City streets turn to green, descending code. Sinks full of blue pills are swapped for just one red pill and Neo steps right out of the looking glass. Physics is defied, bullets are stopped in mid-air, rockets redirected into helicopters with the power of the mind over MP4.
The Matrix is rebooted, in more ways than one. The trailer for The Matrix Resurrections, the forthcoming fourth Matrix movie, appears to find Neo returned to the state of semi-blissful avatar ignorance of the first film, buried in the false comfort of the virtual world and needing to be reawakened to the essential shittiness of reality. A situation we can all relate to each time we’re reminded that The Darkness are still making records.
Rather than some plastic trousered tech-metal blitz by Trent Reznor, however, all of this is soundtracked by the hippie noir sounds of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’. “One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small,” sings Grace Slick in 1967, feeding the listener’s head with an LSD reworking of Alice In Wonderland. As in the original movie, Alice is a running theme in the trailer, from the Through The Looking Glass imagery to one character’s White Rabbit tattoo. We shouldn’t be surprised if the final film features a sequence where Keanu Reeves instantly techno-melts his way to the front of a gigantic queue for a hole in a hedge in Glastonbury’s The Park field.
It doesn’t bode too well for the new film’s sonic futurism, though. Back in 1999, the original movie’s cult impact was built around a soundtrack which perfectly mirrored its cyberpunk aesthetic. The Prodigy, Rob Zombie and Rammstein made for the perfect post-industrial accompaniment to Neo blasting bullet-time glitches into the simulation. The famous lobby shoot-out sequence played out to Propellerheads’ “Spybreak (Short One)”, and Rage Against The Machine were an absolute no brainer for a film literally about raging against the machines. Just as there’s only one band on earth that could reasonably do the theme to Kong Takes Alaska. I’ll wait.
As the Matrix sequels wore on, however, the soundtracks seemed less interested in tapping into the future rock underground. By the third film, The Matrix Revolutions, virtually the entire soundtrack was penned by composer Don Davis. And the new movie shows signs of following the same pattern. What’s been dubbed the ‘Intro Music Theme’ – eight minutes of soundtrack culled from the countdown to the first official trailer reveal – is standard sci-fi movie fare, resembling a glitchy Blade Runner OST. And early listings feature no mention of any synced songs, instead having the soundtrack written by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer; composers of no little renown but, crucially, not Grimes.
This doesn’t mean …Resurrections won’t be packed with ultramodern crackers bending aural space/time just as easily as Neo and Trinity contort the visual one. Rounds of sonic ammunition firing off, halting in mid-air and diverting off into unexpected genres at speeds they’d need to run up a wall to avoid. It just makes it less likely, and that’s a shame. Because here is an opportunity to cohere the disparate and untamed diaspora of modern music around a major cultural event, to create a definitive landmark of futuristic noise just as the original soundtrack did.
20 years on, the idea has only become more fitting. Sonically speaking, we live inside the machine now. The current music scene is a form of Matrix in itself; whole universes of sound created and manipulated electronically. Endless possibilities of artificial musical landscape, digitally identical to real life but able to deconstruct, shift and reform at the whim of some faceless, all-powerful programmer; a creator and destroyer of worlds at the thumb of a Songify.
As one of the most meta franchises in history, then, it would be a major fail if the …Resurrections soundtrack didn’t trace the links between Perfume Genius and St. Vincent, Run The Jewels and Grimes, Kano and Oneohtrix Point Never. And whoever let Johnny Greenwood do the Diana soundtrack instead should very much retrain for cyber.
Music curation in 2021 is also the stuff of its own Matrix; sorted by computer into niche playlists defined by genre, the fundamental purpose of which is to comfort the listener with cosy familiarity and not to challenge or scare them off with anything they might not already like. We’re all trapped in computer-generated musical pods, and we need the red pill of an exploratory soundtrack album more than ever.
In an area long dominated by Mamma Mias and The Greatest Showmen, it’s been decades since a movie’s album has opened global ears to unexpected musical treasures, as Tarantino did with everything from Reservoir Dogs to Kill Bill, and the Wachowskis did with The Matrix soundtrack. Let’s hope The Matrix Resurrections will be taking us down a few more musical rabbit holes.