New Jaxx Swing: Basement Jaxx
The London outfit Basement Jaxx – Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe – never imagined that they would become pop stars until their debut album, Remedy, blew up globally. These unlikely icons invariably found themselves committing more time to promotion than their music – a frustrating scenario. Eventually the pair took a hiatus to reflect on their success. They rejuvenated themselves. They then started to plot their next outing.
At this moment Basement Jaxx are in a train, travelling through Germany, promoting Rooty. Felix Buxton is the one with the ruffled hair, beard and glasses and he is on a mobile phone. He is a whimsical character who talks readily and freely. Felix likewise has a certain innocence about him – something he no doubt acquired from growing up in a vicarage.
Felix concedes that there were occasions when Basement Jaxx felt overwhelmed by their status – but not necessarily in a negative way. “It’s all been great,” he enthuses. “I mean, doing Glastonbury in England, we closed that on the Sunday of last August and that was incredible. There were about 30 000 people. David Bowie was on the other stage. We were on the second stage and it just really went off, just everyone was going crazy, the atmosphere was so strong – and then it was like, Wow, we’ve really come a long way. But it was good, I’m so glad we did it. It really was an amazing experience and people really enjoyed the show – and so that’s great. So definitely we’ve achieved something and got somewhere.”
Basement Jaxx originally ran an eponymous club night in their Brixton neighbourhood but ultimately called it a day – it had become way too fashionable after a write-up in The Face. When the pair finished touring behind Remedy, they inaugurated a second club, Rooty, in an Irish pub. Rooty allowed Basement Jaxx to go back underground. Felix even took it on himself to design the fliers and posters and paint the banners. Now that the word is out, they have again pulled it. “Part of the reason that we called it Rooty was that it wasn’t a Basement Jaxx club. I set it up with a couple of friends, so I said to them, We’ll go and play there, but we won’t advertise Basement Jaxx, we’ll just tell people we know and friends. And, for us, it was just a way to have a party again without all the big Basement Jaxx thing, ‘cause that makes more pressure for us. We just wanted to go in the studio and once a month have a little party where we meet friends, we can play any new records we hear that we think are good, and then we can test out anything else as well. So we were testing out tracks for Rooty.”
There will always be those house heads who claim that Basement Jaxx conjured up their best music before Remedy. Buxton and Ratcliffe launched their underground label, Atlantic Jaxx Records, in 1994, and delivered classics like ‘Samba Magic’ and ‘Flylife’. They won over the American fraternity – with their records supported by respected figures like Tony Humphries, Masters At Work and Derrick May. Inevitably the two attracted interest from the major labels when ‘Flylife’, picked up by Multiply, cracked the British charts. Basement Jaxx signed to XL Recordings. In 1999 the duo unleashed Remedy, home to singles like ‘Red Alert’, ‘Rendez-Vu’, ‘Jump ‘N’ Shout’ and ‘Bingo Bango’.
Late last year Basement Jaxx disseminated the Camberwell EP under the Banana Kru alias on Atlantic Jaxx. It was very low-key, creating a mild stir in the scene – which is just what Basement Jaxx desired. Now we have the follow-up to Remedy, Rooty, a year in the making. “With this album, working together was a lot easier, I think,” says Felix, ”’cause on Remedy we learned how to work together. There was more tension with Remedy just ‘cause we were really worried and analytical about everything we did with the album. We didn’t know what people expected, what we wanted to hear, and there were just so many questions, and we didn’t know all the answers, so we were stressing a lot. This time we were just a lot more confident.”
The first single, ‘Romeo’, owes as much to the two-step garage phenom as Timbaland’s futuristic urban beats. If some feel that Basement Jaxx delving into UK garage is opportunistic, then such a charge is unjustifiable as the duo actually pre-empted it with their brand of ragga-house. Basement Jaxx recruited UK hip-hop soul sista Kele Le Roc – who was unwisely dropped by Universal a year ago – for ‘Romeo’ after she gave them props on a radio show. At any rate, Basement Jaxx are big fans of two-step – they span it in their DJ sets at Rooty. “I like it just ‘cause it’s a young fresh scene and it’s got energy in it and some of it’s got a kinda punky, ragga sort of feel to it, which I like. I mean, there’s not that many good artists, but it’s like hardcore and rave and jungle used to be. There’s not really any artists, but there’s enthusiasm and people pushing the boundaries and doing anything, just because they wanna jump around and dance and enjoy the basslines.”
Rooty is a trip – it’s post-punk garage. The LP is both more poppy and more avant garde than Remedy, a strange contradictory quality it shares with Daft Punk’s second album. Essentially Rooty is even more willfully diverse than its predecessor, traversing everything from Princey funk (‘Breakaway’, ‘SFM’) to French touch (‘Broken Dreams’) to postmodern punk (‘Where’s Your Head At’). Apparently Janet Jackson personally invited Basement Jaxx to pen her a song, but when they submitted the erotic rave anthem ‘Get Me Off’ she turned it down. Her loss. As with Remedy, Rooty presents cameos by Basement Jaxx allies Derrick Carter, who waxes lyrical on ‘Freakalude’, and Erick Morillo and Junior Sanchez, who contribute to the mayhem of ‘Where’s Your Head At’. Felix regards Rooty as “more intimate” and “more personal” than the “global” Remedy. “I feel it’s kinda closer to the Basement Jaxx world in a way.”
Felix is chuffed that Rooty is being compared to Prince – one of Simon’s favourite artists. “I think there’s definitely something in common – there’s a kinda freaky, funky thing going on, which is good because we kinda celebrate freakiness and the individuality of people. If you see the album cover, that’s got an albino gorilla on it – the only albino gorilla known to man on this planet – and he looks wicked and he’s beautiful and he’s different and he’s strange and he’s interesting, but we’re kinda celebrating all that probably because we do mixed styles and we’re not really worried about boundaries.”
When Basement Jaxx were being interviewed about Remedy Felix would frequently lament his unhappy love life – which has obviously influenced the relationship themes of their music. He has now been with his current girlfriend for two years. “I’ve found my lady, so the only problem is that now you’re only allowed to have one lady for life and there’s so many lovable women, I just find it difficult!”
Rooty is out through Remote Control/Shock.