Juno Reactor with Amampondo, Medicine Drum, DJ Dam and guests at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Sunday (July 1), 10 pm-6 am. $25-$35. 416-280-6335. Rating: NNNNN
Ben Watkins is on a hunt. He's searching for that perfect sound, and travels the world looking for it.
The intense sound-chaser takes a DAT recorder wherever he goes.
"Last week I recorded all these trains in Seattle that went on for miles, and the horns were just stunning," he says on the phone from Chicago's Omni Hotel. "I also just recorded these people having a conversation on the CB radio."
It's another strange act in Watkins's life.
He's the brains behind Juno Reactor, the UK force that brought Goa trance to the mainstream in the 90s and helped former porn star Traci Lords launch a solo album. He's also known for infusing his ambient sound with tribalistic beats and Celtic mythology.
Watkins's ongoing project started over 10 years ago, when he laid out some ambient tracks to accompany a performance/sculpture installation by his girlfriend, Norma Fletcher. The two rolled around London on a 70-foot decommissioned missile, blaring his music to raise awareness about nuclear war.
Now, leaving his young family back in Brighton, Watkins joins the Tribal Thunder Canada Day rave Sunday (July 1). Playing on the road is something he needs to do to survive.
"It's where I get my true buzz, because most of the time I'm getting together with the guys and doing sessions. Then I'm on my own for, like, a month, and it's just me and the computer. I don't get great conversation with the computer," he says with a laugh.
Juno Reactor released their latest disc, Shango, last October, concocting a musical melange of trancey, hypnotic beats and weird samples with a tribalistic edge. It's their first full-length album with South Africa's Amampondo, a five-man percussion group from Pretoria and Cape Town who call themselves shagonas, or powerful healers.
The collaboration began back in 1997 with the single Congo Fury, after which Watkins invited Amampondo to join Juno Reactor on a tour opening for Moby.
Watkins's intimate conversations with the shangos about life, religion and the essence of being pique his interest as well.
"You can't dis (their faith), although I don't really believe in it. It's their belief, and that's what makes it so powerful for them," he says while puffing on a cigarette. "But I've heard other people who've experienced their power who say it's not something to play around with."
While Watkins peers into the magic of Old World spirituality, he's also playing around with some very modern technology. He's helping games-addicted kiddies enjoy their PlayStations that much more by developing background music for them.
"It's a complete acid mind-fuck to learn these composing programs, which I've given up on at least five times. It's like going back 12 or 15 years to those early samplers and all the little tricks I used to know then."