The Matrix soundtrack, 20 years later

20 years ago this week, The Matrix was released – a genre-defying special effects spectacle like no other.

The only thing as iconic as the film’s bullet time sequences was its fantastic soundtrack, both an exploration of the burgeoning sounds of the 90s and a mirror to the movie’s politically-charged themes. So follow the white rabbit, take the red pill, and dive into the desert of the real with us as we explore three songs from the soundtrack.

Propellerheads’ “Spybreak!”

Propellerheads are an electronic duo known for creating big beat – an acid house, techno-adjacent dance genre built around breakbeats. “Spybreak!” plays during the iconic lobby shoot-out sequence. The track samples its iconic bassline – sped-up, saturated, and compressed for added bounce – from post-punk outfit ESG’s “Bam Bam Jam:”

The scratches in the song’s breakdown come courtesy of the intro to funk band Pleasure’s “Celebrate the Good Things,” a sample that has been used in countless hip hop and breakbeat records.


Rob Dougan’s “Clubbed to Death”

Rob Dougan’s trip-hop instrumental plays during the scene where Morpheus introduces Neo to the Lady in Red. The strings intro lifts from classic composer Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations, Op. 36,” appearing around 0:45.

“Clubbed to Death” also uses a breakbeat sample, lifting from funk outfit Skull Snaps’ “It’s a New Day” and the classic (and heavily sampled) Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President.”

The song’s more frenetic strings section that enters later in the track comes courtesy of Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.”


Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up”

The final scene in The Matrix features “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine. The lyrics of the song touch on themes explored in the movie – free will, surveillance, and governmental tyranny. Singer Zack de la Rocha’s lyrics take aim at the FBI (particularly J. Edgar Hoover) for surveilling and murdering prominent black activists during the Civil Rights movement (“Hoover, he was a body remover,” “Several federal men pulled schemes on the dream [MLK’s dream] and put it to an end”). The refrain of the song has de la Rocha repeating “wake up,” telling listeners to come to their senses and recognize injustice – the phrase also doubles as a reference to Neo “waking up” from the Matrix.

We hope you enjoyed revisiting these classic cuts from The Matrix‘s soundtrack. Stay tuned for future deep dives on classic albums, scores, soundtracks, and more.

April 5, 2019

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.