Basement Jaxx: Getting it together
The electronic/dance duo accentuate the positive on their new album
Basement Jaxx: ‘We need to do things that inspire us’
After just half an hour of chatting to Felix Buxton, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Basement Jaxx global success has caused him to lose the run of himself, or even that working with Yoko Ono on 2009’s Scars has turned him into a paragon of peace and hippy-dippy love.
In reality, the half of the genre-defining electronic/dance duo who writes the lyrics has always been a positive thinker, ever since his days as an “acid house kid in 1988”. Junto, the seventh studio album by Buxton and his partner-in-chime, Simon Ratcliffe, draws from that well more deeply than ever before.
The clue is in the title, which is Spanish for “together”.
“It’s realising the togetherness of us and any other human being, and us and nature; realising the connection in things,” Buxton states, on the line from his London home.
“In Power to the People, it says: ‘Can’t you see child, everything is connected/Every breath is significant, each action precious’ and ‘We’re so needy, greedy, let’s make it happen/ If we come together, we can do something amazing.’ I was very conscious to try and do something very positive – and we were both up for that, because of where we started with Basement Jaxx: to ensure that we’re making a positive statement, because there’s so much negative stuff in the world.”
Another, more unusual experience also informs some of the album’s lyrics ( on We Are Not Alone, for example). Sure, admitting that you’ve seen a UFO potentially leaves you open to being seen as a “complete madman”, but Buxton is adamant about what he saw from his studio during the album’s recording. He claims that it made him – the son of a vicar – “reconsider both my own ideas about spirituality and stuff, as well as challenge other people’s”.
“We moved to the new studio at King’s Cross a couple of years ago, and we were really, okay, new start, next chapter. A couple of weeks after being there, one afternoon I looked out the window and there was something sitting in the middle of the sky that looked like a flying saucer, right over the middle of London. There was a singer with me and we were having a cup of tea, so we got our cameras and phones out and filmed it a bit.
“It ended up just being grey splodges; there’s not enough definition when you blow it up. For me, it looked like a flying saucer. It didn’t look like anything else.”
Basement Jaxx have been hitherto mostly known for dance and electronic gems such as Where’s Your Head At, Jus 1 Kiss, Romeo and Red Alert. Recently they’ve taken a more mellow approach. 2010’s Zephyr, a collection written around the same time as Scars, was packed with mellow, chilled-out tunes. Junto is not quite as laid back, but like them it’s dripping reflective positivity.
Part of that, Buxton explains, was getting away from the grind of Basement Jaxx. He spent time working on a youth project while Ratcliffe took up long-distance swimming. They also worked with a diverse group of non-showbiz collaborators, including a Paraguayan orchestra and some little-known vocalists. And working on other projects, including creating the scores for The Hooping Life and Attack the Block, as well as collaborating with Dutch jazz/pop orchestra Metropole Orkest, has kept their creative synapses firing.
“I think it was quite good as an exercise, because you can’t be precious,” Buxton says of their soundtracking experiences. “We did some very complex music for some scenes, but then it ends up being kind of muted, or pushed to the background. Or they end up saying ‘It’s better having dialogue, no music in this scene’. It kind of puts you in your place, which I think is healthy. I see doing music as anyone else who has a job: you have a role to fulfil and you can’t get all precious and let your ego rule the day.”
Because they had kept their creative juices bubbling, it wasn’t difficult to get back in the mindset of doing a new Basement Jaxx album, even if it had been years since their last batch of songs was written.
“I don’t know if we ever really stopped. I mean, we definitely took a pause after Scars, and spent time at home and seeing friends and family and trying to reconnect to being human again, rather than just running around the world all the time.
“Mermaid of Salinas was probably written around three years ago, but it didn’t seem like the sort of thing that you could play in a club, because that wasn’t acceptable: everything was either very minimal or very noisy. EDM was starting to rear its head,so no one was interested in a Latin track. Then maybe a year ago, with DJing, people were starting to produce tracks and put stuff out that had more of a musical flavour. It seemed acceptable again. So it was like, okay, that means we can fit in somewhere, we’re allowed to do it again. People are particular about what they listen to, and the fashion, and you have to wait for them to change their minds.
“It’ll happen,” he adds, chuckling. “But sometimes you have to wait for ages.”
Having worked with such big names as Ono, Dizzee Rascal, Siouxie Sioux, Robyn and Lily Allen, they made a deliberate decision not to put any superstar vocals onto Junto.
“So much of pop music now has become really contrived and manipulated,” Buxton says, “and everyone’s featuring everyone to try and have ‘impact’ on their markets. It seems more like Wall Street and the advertising industry have got together and decided to make a song. To me, that jars completely with the artistic nature of what music should be.
“So we made a decision at the beginning of the album to not try and feature any names, to just try and make it about the music; not dress it up, not put loads of icing on it, and just say this is honest, sincere music.
“I suppose it is being slightly anti-celebrity culture, too, which I always have been – it’s a nonsense. I think it’s important for kids to have role models, but I think teachers should be role models rather than some idiots dressed up.”
The theme of togetherness may run through both the album and through the Jaxx’s two-decade-strong partnership, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will continue to make albums for another 20 years. Dipping their toes into other projects has apparently given them a taste for broadening their horizons.
“I said to Simon that we should have a meeting in November and work out what to do next. I know he’s keen to do more stuff for film, and that’s something I’m interested in. I definitely want to do a musical and take the stuff we did with the Metropole Orkest further, and Simon said he’d be up for helping with the music for that. I always wanted to do fashion designing, too, and there is a guy who’d do a range of clothing with me.
“But I dunno. For me, it’s not about making lots more content – it’s just about making some really good content. I think that’s where we need to get to in modern culture now, because everyone’s obsessed with having loads of content, and we just don’t need it.
“We need good things, purposeful things, things with meaning that inspire us to do something useful. So we’ll see. “