Music composer Joanne Higginbottom takes us inside SDCC’s Genndy Tartakovsky Musical Experience

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 22: Tyler Bates and Joanne Higginbottom perform with the Genndy Tartakovsky Musical Experience onstage at the Adult Swim Festival '23 during 2023 Comic-Con International: San Diego on July 22, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 22: Tyler Bates and Joanne Higginbottom perform with the Genndy Tartakovsky Musical Experience onstage at the Adult Swim Festival '23 during 2023 Comic-Con International: San Diego on July 22, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images) /

Adult Swim’s Festival on the Green returned to its bayside off-site location at San Diego Comic-Con in 2023 with a carnival-like atmosphere and full-size stage for entertainment. One of the highlights of the weekend was undoubtedly the live orchestra performance, which featured series composers Joanne Higginbottom and Tyler Bates.

Over the past several months, the shows’ composers worked to bring this unique concert, called  “The Genndy Tartakovsky Musical Experience,” to life with a live orchestra for the first time. The concert showcased the full first episode of Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, along with music cues from two other Tartakovsky series: Primal and Samurai Jack.

We spoke with Joanne Higginbottom following the performance to learn more about how this unique fan experience was born, how it felt to be the only live orchestra performance at SDCC, and what it’s like to compose the score for the new animated series Unicorn: Warriors Eternal.

Joanne Higginbottom on the Genndy Tartakovsky Musical Experience at SDCC

*This interview has been condensed for clarity.

Hidden Remote: How did this idea of a live Adult Swim concert come to life?

Joanne Higginbottom: We’ve been in touch with Adult Swim for probably the last two months organizing all this. It’s Genndy Tartakovsky’s show, and we’ve done multiple of them now. We’ve done Samurai Jack, the last season, and then we did the two seasons of Primal.

Now I’m doing Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, which is what we mainly based the show on [at SDCC]… and we spent the last few months organizing how to make this the coolest and most epic and awesome concept possible.

HR: Can you talk a little bit more about what the preparation for the concert was like here? How did you get the musicians into the spirit of these shows?

Higginbottom: A really large percentage of the [Unicorn] score itself, sadly, is samples. But a lot of the woodwinds and the soloists are live… but we didn’t record a live orchestra. It’s all me making it sound as real as possible on my computer. So about two months ago, we came up with the concept. We’re like, let’s get an orchestra, and let’s play that score.

After the Unicorn episode finished, we roll credits, and then there’s like an ominous tone for 30 seconds, and Tyler and I walked on stage. I got behind my drums, and he got behind his guitar, and then we rocked through a medley of a couple of Primal cues and a Samurai Jack cue at the end, and I played live percussion to it.

And actually the orchestra was fantastic! They got the music [that] morning… A lot of them are from the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. We had a full horn section, all the strings, and their percussionists were incredible because as a percussionist I wrote very, very hard parts in that score. So they got the parts, we had two hours of rehearsal in the morning, and then went on at 6:00 and rocked it, and it was phenomenal.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images /

HR: What did it feel like being up there on stage? You’re on the San Diego Convention Center lawn, on the harbor surrounded by lots of colorful inflatables of characters from the different activations. How did it feel to be playing to an audience of fans in this environment?

Higginbottom: It’s so surreal. Honestly, having the harbor next to you is just so picturesque. So the setting was really, really great. The fans are amazing. They got to do a Q&A and a signing with Genndy earlier on. They were already into the shows and had been talking about them. It’s so cool seeing them dressed up as some of the characters.

To me, that’s one of the best parts of Comic-Con, when you put your heart and soul into a show for so long, and then people love it enough, fans love it enough to dress like them and come to these things. It’s so cool. And yeah, the crowd loved it, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on stage. Normally I’m sitting in my soundproof studio for weeks and months and years on end and don’t get to see people, so it was so nice.

HR: If you could come in cosplay as a character, which one do you think you might come as?

Higginbottom: Oh my gosh, you know what? I would make my husband dress as Spear, and I would be the dinosaur. It would be fun. We’d go as Primal as a duo.

HR: When fans are watching these shows, is there something in the music they should look out for? Something that you’re hoping they notice or feel within the music?

Higginbottom: Definitely in Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, every character has a light motif. So in the very sort of traditional sense of film scoring, every character has a theme, whether they are in an action sequence or a sad sequence or a love sequence. The melody is always there in some fashion, whether that’s in soft strings and it’s very melodramatic, or whether it’s in the percussion and the timpani and the staccato strings and they’re running. But it’s reprised all over the entire show.

And what’s cool is, as the characters develop over the whole 10 episodes, as does the music. Whether it grows with their personality, whether they become more scared or whether they become more confident, especially Melinda and Emma.

In Unicorn, they get more and more confident through the whole episodes and their theme gets larger and larger. It starts off just a harp in the first episode… and by episode 10… we get to the sort of finale of the storyline, and it is full orchestra and full choir, and it’s the exact same theme that’s in episode 1.

HR: Is this Adult Swim concert something you hope to bring back in future Comic-Cons?

Higginbottom: I would write Unicorn for the rest of my life and I would perform it every weekend if I could. This was such a wonderful thing and it would be really cool to do it on an even larger scale. Honestly, if we could do the Hollywood Bowl, that would be the absolute [dream] you know?

We could do the whole musical Genndy Tartakovsky experience. It would be cool to do a bigger variety of music. That would be the dream. I’d love it.

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The full first season of Unicorn: Warriors Eternal is currently available to stream on Max and Adult Swim.