only modular-obsessed musicians I hear that actually exploit acres of modules to make interesting/engaging music are richard devine, aphex twin, and a few of the people whose videos get linked on matrixsynth. i’m sure there are more, but the point is 99% of the wall-of-modular performances I hear are a lot of wanking around from guys with too much disposable income.
    And there are lots of musicians making good music with modular gear, but they don’t need a room full of it to do so — they work within constraints to find creativity. My favorite right now is Cliff Martinez’ music for steven soderbergh, beautiful stuff.
    Looking forward for this fad to pass… more musicianship, less materialism.

    1. This is “only” $20K worth of Eurorack, you could easily blow that amount on a couple of mastering EQs or a single pair of high-end monitors.

    2. Yeah, i can’t wait until everybody is back to buying every plugin that comes out, even though it basically does the same thing as the other 75 they have and buying up every new box, synth, pedal, etc that shows up for sale every year.

      Only modular gear makes people want gear.

    3. I guess the main point I wanted to make is that when I listen to tracks made with enormous modular systems, most of the time the music is boring and tedious. to the ones who make great music with their nuclear reactor control rooms, much admiration and respect.

      To the ones who post endless youtube videos of self-indulgent bleepy bloopy noodling, ugh. It’s worse than the excesses of 20-minute prog rock guitar solos. buying more modules doesn’t help.

      To say “you’re just jealous” is the kind of counter-argument you hear from donald trump. i’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me

      1. That isn’t an issue exclusive to large rooms full of modular gear.

        Most music instruments are sold to people that never record a thing with them, and likely don’t even really play them.

        How many people have a room full of keyboards just because they like to collect keyboards?

        Or guitars?

        It has long been fact that some crazy number like 80% of guitar sales are to people that never really do much of anything with them “music” wise. People buy them because they enjoy noddling around and making noise.

        Same with synths.

        1. Which is the point many make here. Many great guitarists have limited kit, as they don’t need to trick people – the best Guitarist I know has a few Guitars, he plays one Gibson in his bands with a few pedals. Another, a genius flute player, holds one flute to his name. If one has an excessive amount of kit then they will usually be an underlining issue at play, insecurity, lack of talent, lack of vision, asperger’s. This is a truism for all excessive collectors, it is abnormal activity, not normal – you will always find the underlining issue once you probe the issue – it stands to reason that normal people don’t do abnormal things! And that is apparently news to some? CBT is a cure for this.

        2. and there is nothing wrong with noodling around. If someone enjoys making music or noise and doing nothing more but getting personal enjoyment out of the time they spend with the equipment that’s just fine with me.

          I have a bunch of equipment and some of it sits for days, weeks or months before I get back to it again but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get something worthwhile out of the purchases.

          Not everyone who buys musical equipment has the desire to make money from those acquisitions or even share their creations with the public. Some just do it for the enjoyment.

          It’s like a novice golfer who keeps buying different clubs. He’s never going to be a pro. He’s never going to make money off those purchases but he almost certainly enjoys the time he spends golfing.

  4. I think it’s assumptive on your part to speak on another person’s belongings or intentions.

    The guy has lots of great gear. At least I can admit I’m jealous. I’d LOVE to make music on that modular.

  5. Wow, there is so much jealousy here. This guy has been making music for two decades and has scored numerous very successful films and video games. I doubt this modular setup really put a dent in the money he made off of Fury Road. It’s not that expensive and tends to hold it’s value pretty well. It’s a lot more practical to buy more gear than a Bentley or the other dumb shit people buy when they come into money.

    1. i think most of the “jealous” people here (including me) realize, that they could never handle so much money. at least i hope they do… 😉

  6. What is the problem , this guy is doing what he want with his money , i think it is great to live his passion in any ways , if it is what he loves who cares , all these bad comments are just comments of jealous, bitter and unsuccessful people . I am happy for him , congratulations Junkie XL , do not listen to these losers .

    Patrick Mimran

  7. Oh ! He’s got my Analogue Solution RS 140 MIdi/cv converter ! Plus another larger model… Btw I’m selling it, if you’re français leaving near Paris, mail me : [email protected] (sorry for the advert.)

  8. If you take the time to fully exploit that rig, name it “Instant Divorce.” That’s what will happen if you turn a woman into a Synth Widow. I can’t fully fathom the appeal of melding with such a giant Busy Box, but as a committed slab-synther & DAW player, I am not fully Of The Body. I’m happy enough with samples and effects chains, but I know more than enough to grin like a loon when I hear a sound that couldn’t possible come from anything but a modular. Paul Haslinger (long ago a Tangerine Dream member for a bit) is doing the soundtrack for “Fear The Walking Dead.” I’ve heard a few sounds in it that are so convoluted and evolving that I smell ‘modular’ all over ’em. Check it out, if not repulsed by zombie tales. The story is working and the sound field in general is subtle but impressive.

    1. Thanks for the Haslinger tip! He also did the soundtrack for Death Race, which was a) more guitar-oriented and b) freakin’ rocked.

      I liked the JXL quote – it’s like, in these days when almost anybody could lay down a decent groove, what makes someone a professional? And I think he offers some good insight on that.

  9. Oh, the salt in these comments is real. Fuck him for being rich and having a hobby that actually contributes to his work, right?

    That rack is probably the same price as a luxury vehicle – would we hate on this dude for having two cars? Fuck no.

  10. maybe it is normal, that at a certain point in career you have to post those photos, be it the wall of compressors of Michael Brauer or the above or even the non-commercial Alien Project Synth collection pictures (still the people posting them should keep in mind the effects of it in material times like this ).
    i just think: “my god, all those cables…oh no…”

    For me it was important to realize at a certain point, that my plans are not big enough to justify the money i wasted and also that in the end i honestly prefer quite minimal setups (for myself and mostly for listening, too)

    So at the moment i am very happy with 2 synths – one of them broken which makes it produce really fantastic sounds 😉 – and a few pedals, and i feel not only reliefed (of cables !!!!! which make me honestly feel burdened, i know it sounds funny but it is like that) but also this relief gave me the freedom for inspiration.

    For me, such a mountain of equipment would press me down. It is just not my league.

    To realize this lets me look at those pictures quite de-tached.

  11. I just wonder how a movie composer can actually make use of modular gear or anything else that’s very deep. Does he actually compose using the modular? Does he sample stuff beforehand and layer it with other stuff? How does a modular fit into a workflow that is all about meeting tight deadlines? Or is this more a hobby that just happens to coincide with things he does for a living?

    Anyway, I admire people who can actually use such an enormous setup. I’d probably be lost and intimidated. Hell, I’m intimidated by my setup which is nowhere near the size of this one. It’s marvellous to see that we live in a time where you can actually buy so much diverse stuff to make electronic music with. It’s truely fantastic.

  12. I don’t care if he wants to buy a shitload of modular gear, the guy is a pro musician and a successful one at that, so why not? If he had a garage full of sports cars no one would say anything, but if he has a studio stacked with gear people get an opinion about it…

    That said, I don’t know if this analog modular gear is helping his music. Saturday Teenage Kick and Big Sounds Of The Drags were fun albums that I enjoyed, Broadcast From Computer Hell Cabin was still good, but less so as all the guest vocalists made it a less coherent collection. I even bought those CDs, then I would just pirate his albums and not really enjoy them, now I don’t even bother to listen. I realize artists grow just like everyone else, and it’s true when listening to those first albums now they do make me cringe a little, so fair enough I guess. It’s just weird how JXL used to be one of my favorites, with all those other big beaty 90s acts, but now I don’t even check out his new stuff, even though I still check out (which is too say download) new Prodigy and Chemical Brothers albums.

  13. I love that Junkie’s quote in the article says absolutely nothing about the gear that everyone is going on about, but instead focuses on the attitude and priorities to be a pro. Very insightful. His music is okay – not particularly memorable, but their function is that they work for the movie and not as a piece of music for its own sake . The guy obviously knows his gear as well as the industry. So, respect to him for making a living doing it, and also for taking the time to make videos for the community which he absolutely does not need to do.

    And, I’ve seen a bigger walls of Eurorack than that. Junkie’s got a lot for sure, but honestly not THAT over the top in the world of Eurocrackheads. I think Richard Devine may have more modules than he does. I also like that he has a couple of rows of Pittsburgh stuff.

  14. What most here are missing is that a modular system in the hands like Junkie is not an instrument, it is a palette of sounds. it is a way to create textures and soundscapes to be repurposed in a composition. And as such you need all the tools to extend your sound scope. There are thousands of modules out there all adding their unique flavor to this.

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