Interview: Basement Jaxx

With countless genre-defying, crossover dance music hits like ‘Red Alert’, ‘Rendez Vu’, ‘Where’s Your Head At?’, ‘Lucky Star’, ‘Oh My Gosh’, JUICE has been a fan for Basement Jaxx for a very long time – more than 10 years to be precise. Even before Diplo and Major Lazer, the Jaxx were mashing up Latin house, with Caribbean rhythms, banghra and grime with pop – mad crazy stuff that would possess your feet and make you crazy! Although better known for their live performances, now at long last Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe are coming to KL and bringing their signature sound and that South London (Brixton) vibe to the decks in a DJ set this 2nd January at KL Live. JUICE spoke to Felix over breakfast about their 5th album Scars, loving llamas and starting a cosmic choir. Hmm….

Felix, describe Simon in 3 words.
Sincere, warm and simple.

Aww. Where you at and what were you doing before this interview?
I’m at home. I was just eating a bowl of cereal and drinking a cup of coffee ’cause we got back from a live show last night. It was our first live show in December and there were 2,000 people last night. We had some technical problems in the show last night, so we’re working it out.

What’s the best piece of news you’ve read or received today?
I haven’t received any news at all yet, actually. This is the beginning of my day. I haven’t turned on the TV or anything outside of my door. Oh, I did hear from the couple that’s staying with me at the moment that a big tall bird landed outside my back door and tried to steal my fish from my fish pond in my really small garden in South London, where I live. So that’s the only news, really.

Basement Jaxx has just released its 5th album a decade after it all began. Ever feel like the elder statesmen of British dance music?
I guess so, to a certain extent. We meet young producers and they’re very respectful towards us and what we’ve done. It’s great! I guess we’re at that stage now. We’ve been there and done that. I guess we were around when house music was starting and when it was a new form of music with drum ‘n’ bass.

Your albums have always featured some outstanding vocalists. This time round you have peeps like Santigold and Yoko Ono. How do these dream hook ups happen?
With Yoko Ono, I heard she’s a fan of our music and she liked what we were doing. I was just interested to talk to her ’cause most of all, she was from the peace and love generation, and maybe the acid house generation, so I see the parallel there. It’s like having the optimism and the hedonism. That’s what I like. She’s been doing some impressive artwork for the last few years and seems to retain that positivity, openness and creativity, which I admire. And with Santigold, we kinda came across her while we were recording 2 years ago in New York. She was in Brooklyn, so we invited her to the studio when she wasn’t known back then. We thought she had a really cool voice and she was up for a collaboration, which worked out really cool. She ended up doing a song that I’ve written, which I didn’t expect her to do ’cause I thought it would be something that she had written. She came into the studio, loved it and said, “I’d love to sing it.”

Impressive! JC Chasez of ‘N Sync guested on single ‘Plug It In’ from album Kish Kash, ever wish you’d called Justin Timberlake instead?
I think at the time Justin Timberlake had become popular. We wouldn’t have done that because we wouldn’t go for someone who’s a new fashion. We like to be ahead of the fashion or not related to the fashion. Actually, we didn’t plan to use JC Chasez at all. We got a call from him when he was in London and wanted to meet us, but we were busy in the studio. He came down and when he was there, we were working on the ‘Plug It In’ track. And he was like, “Oh, I could sing this”, which he did. We were like, “Wow, that was really good.” We recorded it there and then. After that we were talking to friends and asking if it is really bad to have a guy from ‘N Sync. The thing was, he sounded really good and we really liked his interpretation of the song so we kept it. It was our snobbery really ’cause we always recorded underground [style], and were scared to use a boy band. It worked out well.

We have to agree! JC rocks! Who would you like to work with next?
I don’t know. I suppose that’s a question people often ask. I like working with anyone who’s got a different voice and a different take. We’re at a point now where we might make music for film. I’d like to do a different kind of project. I wouldn’t mind making some surreal comedy sketches and I quite fancy the idea of a cosmic choir, maybe with 200 voices. That sounds interesting to me. Yeah, rather than 1 voice, maybe 200 voices.

Far out! In one of your interviews, you said that remixes for other artists are distractions. Do you still feel the same?
I think the whole remixing thing has changed. Initially we did it to get heard. We [recently] met the guys from Vampire Weekend. They want us to do a song for their new album, so that sounds interesting because they’ve got some interesting elements to their music. Perhaps that one, we might try and do. Generally, I’m less interested now.

Calvin Harris had a little rant on Twitter over bad reviews. As a dance/pop producer what advice can you offer him and what’s the best advise you’ve received?
Well, I met the author Irvine Welsh a couple of years ago; he’s well-respected. He said to me, “I never listen to the reviews. I never read them.” I thought, “Wow.” He said you can read a positive article and then one negative thing at the end will stick to your mind. Most people aren’t worried, unless it becomes a vicious rumour that you’re a cross dresser or a child abuser. But if it’s not something you’re not comfortable with, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve always been getting good reviews, so we’re pretty lucky in that sense. First time had a really bad review was when we put out the Singles album and NME said loads of negative things about it. All these singles have proven to be massive songs and the album was #1 on the charts. I feel completely comfortable with all the work we’ve done and they got someone to give it some tension or didn’t like us [to review it] to make it a more interesting read. So, that kind of review didn’t bother me at all. It has to do with the perspective of the person who’s reviewing it.

How important is music video as an artform?
It’s great to put some visuals to the music that you made. It’s great to work with an interesting director to push that creativity together to do something unique. One thing that’s harder now is, with the music industry, it’s difficult to do big music videos ’cause that costs lots of money. Probably the most expensive videos were made in the beginning of the 80s with Michael Jackson and others, ’cause that’s when there was a lot of money in the music business. Recently with the live shows, we worked with animators from Hungary, UK, Japan and several others.

Monkeys and bears in videos, owls and gorillas on album covers; which one of you is the animal lover and do you have any pets?
From where I’m sitting now in my living room, I can see 5 dogs, a rabbit and a llama. The llama is a really cool animal and when I get some time to settle somewhere, I think I might need some llamas (laughs)…. I’ve always loved animals. I grew up with animals ’cause my family comes from farming background. I want to get a dog at some stage but I do too much traveling at the moment, it won’t be fair.

Not at all. You’ve partied all over the world, but where rates the best and why?
Home is where the heart is and love is where the heart is. It doesn’t really matter ’cause you can be at the shittiest place, but if you were with great people, then it’s cool. I love the sunshine and the sea, but then again, I love the sophistication of big cities like Moscow, Berlin and London. Not sure if I have a favourite, but I love being in the sea if it’s not too cold. Wanna get diving, get down there inside it ’cause it’s a whole different world down there.

And perform in the water?
(Chuckles) In the water? That’s a possibility. It must be quite hard to do. But yeah, I’d like to try it….

Where’s the oddest place Basement Jaxx has performed at?
I really loved the show that we did this year. For the first time in our career, we took the live show out there and we did a big rock festival. We got an amazing reaction that we couldn’t believe, what with it being our first time playing live for the world. Slovakia and Eastern Europe, that was amazing as well. Before we came on, they had a national choir with about 100 people singing traditional Eastern European music. And then we came on after that – which was great! And there’s this other festival in Scotland right next to Loch Ness. Loch Ness is where they have the story of the Loch Ness monster, which we don’t know if it is an existing creature that is meant to be in a lake. We did a gig just in front of it last Summer and that’s beautiful. You could see the crowd looking at the stage and beyond the stage is this lake of water with the mountains on the side in the middle of the hills of Scotland.

Nice. What is your all time favourite Basement Jaxx track?
Oh, that’s a very difficult one. Uhm. It’s very tricky ’cause there are so many different songs and styles. If I were to listen to a song now I’d probably listen to ‘Hot and Cold’. Maybe ‘Don’t Give Up’ too. I probably like the less popular ones ’cause those are the ones that are more private. I like ‘Crazy Girl’. I’ve met some crazy girls, so that rings through to me.

Are you always behind the decks or do you ever get out on the dancefloor?
Yeah I dance. I like dancing! The thing is we don’t DJ that much, so it’s quite special for us. We just did some DJ shows in America. We did Halloween in LA on a big street for a festival with 10,000 people in their Halloween costumes. It’s less pressure DJing, cos when we do live shows, I’m singing and dancing in the crowd. We’re a little more relaxed when we DJ, which is great.

What song does it for ya?
There are a couple of songs. One’s called Emalkay ‘When I Look At You’, a dubstep song. And The Bloody Beetroots’ ‘Warp 1.9’. They’re the club tracks. Besides that, I like to dance to Latin music a lot.

Sexy. Where do you keep your Grammy?
Mine’s on top of my fridge. That way I see it everyday.

Do you clean it?
Actually, no. Maybe I might do it now! It’s Monday morning and it’s time to get things done.

How was your 2009 and in your wildest imaginings what should 2010 be like?
That’s when I need to settle with a lady, maybe buy my dog and my llamas (laughs)…. That’s the time for me to just grow up a tiny bit, become more of an adult. I’m not in any rush to be an adult really and I don’t wanna leave it too late before kids and stuff like that…. Find my inner peace and make a little nest somewhere with someone. Then once the nest is done, I’d like to make a cosmic choir with 200 voices! Yeah, just doing any ambitious stuff without sitting in a box.

Wait, how many llamas again?
I think maybe 3 would be nice. Cos when you’ve got animals, you want them to all get along. It’s awful when you see 2 goldfish in a bowl and they don’t like each other. You have to face each other all the time. You gotta work out some kind of chemistry whereby they are all gonna get along. Actually, sometimes when you get a big dog and a little dog, they get along very well. I don’t know. I’m gonna think about it more. At the moment, I gotta say 3.

If there’s one thing in life you still want to do but haven’t yet done what would that be?
I haven’t jumped out of plane.

Sky diving?
Yup, I’d like to do that. I haven’t seen the Great Wall of China. I would like to go to the Arctic … somewhere really cold and see all the penguins. Space would be nice, of course. Go deep inside the ocean and see little weird creatures with flashing lights on their head…. It must be really scary ’cause we don’t belong there.

Do you dive?
No, but I want to. My plan is to go Malaysia to do it!

Cool! See you underwater!

Future presents Basement Jaxx will rock up KL Live on 2 January 2010. Check Felix and Simon out at www.basementjaxx.net. Thanks to Future Sound Asia for the hook-up! Go say hello to FSA at www.futuresoundasia.com too.

Image Future Sound Asia