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Publication: The Face, Cover Story, June 2001

All your Base Are Belong To Us: Basement Jaxx Attack!

Listen to Rooty. Become a Bongoloid. Get Get down. Basement Jaxx: British house champions leading the disco nation into a whole new summer of Love. Can you feel the force?

Never mind the Daft robot helmets, here's the bolloxx:

'Actually, what's really nice is that before there were similarities in the techniques us and Daft Punk were using. But,' twinkles half-man half jazz beard Felix Buxton, 30, in his rusty see-saw voice, with one hand pointing at the council block outside the studio window and the other at Simon Ratcliffe, who's in the chair, 'it's like they're right over there and now we're right over here!'

Are you aware that Daft Punk would like to 'raise questions' with their music?

'What kind of question is 'One More Time' raising? Like, 'why bother'? I've heard 'Discovery' a couple of of times and it seems very intellectual,' he ponders. 'Music to me is either: you listen to it and feel it, or you don't. It's very much about the concept for Daft Punk. You could compare it to Damien Hirst, who does he does art from an advertising/marketing point of view. Daft Punk do the same.'

Basement Jaxx: very much back on the attack! At least today, in their recording studio in London SW9, they're cocking a Camberwell snook as their cross-channel colleagues rapidly dematerialise up their own conceptual cul-de-sac. In a broader sense, this Wednesday afternoon in April finds them tossing a box of tacks under the wheel of the Judge Jules-manned shiny juggernaut of Dance 2001 and sceeching off back to the south London normality after making as brief a detour as possible via Miami, Ibiza and the VIP end of the charts. Welcome back, Mr and Mr Jaxx: what kept you?

In facct, not that much. 'The album only took a year to make,' points out Simon Ratcliffe. While his partner is on the phone agreeing to a $50,000 for Timbaland to remix of the piquant R&B pulse of their new 'Romeo' single, Ratcliffe is finalising the set list Basement Jaxx are about to trawl across the globe and meekly observing that their new album 'Rooty' 'could be grander. It's got a certain crapness to it.'

'Rooty' could be anything, but it happens to be the concise approximation of what dance music currenly needs. Against the nonplussed 'nice helmets, not sure about the tunes...' consensus that's emerged in the wake of Daft Punk's voyage-into-brainy house 'Discovery', 'Rooty' is a triumph of booty over brain, of roots over 'direction' and instinct over pretence. It took a year to make, features Felix Buxton ‘singing' (in the sense of warbling into a vocoder), and somehow makes coherent sense of the sparring dynamics of house, R&B, soul, reggae and pop in a way which has very little crapness to it whatsoever. Furthermore, in 'Romeo' and the supersonic, Gary Numan-sampling, 'Where's Your Head At?' - essentially an angrier, sillier improvement on Armand Van Helden's 'Koochy' - it respectively contains the summer's sexiest and gnarliest thunderbolts of poppy giga-house.

Being the cure for 2001's ills, namely cynicism, apathy, and stacks of rubbish music everywhere, it ought to have been called 'Remedy'. Unfortunately, Basement Jaxx had already used that name on their last box of audio fireworks - 1999's technicolour house extravaganza which packed, real songs, big basslines, bigger ideas, ska, dancehall, techno flamenco and disco into the best album Marshall Jefferson, Jose Feliciano, Beenie Man and the population of Rio De Janeiro never wrote. With 'Red Alert''s 'don't worry/don't panic' hook as its central motif, 'Remedy' was the jack-to-the-future assurance that everything - phew - was alright. Back in 1999 Basment Jaxx made the world smile broadly and sincerely, and in 2001, the price of a new CD says they'll do it again. What do they think of Remedy now? 'The fact that Remedy was alright, meant with this we didn't think or stress so much,' says Simon, and then scratches his head. Basement jaxx: a bit bored with stuff at the moment!

FELIX Buxton - sometime jazz dancer, ex-Westminster PR - is a very exuberant man, which may have something to do with his dad, a retired vicar 'who's a bit hardcore'. He smiles exuberantly, chats exuberantly and wears exuberant trousers: today it's a pair of jeans with a cat logo where the left bum pocket was, the name of his girlfriend printed on the shin and 'Jaxx' written on the knee. When he met Simon Ratcliffe - trilingual ex-squatter with Wales, America, France and Holland featuring somewhere in his past - almost ten years ago, Felix didn't know 'anything about producing' and so stuck to catering their inaugural sessions instead, bringing currant buns and bananas alongside samples to the studio. Simon, on the other hand, considers himself 'not very technical', though he's able to dig around the audio innards of the sampler to locate the correct frequency that makes the difference between a house track and a Basment Jaxx record. Playing the quality-control buddha to Felix Buxton's fizzy let's-try-this impishness, Simon is the more considered of the pair and concludes every utterance with an unconvinced '...dunno...' while Felix's observations rarely terminate without a perky grin and a least an "!'.

In past twelve months, between banana-carrying and audio-rummaging, they've been striving striving to achieve what every pop star secretly, guiltily covets: a 'normal life'. As the fusillade of Jaxx tunes - 'Fly Life' 'Samba Magic', Rendez-Vu' and 'Red Alert' released through XL records and their own Altantic Jaxx label - wired directly into that zone of the British psyche that just wants to party and act the loon, life became increasingly surreal. 'Rooty' is 'about relationships': their relationships with friends, girlfriend, fame, their audience, themselves, but mainly with the places and things that made them Basement Jaxx in the first place; namely, 'a normal life'.

'That's all we want,' Felix chirps, head buried in a pile of 12-inch record. 'A bit of balance. To do music, you need to settle and just be… a human being!'

'It's nice to get back to normality,' adds Simon Ratclliffe. 'We had a nice routine recording 'Rooty': started at about ten in the moring, worked till about nine at night, didn't work late, kept weekends free, went to the pub and the cinema. It was... nice.' 

By way of a relationship with normal life, over Easter, Simon and Felix visted their parents. Felix's dad was impressed with (or at least considered 'more like music') 'Broken Dreams' and 'All I Know', the final songs to be completed for 'Rooty', which his son had brought up to Ibstock, Leicestershire. At the very least, the clergy are officially 'on board': now for the rest of the population.

Simon: our relationship has definitely got a lot easier. We're less uptight, respect each other's opinions and trust each other more

Did you feel 'the pressure'?

Simon: less than on 'Remedy'. Then, we were going to be launched into the mainstream. We wanted to do something different and we weren't sure what we were supposed to be

What have you done with the Jaxx zillions?

Simon: We haven't made any yet. [Brightening] We've been told that's on the second album...

Do you feel like dance music celebs now?

Felix: Not as much as Pete Tong and Judge Jules we aren't! They're enormous!

But you have a public face: the world recognises your characteristic facial hair and idiosyncratic headgear...

Felix: It's slightly embarrassing to be a DJ and have a magazine says, 'this person is an amazing DJ', unless you're Cutmaster Swift or someone who does something really radical. Just playing records isn't worth celebrity, unless you're moving people to such levels of delight that it's incredible

The world is filling up with dreadful music...

Felix: It's terrible, innit? I really feel there's loads of crap music out there, particularly in dance music. Just loads of progressive house trance breakbeat rubbish, which all sounds the same. In the middle of the album I hadn't heard any good music and was really, really doing my head in.

Simon: I've been not been aware of much music really. PJ Harvey's album, Radiohead, some techno, some reggae... Record shops have been so disappointing. I spend a fortune, get home and realise three quarters of what I've bought is rubbish. Everyone is just desperate for something to be excited about...

The Miami's most notable event this year was a boat party which drew complaints from the vessel's owner. What actually happened?

Simon: not much...

Felix: It was just a party and some music. [Shrugs]. Miami was pretty dull this year. People were like, 'it's crap here' There was nothing going on, no interesting music. You read magazines and think 'hang on, I was there - it wasn't like that?' You read about all these supposedly amazing people doing these glamorous things that go on...

Do you feel part of the huge, evergrowing dance music conglomerate that rules from the centre of Judge Jules's email outbox?

Felix: Not really. Definitely with Armand, Roger, Sneak, Daft Punk and all those people, we felt part of their thing. They showed us loads of enthusiasm.

Simon: It was wicked. In England, people weren't like that.

Felix: we used to go into Black Market records in Soho it was all [adopts super-snooty record shop attitude] 'No, we sell mainly US stuff here mate yeah?'. All the big players, the Judge Juleses, it's a big shiny business they're running. It kind of misses the point. Maybe they just wanna make loads of cash. You can work in the city or become a big house DJ: it's all the same. Art shouldn't be corporate. We've DJed at these events which are put together so our track would be played on Tongy's Essential selection, and then hopefully Oakey and Blokey and the other blokey will get into it. We know people and we say hello to people and not become part of the whole thing. We've been quite lucky. We want to do our own thing and if someone does sometheing we're into, we'll say so. But we're not going to become their best mate...

KEY to the experience of 'Rooty - The Album', is 'Rooty - The Club/Micro-rave/piss-up/love-in/circus/test bed where, on monthly Saturdays in a pub situated in a district of Brixton that you won't see featured in wallpaper* too often, little in the the way of music made from an advertising/marketing perspective makes the playlist. Past the decomposing Brixtonians who haven't the faintest why their boozer is beseiged by armies of googly-eyed young people on a monthly basis and into the inner room, on an average evening 200 or so people collectively aerobicise themselves with an enthusiasm bordering on the certifiable under a slapdash banner bearing the word 'Rooty'. At the decks, Felix and Simon are marshalling old-skool house trax into searing bassline garage joints like DJ Zinc's '138 Trek', as Rooty's co-promoters and DJs Tayo and Frank Tope scan churning crowd and await their turn. Each time a Jaxx tune drops - established anthem or freshly-aired production alike - it's met with a tangible hike in the dancelfoor's intensity, not to mention a deafening gale of cheering and whooping.

It's with the assistance of, in tribute to and for the greater glory of the Bongoloids that Rooty (both versions) exists: the ravers, singers, dancers, freaks and househeads who've gathered in Basement Jaxx's assortment of activites with all the unselfconscious enthusiasm a church fete.

'They're the British Ongoloids,' winks Felix, who's still a member of Armand Van Helden's treminally inoperative Mongoloid 'project'. But more than that, they're an on-the-doorstep talent pool that's the vindication of the Simon and Felilx's rave locally/chart globally manifesto. Beside's Kele Le Roc's (who sings 'Romeo') Rooty features no A-list stars of the dance world, but tons of local folk instead. 'Where's your Head At' features Camberwell rapper Damian, whom they encouraged to do 'loads of shouting' when he came to their studio, and which ended up being 'alright'. An 11-year-old called Ronald Regan and his mate Neil sing on 'Romeo''s scorching B-side 'Bongoloid', while Sha from Bournemouth sings on the wistful 'Broken Dreams', while Mandy from Camberwell, who tapped Felix on the shoulder in Portobello Market one day and ended up taking the lead on house orgasmathon 'Get Me Off'. The Bongoloids: a vibesy brigade of raw talent you're less likely to have seen on TV than queued behind in McDonalds.

Conceivably Doing more good for their community than the whole of Lambeth council's health budget, Felix and Simon tempered the excitement/relieved the bordeom of the year's recording by producing an album for singing painter & decorator Ronnie Richards, alongside singles for friends Gwyn Jay Allen and the late Phil Linton. 'Interesting projects,' reflects. Flelix, 'They're just... nice songs! They not anti-trendy. We've got a label, so why not put thing like that out? That’s what Bongoloid means: we're showing love to other human beings, rather than being too stuck into the rat race and the dog-eat-dog, man-eat-man, cannibal-eat-cannibal thing.'

At some point in the future, Felix and Simon may sever all ties with the geezerish dance world, rename themselves Tom and Barbara and launch their own agrarian wholefood music, arts, and dance community workshop. Until then, 'Rooty' remains sound of local SW9 soul, human spirit and noise alchemised into pinballing house music, whose place of origin is equdistant between your local pirate and Radio 'On' 1. In the buzzsaw frequencies of 'Crazy Girl''s bassline, the unrestrained hollering of the napalm-lobbing 'Where's Your Head At' and the staccato abandon of 'Breakaway', Felix & Simon have made the least conspitated album in yonks, and did so merely by fiddling about in their back yard for a years while everyeone else was attempting to 'make statements', realign the planets, reinvent the wheel etc.

Now for the bad news: it was once observed that Basement Jaxx had 'fucked dance music in the ass.' Now, in their own small way, they're now doing the same to clubland. By The time you read this, Rooty will be finished, a victim of the punsihing schedule necessitated by the international Stage II Jaxx rollout. Prior to Rooty they ran their eponymous club in a different, though no more varnished location of Brixton. A victim of Basment Jaxx's success, 1999's best secret club lost the 'secret' bit overnight when The Face ran an article on it. Partly to avoid the death-by-trendification happening again, they're terminating Rooty early:

'Rooty started as a low-pressure, a casual thing just to DJ at,' recalls Felix. 'All of a sudden it was [pulls hysterical face] Basement Jaxx are doing a night!!! 'It's not completely our thing.’

'To begin with I saw it as more and deep and together, and now it's a bit more, 'Wahey!!!!' adds Simon. 'Dunno... It's less deep... It's a good time and it's fun but... It's a bit more tops-off.'

As clubbing becomes increasingly corporate the obvious irony of Ministry's planned summer event at Knebworh (dance: definitely the new rock music) is the perfect reason to cherish the rare compromise of 'deep' and 'tops-off' that Rooty struck, and the inimacy shared by dance superstars and their local audience.

Pulling an enthusiastic crowd seems a daft reason to stop an event... 'That's good as well,' says Felix, 'but if it's the 'wahey' thing is what's firing, it's harder to do something subtle. That's what drew me to deep house in the first place - it's the opposite of that lager lager lager, boys-going-out thing. It was reflective and beautiful and sensitive.’

Rooty was hardly Gatecrasher though...

Felix: 'It's probably not far off. No, it's good. It's all about having a good party. But at the end there were trendy London People going, 'yeah this is the place to go,' and that's always dangerous. You can sense it was like [folds arms] 'Impress me'

Basement Jaxx: shutting up shop in the name of 'art'. Respect!

It's lunchtime. Basement Jaxx are in Rock Steady Eddie's, a rock'n'roll themed café on Coldharbour lane. Eddie himself is a man who clearly missed his vocation, behind the mic on the stand-up circuit. 'I'd like to propose a toast,' the swarthy bloke beside the formica table deadpans, and then produces a plate of toast and place it next to the European chip mountain on Felix's plate.

In his downtime - if any every arrives, that is - Simon would like to make a film of this place, to record the tableaux of Camberwell life, Eddie's vast repertoire of gags and possibly a cameo from the Transylvanian hairdresser who works next door.

You can tell Basment Jaxx miss this - 'Pure Camberwell', as Simon explains it, the essence of local life in its dog-eared grittiness, buses pulling noisily off in the day, car stereos thumping past in the night, the very soul of the city available for sampling 24/7. Last year, Felix and Simon released the Camberwell EP - four tracks of pneumatic, rave-edged house, the best of which is on THE FACE's cover CD - under their Banana Kru nom de tune. Though the the two fuse increasingly into one sound, the underbelly to the 'certain sophistication' that's suffuses Basement Jaxx tracks is the 'pure Camberwell' of Banana Kru marterial. 'Bongoloid is very Camberwellian,' says Simon, 'very fierce and nasty.'

As their project balloons into an international music biz carousel, Simon and Felix increasingly removed from the anti-gamour of scary inner city London that so crucially informs their gameplan. In particular this appears to be an issue with Simon. His favourite tracks from 'Rooty, the angular spasmo-house 'I Want You', is Basement Jaxx at their least affable and most defiantlyanti-cool. He's currently reading 'The First and Last Freedom' by J.Krishnamurti', an Indian guru, in an attempt to find answers...

‘Being in the music business and stuff, for me, some of the romance of music has gone. But there's no point being miserable about it. When this is over I'd like to disappear for a few months. I feel more bouyant than I did a couple of months ago, questioning how much I wanted to do this anymore. I'm lucky to be doing what I do. If it ever really makes me unhappy, I'll be honest with myself and Felix, and I'll stop.’

Your music owes its spark to Camberwell...

Simon: When we're making music, a lot of the time we don't know where we're going. We're just trying to turn a cacophony into a melody.

That's art, right? Isn't everyone in it for the money these days?

Felix: Daft Punk could have made pots of cash, because theirs is quite a poppy sound. So hopefully, they'd try to do something a bit more off

Simon: they've always been about a concept. The music has always been little part of the whole thing. [Instantly revived] But it's all fantasy! When we started, we didn't want to be known as who we were: we wanted to be fat Puerto Riocan guys: that's why we didn't show our faces and called the label Atlantic Jaxx. Just using imagination to create something... Basement Jaxx the entity is more important to us than us as individuals.

You're as bad as Daft Punk...

Simon: You don't want too much reality. Or maybe you want to communicate reality through fantasy

As the reality recedes, so the fantasy grows. Once, marooned for two days at an airpot in Turkey, they killed time by making theu own Jaxxploitation movie on on Simon's camcorder, a gay horror spoof featuring Felix's girlfriend and their tour manager. Who needs reality when you've got imagingation? That’s Basement Jaxx all over: alchemising plain normality into the kind of fantasy where it’s forever summer, your bedroom is Ipenema beach and everyone’s a Bongoloid. Bring your dreams to their party.

© Kevin Braddock 2001

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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