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Basement Jaxx Revisits Their Past To Inspire The Present
Wednesday, October 01, 2014

If you went clubbing in the late 90s, or early millennium, you spent many a night dancing to the music of Basement Jaxx. The British duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliff espoused rave culture’s PLUR ideology, and in 2014 they’re bringing it all back.

“Here everyone’s been listening to 90s R&B, 90s house,” Buxton says of his native London’s dance scene, “and before everyone was obsessed with the 80s, so I suppose this is the natural step.”

Basement Jaxx are contributing to this rebirth of appreciation of the 90s with their latest album, Junto, which was released late last month. Junto is a modern throwback, with new music that is reminiscent of a pre-dubstep EDM scene.

During a quick break in his busy schedule, Buxton sat down with me to talk about Junto, including what inspired the album. He also discussed his thoughts on the current EDM scene, a personal UFO sighting, and his and Ratcliff’s involvement with the cult film Attack the Block.

Adam Bernard: Hey Felix, how are you doing today?

Felix Buxton: The sun is shining, and I managed to have a week off in Ibiza just now. We did a DJ set at the beginning of the week, and the end of the week, so I had the week off in-between. That was nice.

That was my first kind of little break. We were number one on the dance Billboard chart in America, and it was (like) OK, great, that’s good, that’s a good time to go off for a few days.

I’m doing a DJ set in London, there’s a peace event as part of Peace One Day, which is an organization trying to get governments to have one day of cease fire, and more from there, to make a more peaceful world. I’m doing that later today, and also preparing something that I'm doing with the Contemporary London Voices choir.

I’ve written a piece called “Love Frequency,” and they’re doing a version of the “Power To The People” song. That’s going to be performed to an audience, and everyone’s going to be blindfolded, so they know what it’s like to be blind. Well, they’re not gonna know what it’s like to be blind, but it’s one step towards that.

Adam Bernard: Wow, you have a lot on your plate, so let’s get right into this. Being veterans of the dance music scene you probably saw the EDM explosion coming before the vast majority of us did. Can you pinpoint a moment, an event, or a show that made you raise an eyebrow and say, “Here we go!”

Felix Buxton: I think it was maybe four years ago that we played Electric Daisy Carnival, and it was like wow, this is kind of like what raving was in the 80s in the UK, the acid house rave culture in ’88, but it’s like with loads of money behind (it), and a Hollywood set. We looked at what was going on and we thought we have to make a decision of whether we’re going to try and be part of this thing, and make everything noisier, and louder, and more exciting, and then we decided not to, basically. {laughs}

We’ve always played new stuff of whatever style, like dubstep, we’d play that in our sets, but it was getting to a point where it was all about getting noisier and noisier, and it became a bit more of a turn off for us, so we just decided we could pursue that and try and make money, or we could just carry on doing what we do.

We were in Miami at the Ultra Music Festival earlier in the year, and the kids are having an amazing time, but the big difference that I noticed was all the kids wearing beads (were wearing) colored plastic beads. I thought, “Oh, that’s just the same as 1988 in the UK, and what they’re doing is exactly the same, and there’s a good vibe, and it’s really cool,” but I saw the beads are plastic, whereas people in 1988 wore it to kind of make a connection with some tribal people, or something earthy. I feel like it hasn’t really got the earth connection anymore.

In a way, for me, it’s kind of like dance culture has met up with the fairground culture, and aerobics. I mean, it’s good for exercise, but it’s like kind of Mr. Motivator fitness class. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a different thing.

Adam Bernard: With that in mind, how do you feel about the phrase EDM? I know some people would prefer if everyone referred to each specific genre of electronic music by name.

Felix Buxton: Oh I think everyone should forget about all genres, and stop worrying about it, and concentrate on doing something positive with life rather than trying to deconstruct everything. All these things are just a label, and labels kind of stretch and change, and then things don’t fit within that label, and the genre changes.

To me, basically, most electronic dance music is all the same thing, most pop music is all the same thing. The majority of pop and dance music all has a kick and a snare drum at more or less the same speed, with a variation of a few sounds, (and) everyone does (it) in the same order. So as a whole, sub-genres just seem like nonsense to me.

Also, I think people use labeling to feel a sense of power, in a way, that they know something specific that other people don’t, but it’s just what we all surround ourselves with, and that creates our perspective.

I think it’s maybe (because) we’re traveling around the world a lot, as well. You see something that everyone thinks is so hot and important in London, and you go on the other side of the world and that piece of music can seem quite empty and meaningless played in another environment.

I’m into things that connect on a deeper level, I suppose, with a deeper truth somewhere.

Adam Bernard: You’re also a purveyor of positivity, especially with the new album, Junto. What was going on in your and Simon’s lives that inspired the content?

Felix Buxton: I think we decided at the outset with the album that it must be positive, and it must add something to people’s lives.

We moved studios, and got somewhere with a window again, where we can open the window. We want to have that light, and that air, in our music, just because it seems, I don’t know, you can get over-precious, and it’s good to kind of view it for what it is, but we wanted to just do something that was positive, that was going to uplift and inspire people, which is hard to do, to get it right without shouting at people.

Adam Bernard: When people are shouted at they’re not quite as inspired.

Felix Buxton: No, but that’s the EDM thing. Basically, everything is shouting. Also Hollywood movies, often you’ll be wowed by effect, and think, “Ah, amazing, amazing, amazing,” and then you leave the cinema, and you go home, and you’ve kind of forgotten what you’ve just seen. It didn’t leave a mark, or make you think anything different, or touch you, so as a result it’s kind of a distraction, and a waste of time.

Try and do something more subtle. Who knows whether you do it, or achieve it, all you can do is try.

Adam Bernard: You took a healthy amount of time off in-between full length albums. Was this desire to spread positivity what gave you the itch to want to put something out again?

Felix Buxton: We never really stopped doing stuff. We had made a decision after we did the Zephyr album; we had a five album deal, and we’d done six albums, and we’d done lots of touring, and it had been pretty full on for 12 years, so the idea was kind of to pick up our humanity and make friends with our friends and families again, just to get back to being human again for a while.

I worked on the orchestral album, probably for a year, which I really enjoyed, and that was great because it was something different, and we did the film soundtracks.

In a way we were doing stuff, and it was creative, but it was away from doing rock festivals, and away from clubs. It just seemed healthy to move forward, and just have a pause. Then I think more than anything, because we were still DJing, we realized it would be really nice to have new Basement Jaxx music, because people always want us to play Basement Jaxx music, and it’s like, well, we need some new ones.

We realized suddenly with the whole landscape out there, with Disclosure, and Duke Dumont, and everyone, this kind of slower, sexier house is all coming back. The hipsters in London shunned EDM probably a year or so ago. Young DJs were playing our old dubs from ‘95, and ‘96, and it was like, maybe we should bring our music back to that, and do something simple, and not try and do something too radical or left field, do something for the Jaxx to connect to people.

Adam Bernard: The lead single was “Unicorn,” and there’s a very colorful video for it, so I gotta ask, are either one of you a Brony?

Felix Buxton: What’s a Brony?

Adam Bernard: A Brony is a male My Little Pony Fan.

Felix Buxton: No. No no no, it has nothing to do with that. Actually, we were thinking about calling the album Planet Unicorn, but it was because of things like My Little Pony that we said no.

That was, more than anything, Niara, who sings the “Power To The People” song.

The song “Unicorn,” the words, and the melody, I wrote with Niara. This album is different in a way because we did more songs that were co-writes.

Basically, Niara was very into unicorns, and saying, “Why is everyone talking about unicorns,” and we were discussing spirits, and vibrations, and UFOs, because I saw a UFO, so we were very into all that, and we were very into the idea of trying to spread some good vibes. That’s where the unicorn song came from. It has nothing to do with My Little Pony.

Adam Bernard: You just threw in there that you saw a UFO, and you did it really nonchalantly, like it was the most mundane thing in the world. When, where, and how did this sighting happen?

Felix Buxton: We had just moved to the new studio, so it was like two and a half years ago, and it was right over the middle of London, actually just where I’m looking now. I’m looking over the sky in the middle of London, I can see Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, and The Shard, which is like a tall pointed building, which is quite new.

It was just sitting there in the middle of the sky in the afternoon, and it looked like a flying saucer, and I was there with a singer, so that was pretty amazing, and very exciting.

I spent ages after that trolling the internet for conspiracy theories, and all about UFOs, and talking with Armand Van Helden from the States, he told me about this book, We The Arcturians, which is basically about telepathic conversations with beings from beyond, and all that sort of stuff.

I was interested in all that, and I went to do a talk at Oxford University, and the main thing that had happened in my life was that I saw this UFO, so I was very aware that I needed to check it all out before going to one of the most intelligent places on the planet to go and do a speech. That kind of forced me to research harder, and find out more, and question a lot of things. In a way I suppose it was a bit of an epiphany.

I didn’t bang on much about the UFO thing in the speech because a friend said, “People will think you’re crazy.” At the end I did mention it slightly, and the kids were like, “That’s a really good omen for your album.” They were so open minded about it all, but it’s incredible how many people, generally, are so closed minded to any ideas that don’t make sense to them. I really came across that a lot.

In a way, maybe that gave me my fight back to kind of challenge things, which definitely, when we were doing the first album, was very much with me. We had the “Jump n’ Shout” video, my girlfriend was dressed as an alien in that, so it’s been a theme that’s been around, so it was nice to see something that connected with stuff I’d looked into in the past.

Adam Bernard: Adding to that theme is the fact that you scored one of my favorite movies of all-time, Attack the Block, which is an alien invasion movie.

Felix Buxton: Yeah, that was great, really good fun, and Joe Cornish, basically he got in contact with us. Our studio was just around the corner from his house, and (the movie) was very much about Brixton, and that area, which was where our studio was.

We initially said to him we wouldn’t do the music to the film, we’d just do a soundtrack. From what we’d heard about the film it wasn’t looking that exciting in the beginning, but somehow we got persuaded to keep working on more and more, and suddenly we were working on the whole movie.

I can remember just before the film came out we were saying we didn’t want the Basement Jaxx name there, because we were very unsure about how the film was coming together. Earlier on, in the beginning of the film, he’d said he didn’t want any criticism, or anything, on any of the parts, because he was a bit fragile about the whole thing, but just before the end of the film I said that after seeing a version (of it) there were fundamental flaws in the whole thing that really bothered me, and that was part of the reason why we didn’t want to put the Basement Jaxx name there.

At the premier, sitting there watching it, everything had been adjusted, all our problems with the music, the mixing, everything, had been sorted, so it’s like aw, we could have had our name up there. {laughs}

Adam Bernard: You saw it and were like, “Oh crap, this is amazing!”

Felix Buxton: Yeah, in the end the film’s really good, and our names are under “Additional Music” rather than like “Music by Basement Jaxx,” but it’s all good. It was a really good experience, and he was a really nice guy. We have a poster here, a framed picture that he gave to us, and he said that we made the movie for him, so that’s great.

Adam Bernard: In the event of an actual alien invasion, do you think you’d have Moses’ skills, and be out there slaying extraterrestrials?

Felix Buxton: I think this whole notion that aliens are like goblins about to gobble us up, I’m not so into that. I think there are frequencies and forces, and it doesn’t have to be bad at all. I believe there’s always other ways to (get to) peace, and getting on with things, so we’ll see how I deal with a lion when I’m in the middle of nature and it’s hungry. {laughs}

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 1:37 PM  
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