Interview: Basement Jaxx

We were all still dancing to S Club 7 at School Disco when Basement Jaxx formed in the nineties, playing to clubs packed full of frisky ravers at their now legendary club nights. Since then the Basement Jaxx duo, Felix Buxton and Simon Radcliffe, have gone on to become one of the biggest names in dance music, charting frequently in the top ten with their effortless eclectic sounds and creative collaborations, with the help of their team, who they affectionately call ‘the family’. So when we sat down in their dressing room with them for a good old chin wag you would be forgiven for expecting gods in music form or maybe a touch of diva, but instead we found ourselves in the company of quite possibly two of the most charismatic and friendly guys in ‘the biz.’

After Felix packed his trunk and headed off to the metropolitan circus that is London he bumped into Simon, and it was from there that Basement Jaxx was founded in 1993. ‘At that time I was just putting on parties and doing music in my spare time,’ Felix tells us. It was the time when house music was coming over from America, and acid house was reaching its phenomenal peek. Mix that with a touch of drum and bass and, as Felix says ‘musically it was a really exciting time’; from there we have the bare bones of the Jaxx sound: the mash up!

They are keen to describe their music as constantly evolving; with the music scene now saturated with bands, DJs and even the odd Britain’s Got Talent star tapping into the sound that made them household names, Basement Jaxx describe the process of trying to create a new sound for each passing album as an ‘uphill struggle.’ Simon talks about how he struggled with their upcoming album, ‘Scars’ which is released later this year, ‘it is quite hard this time; we are trying desperately to reinvent the wheel a bit, all those beats we spent ages trying to recreate people can do so quickly now, meaning dance music has become something which your Dad likes; it’s everywhere, it’s old…you know, mash ups were a very new thing when we started doing that, and now what we were known for, well, everyone is doing it now.’

Basement Jaxx aren’t about to part company with their dance roots or allow themselves to be fazed by bit of competition, and that’s seems to be what is absolutely fundamental to the band’s enduring success: their ability to try out new ideas and run with it. As Felix says, ‘we do a lot of festivals now, and with a resurgence in people hooking up to their computers and bashing out some tracks there is still such a thing as a contemporary sound, its just a question of making new stuff by drawing on all our influences to try and get new people interested whilst getting the people who liked us before to stick with us.’

Part of the wide appeal of Basement Jaxx lies in their ability to produce utterly electrifying collaborations; they have worked with an astonishing range of artists, from the likes of Yoko Ono to Sam Sparro. They start, however, by reminiscing about the one who got away, Grace Jones. The media have been awash with rumours that the utterly individual Grace Jones is about to pen a track with the boys, but as much as we hate to be the bearers of bad news it wont be happening quite yet; Simon says, ‘we’ve been talking about it and we came really close with the title track, scars, she heard it and liked it but it all came around the time of her new album…and with Grace Jones, being Grace Jones she gets a bit distracted so it didn’t happen.’ Rest assured Jaxx fans, you can expect some amazing collaborations when the album finally touches down in September, with tracks sampling Yoko Ono, Santogold, Yo Majesty, Lightspeed champions and Sam Sparro. We ask about the collaborative process and it turns out to be fairly haphazard, with some collaborations emerging from the most unexpected places. Felix states, ‘with Sam Sparro it turned out he was a fan, and he used to come to our clubs like 10 years ago, but he never even came and said hello.’ Simon interrupts, ‘he actually used to serve us in the local Pizza place in Brixton near us, but it wasn’t until Tula, one of our singers, was doing backing vocals at one of his gigs years later that he finally passed on the message that he really wanted to do something with us.’

Despite their years of collaborating with the crème de la crème Felix and Simon still get slightly star-struck when someone extraordinary steps into the studio. When asked about their dealings with Yoko Ono they were both ablaze with enthusiasm, ‘we were told we had an hour with her, and in fact the whole thing was done in 40 minutes; we went to New York because Felix had always wanted to work with her.’ Felix exclaims, ‘it was a real pleasure, I see her as a great living, modern artist, more of an artist than a musician she was vital, charismatic and alive she’s 76 and Yoko is still like – I’ve got to leave and go and do this thing, I’m excited by this idea, which is just great.’

They both admit that their collaborations don’t always work out. Felix remarks, ‘sometimes you meet with people, work with them and they don’t work out, whether we are working with ourselves or the person next door, you can work with the best people but if it’s not the right day and people aren’t inspired there you wont be any kind of chemical reaction.’ When pushed to name where they reckon their next great ‘chemical reaction’ is coming from, both Felix and Simon start to get excited, ‘the Kings of Leon singer, well I think he’s great and Dragonforce, who are a great guitar band. We saw them at a festival in Nuremberg, and we asked the lead singer if he was up for collaborating and he seemed really keen, hopefully it will happen so if there is an idea it might come about and at the moment it’s just having the time, as we are away every weekend doing festivals.’

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Speaking of festivals, the ‘Jaxx Family’ have headlined everywhere from Glastonbury and of course, the home grown event of the year, the final fling. We ask how festivals compare to the intimacy of their club nights and Simon replies, ‘doing a bit of both is nice, I like DJing every now and then, having some drinks and if you do your homework and go there with some good tracks it’s wicked. But I wouldn’t want to be a hard core DJ, at the moment we do it every now and then. At the same time we play with the band at festivals on big stages, and that’s wicked too.’ Nevertheless some of the highlights of their career have playing to crowds of thousands at festivals, as Simon reminisces, ‘Fuji rock was amazing, unlike other festivals which can feel the same, it seemed really different. It’s probably because of the setting, it’s set in the mountains, in the clouds; its very, very atmospheric, very peaceful, a really good environment with incredible line ups.’ Exit Festival also makes their list of top festivals, which conjures up further memories for Simon, ‘I remember watching Lauryn Hill there; she was on before us so we watched most of her set from backstage and we were all getting into it. She was incredible, she had a huge band with two drummers, four keyboardists, four amazing backing singers and god knows what else. There was, however, a bit of trouble as she isn’t the easiest person to work with, there was a fall out between her crew and our crew, and the whole thing was delayed by two hours which meant we were late on stage and everyone booed us, and we were like ‘it’s Lauryn Hill’s fault’, but in a way it was all worth it because she was wicked.’

Even with their vast experience, their gigs don’t always go to plan, as Felix discovered in a festival in South Africa, which as he says, could possibly be his most cringe-tastic experience in the band, ‘I was just coming off stage, shaking peoples’ hands, running off adrenaline, and I just went off the stage – I handballed off. It ended up on the national news out there after I went to hospital and had seven stitches.’ Oh dear Felix, oh dear indeed!

Basement Jaxx are well known for being quite the connoisseurs at spotting new talent, and so we were desperate to get their opinion on any up and coming acts they had their eye on. Being the quirky characters they are, Felix’s response was unexpected and a touch baffling, ‘it’s hard to get noticed at the moment…well the only way to get noticed is to do something really different, like play the mandolin with a spoon. I just have my eye on anything different and out there, like kids at school making skant music by clapping their hands, like folk music which takes music back to real life. Therefore any sound which goes back to the heart of music, and gets rid of all the production and the bands is my hot top for the future.’ So, musicians of Warwick, you heard it here, ditch the guitar and just get back to basics, got that?!

We end by trying to get some more embarrassing stories out of them and manage to get Felix telling us what he sings in the shower, ‘the other day I was singing this song I had stuck in my head which I used for a remix for Annie Mac. It went like, (he sings whilst doing an energetic impression of washing in the shower) take me down, take me dancing in the rain and I was really getting into it and I was like – I’m really dancing in the rain!’ Simon says that he tends to get the odd guitar solo stuck in his head, ‘I take up the solo and add bits to it as I wash!’ He mimes playing a guitar, and Felix laughingly interrupts, ‘I don’t want to know what he’s been doing with his guitar on his own!’

_Questions by Caitlin Allen and Rachel Tan_

_With thanks to Nikki Smith_

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