Meet The '90s Dance DJ Behind The Score For 'The Dark Tower' Tom Holkenborg draws on his history as trance DJ Junkie XL for the bombastic electronica-meets-orchestra music he has composed for Mad Max: Fury Road, Batman v. Superman, and now The Dark Tower.

Meet The '90s Dance DJ Behind The Score For 'The Dark Tower'

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"The Dark Tower" opens this weekend. The movie's based on a series of books by Stephen King and stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Despite all that star power, one name in the credits stood out to reporter Tim Greiving - Junkie XL, a late '90s dance DJ.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: It's hard not to call Tom Holkenborg Junkie. This confusion reveals an artist in transition. Over the past two decades, Junkie XL made a name for himself playing music in dance clubs around the world. Now, as Tom Holkenborg, he's well into the second act of his career as a film composer. And his timing couldn't be better.

TOM HOLKENBORG: You know, for a lot of these super classical music, film score fanatics, it's all, like, rubbish and it's all, like, noise. But that's the reality where we are, is that a lot of directors want to take that new approach to film scoring.


GREIVING: His "Mad Max: Fury Road" score epitomizes what he brings to the big screen - rave-like grooves and bombast, a collision of old school orchestra with electronic dance music. Last year, Holkenborg co-composed "Batman V Superman" with his mentor, composer Hans Zimmer. They created the theme for the film's breakout star, "Wonder Woman."


GREIVING: Holkenborg's film music generally isn't the most subtle. That's owed partly to his origins as an electronica maestro on the dance floor.

JASON BENTLEY: His success in the dance and electronic space has been all about extremes. You know, just bashing people over the head with big beats and attitude and also extreme dynamics.

GREIVING: That's Jason Bentley, longtime DJ at KCRW in Los Angeles.

BENTLEY: People who are out in a club and they might be high or whatever, they're responsive to these extreme pivots in music. And he certainly mastered that.

GREIVING: It all began when a young Holkenborg heard a record filled with what would consume the rest of his life - sonic experiments.

HOLKENBORG: My older nephew, who was way cooler than I was - he was, like, 18 years old and I was 6 or 7. And it was my birthday. And he gave me the record "Dark Side Of The Moon." I remember bringing that record to school. And we would play tracks in the classroom, and kids started crying. They were afraid.

GREIVING: Holkenborg was hooked. He learned to play a bunch of instruments, but quickly fell under the spell of the synthesizer. He played in and produced several Dutch bands, then broke out in the burgeoning industrial genre. Again, Jason Bentley.

BENTLEY: He really was part of fusing rock elements into dance music. So his sound always appealed to people who loved rock 'n' roll because it had a lot of attitude and angst.


HOLKENBORG: I was a pretty angry man back then, so there was a lot of yelling and screaming, you know, as vocals.

GREIVING: His biggest hit came in 2002 when Nike hired him to remix Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation" for a major ad campaign. It was a No. 1 hit in 24 countries.


ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) A little less conversation...

GREIVING: But in the late '90s he started to lose creative steam, right around the time when some of his tracks began getting placed in films.

HOLKENBORG: I would be so surprised how the music worked with picture that I got really drawn into the knowledge of that. And I wanted to know more and work in that area more.

GREIVING: So he left Holland for LA and the dance floor for the multiplex. He apprenticed with experienced composers and then broke out in his own right with "Mad Max: Fury Road." He's heard criticism for not fitting the traditional mold of a film composer. You can see how just going by the name Junkie XL might be a lightning rod. But Holkenborg is unfazed and says he's only the latest in a long line of rule breakers.

HOLKENBORG: James Brown, who did a film score. There was also Vangelis who did film scores. There's so many examples of people that have done film scores that come from a completely different angle. And that's the beauty. I mean, it's the most colorful profession I can think of within music.

GREIVING: Next up for Holkenborg? The new "Tomb Raider." For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.


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