Basement Jaxx are among the few electronic acts that have managed to maintain a strong, innovative music catalogue for two decades. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe released their seventh studio album "Junto" (which means “together” in Spanish) earlier this year just as the genre was in dire need of some joyous substance.
The last full-length release from the iconic pair was 2009's "Scars" and since then they’ve tried their hand at film scoring (Attack the Block), moved on from their studio in Brixton, and contributed a batch of remixes including the infectious rework of “Everyman Everywoman” for Yoko Ono’s electronic album, "ONO.MIX."
But lest you think they've gone too avant-garde, the video for their recent single “Never Say Never” stars TW3RK-BOT, a robot that, well, twerks to the max.
Speaking on everything from the new album to men pissing in bottles, the legendary act sat down with The Huffington Post for an in-depth chat about their ongoing legacy and why music needs to transcend the times.
There is something beautifully chaotic about "Junto." What feeling were you hoping to achieve on this album?
Simon: We’ve always liked a lot different things and with this album even though it may have a lot of variation I feel it all sounds like us, just the way it’s made. We made an effort to make it not too experimental and just an easy, nice listening experience. It’s about making you feel good about the world and it’s fun. The album before was a bit introspective and a bit more somber and with this album we wanted do something that’s bright and fun. So you say chaotic, as long as it’s digestively chaotic. It’s all dance music, a mix of DnB, house, dubstep. It’s all one big happy family.
Felix: It’s about getting back to that world. Nowadays, it’s all about the cynicism and twisted chic that’s old and boring. It’s very easy to squash things apart and pull things down, but it’s very hard to actually say something positive and mean it honestly and stand by it. This album enforces the notion that we all want to do something, we all want to be happy, we don’t want to suffer. Every single person in this room is exactly the same and we share that. We realize that when we are making music we are contributing to that happiness and it needs to be sincere or it will just be fluffy nonsense.
So this is a conscious effort that you invest yourselves in — making people happy?
Felix: That’s always been the core to Basement Jaxx and the interesting house music in the first place came from that place. It was about unity — you may be black, white, big, small, religious or not, it doesn’t matter in our house. That was kind of the a cappella that used to play. It was about people on the fringes all coming together in our house and it was truly the core of our first album "Remedy," healing people and bringing people together.
Simon: It’s also about the live show. We were talking earlier about what sums up Basement Jaxx and yeah, we don’t have the Deadmau5 thing, but what does it is the live show. It’s a ton of different costumes, lots of people of different skin colours and sizes all squashed together and that represents us, that’s our identity and that’s how we want to be. Amongst it all it’s a group thing, a collective and that’s what we’ve been trying to push all along.
You guys decided to switch up locations for this album and moved away from Brixton, what prompted this change and did it help with the overall recording process?
Simon: We had been in Brixton for a very very long time, our studio there had a leak in the roof and it was getting damp and dingy. There were no windows and it was dark and small. We also shared a corridor with these other guys that would stay up all night smoking skunk and making DnB and garage music. Worse is they couldn’t be bothered to go to the toilet downstairs so they would piss in bottles and leave them outside their door. So we’d come in bright and early in the morning and that’s what would be greeting us. We’re like, come on, we’re professional musicians. We won a Grammy for fuck sake [laughing].
That’s really disgusting, probably the worst place to get motivated I’d imagine.
Simon: Yeah, it wasn’t inspiring at all so we moved to Kings Cross in London. Now we have a nice spot with a big window and a skyline of London and its landmarks. You feel like you’re part of London, part of the lively cultural city and you see the sky, too. It’s really good. We were hoping for it to take six months to record but it took two years, but hey that’s how it goes. I’d loved to have rushed it to be honest, but now with the feedback we’ve been getting I’m really glad we didn’t.
Were you worried about that response? Did you think it would it still be relevant given that there are so many newcomers and the fact the EDM has exploded over the past five years?
Felix: That’s the same with anything, the underground culture rises to the top and then it gets assassinated. We are living in a culture that is corporate pop music which is very contrived and put together. Some stuff might be good and end up staying with us for a while, who knows? I mean it’s not for me to worry about. Last year was a relief though when Daft Punk put an album out and it was like “Oh wow, this is really great.” It was really encouraging for us and it made us feel that we could still fit into the world, you know? Some of the EDM scene is so tacky, but a lot of the young kids and hipsters are listening to older music, groovy music and there’s all this deep house, too, this was reassuring, we could fit into the landscape and be alright.
Your collaborations are inspiring, to. The artists you choose to work with is very important it seems.
Simon: Well, we’re about finding someone with character and authenticity because there are hundreds of thousands of people who sing really well, very high and low and hit the notes and are professionals, but sometimes it still leaves you cold. What we look for is the person, the character. It might be someone famous, more than likely it wont be, sometimes it may be. It’s not like with the album we go “OK he’s popular so let’s get him” or “We must get her” because we tend to meet ordinary people as we are not celebrity party hanger-outers and even working with Yoko Ono, yeah she’s famous and wicked and a pleasure, but that’s not a typical choice, you know?
Felix: It’s also about the person in the greater sense like who they actually are. We’re fortunate to see what artists who are considered legends truly act like. We see artists that are fake artists you know, the real and the fake portrait they portray to everyone else. It’s about being a good person and like, are you good to your mum?
Over the years you’ve accomplished a lot, one being a Grammy, which was the inaugural Grammy given for the electronic/dance category. That’s kind of a big deal.
Simon: To be honest I didn’t value the Grammys really. They aren’t shown on TV in England so I didn’t really have a clue. Felix was more aware of it than I was. Up to that point getting a Grammy didn’t mean much to me, but now I realize shit the Grammys are really big deal and, to be honest, I was kind of even half ass about going and Felix was like “Come on we have to go.”
Imagine if you hadn’t…
Simon: I know! I know! I’m so glad we did.
Felix: It’s funny we won the Grammy and got dropped from our record label at the same time. I didn’t know what happened and at first I couldn’t figure out if I should be like “Ah!” or “Damn!” After that though we decided record labels are old fashioned and now we are just about distribution.
You both seem really grounded, which is honestly refreshing. You also don’t seem to tour that often do you think this keeps you in your comfort zone more?
Simon: We tour in small doses, we’ve never been a heavy touring kind of act. Some bands go on the road forever and for me I like being home. I have a daughter and I like being a homebody. Touring is great and wicked and all, but after a while…well, we are very selective. We do gigs that we think are going to be fun. Gigs that will be an experience for us and also ones that we will be able to give something to the audience so it’s not like anything is taken for granted.
Do you think because it is such a fast paced world that there are so many demands of artists to tour, to connect with fans, to be constantly available and at the disposal of the marketing machine?
Felix: I think it’s about feeding our minds and living in the moment. I try to do that as much as possible, not harking on the past and worrying what everyone else is expecting and doing all the time. I don’t read or watch the news; it’s a crazy and hostile thing because it makes connections and we are being sensationalized. Like, this celebrity culture too, how it’s obsessed with what’s hot and what’s not and top five this and that, it’s just nonsense. It makes you feel dissatisfied, unhappy, it works on envy and there are a lot of low vibration levels. I think it’s a waste of time and a view that is not helpful because there are only certain people in the media, like yourself for example, that have this power and this power generates a certain perspective.
And you think that people are buying into this whole commodity? Is there still the notion of a "true artist" then?
Felix: Modern life, I feel, makes us dissatisfied and nervous and it’s not good. I did a talk at Oxford the year before last and that was good for me and for me to hone my mind. I did my part you know, got to get up there and talk to the new generation and explain my journey and basically say it was up to them and they need to have an open mind.
Alright I have to ask — where did the song title “Sneakin’ Toronto” come from?
Felix: Well we were in the studio in London and we had DJ Sneak in and he’s from Toronto. We hadn’t seen him for a while and we always think of Sneak being from Toronto and we used to come here (Toronto) and DJ at a club called Industry. So in the studio we got up and into the groove on the mic and started jamming like “Yo sneak, what’s up?” Just having fun with him you know? We then just named it that and at the end of the whole process we thought about changing it, but then realized we should just keep it, we like it!
Now that this is your seventh album there must be a real sense of status and accomplishment with all your work. Do you feel this could have been achieved separately?
Simon: Absolutely not. I was very fortunate to have met this gentleman. We met through friends and honestly it wouldn’t be the same at all.
Felix: Agreed on that. I also believe in the right life, don’t cheapen yourself and have respect for things you do. I don’t believe on getting proud and egotistical at all. It’s about feeling like I’m being authentic in this stage of the world and if I die tomorrow I wont be embarrassed about anything, nor should anyone.
Do you look ahead? Are there a ton of things you still want to accomplish?
Felix: I’ve done some side projects, one being an orchestral project that was with 120 people on stage and it had opera and jazz all worked into the mix and I was at the back mixing the instruments. I’d love to get towards doing a musical.
Simon: I look a year ahead I feel that is a good amount of time. With this album, well, we will see where it goes. If everyone hates it and if it just dies then we probably won't go out and make another Basement Jaxx album right away, we’ll do something else, but it will be a meeting and discussion at that point, you know?
Any final words?
Felix: Well, the core agreement, rules of conduct if you will.
Oh, and what does the core agreement entail?
Felix: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take things personally. Never make assumptions, and always do your best!
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