Since starting life as underground producers and party promoters in 1995, putting out their first tracks on shrink-wrapped vinyl and throwing hush-hush raves in abandoned South London pizza joints, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton, collectively known as Basement Jaxx, have taken the sound of London, SW9 to the world. With album sales of more than 3 million under their belt including their legendary debut album “Remedy” and 2005’s double-platinum UK No.1 collection “The Singles”, Basement Jaxx have also developed into a remarkable live act – an all-out sensory assault featuring live musicians, an army of singers and dazzling visuals which has graced The Hollywood Bowl (twice), rocked 30,000 party people in Hyde Park in Central London and headlined both the Main Stage & The Other Stage (twice) at Glastonbury. Alongside this, the Jaxx have consistently explored other musical avenues including a (then) unique album collaboration with the Netherland’s Metropole Orkest (“Basement Jaxx Vs. Metropole Orkest”) which had it’s UK live debut at the Barbican in London in 2011; the first Basement Jaxx movie score, for Joe Cornish’s “Attack The Block”; and 2014’s collaborative song project, “Power To The People”.
When you’re rearranging Basement Jaxx songs for an orchestra, does your opinion on the songs themselves change in the process?
Well, the first arrangement that we did [the album Basement Jaxx vs. Metropole Orkest] was in 2011. I was working with conductor Jules Buckley and I said to him, “I don’t want to just do a dance song with strings playing on it.” So, the aim was to actually reimagine the music and make it its own thing. And to get down to the actual base of the song, you have to [capture] all the colors and the textures. That’s about really doing something new, rather than just doing it for nostalgia’s sake, and I think Jules did that.
Is it sometimes a difficult process, seeing things change?
I think it’s great seeing change. I mean change, isn’t that what life is? Everything is changing…Conversations, friends: everything changes. It never stays the same. All you have to do is try and hold onto whatever that first thing is; that first spark. You have to make sure it still feels alive, still true, and still important to you. I’m not scared of change. I mean, that’s DJing, actually. You’re always very keen to get new remixes by people out there; versions of your songs from new DJs. It’s interesting to hear what they do and to get their take on it.
What are your own listening habits these days?
I listen to anything. The only thing I don’t listen to is pop music. I’ve never really followed pop music very much. It all seemed a bit fake to me. But I’ll listen to jazz, Tibetan folk songs, lute music… I think it probably just comes from working in music. You come to realize that actually music just sounds; just movement. So everything is music, really. Whenever you hear someone talking to you, or sounds of nature, or wind, that’s techno. I think that’s part of the trick of life: getting to hear music in everything.
Do you think the internet and streaming have made it easier to listen widely then?
Why 1999 Is One Of The Most Important (And Underrated) Years In Dance Music
I do want to go on Spotify, but I haven’t got there yet. But, when I get to a country, I’ll always buy some of the local music. I’ll go record shopping. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone and actually appreciate something that isn’t from your heritage, or in the current fashion or whatever.
It does feel like that’s a beautiful way to discover things about yourself. You can hear something new and you can go, “Yeah, I didn’t think I was the kind of person who liked this, but I love it.”
Yeah, but you can also learn to be the kind of person who likes anything. Actually, if you learn to enjoy something you thought was awful, you’re not suffering, and you’re actually happy and alive. But the taste is interesting. It’s my experience that we all have a fundamental note. That note is different for every person: maybe you might be an F sharp, near the middle range. And if you hear a pure tone like that, a pure sound, it makes you very happy. Something in you will resonate.
Did you find that you were always this open-minded about music, or is that something that’s changed over the years?
I think when I was DJing in the beginning, I was a purist. I’m definitely more open in that way now. I was very anti what we were being fed by the system; the music that we were told was new and special. Which was why it was awesome to be in control of the music that I was listening to, away from the very narrow-minded culture. But I really believed that club and electro was a very pure form of music. It was very much about going into a new city and breaking down barriers and connecting with audiences, or buying new music from new techno acts. It was all of these things that seem very basic. And the music itself was basic, but it was done in a very raw way.
I often feel when a new sound emerges or a new band emerges, you can very protective. Like, you want desperately to protect the heart of the thing that you love.
Anything pure and authentic can get destroyed so easily in this world. It can get shaped by people. As an artist, you can worry about that. You can worry about a lot of things. You start worrying about what people think and whether they like you or not, and then you can end up on a therapist’s couch.
Over the years, what is the biggest thing you’ve learned?
All the ideas of celebrity and fame that people learn are definitely shallow and empty. I never really intended to get to know that word but I’ve gotten to see it. When I was a student, all my cynicism about celebrity culture was all absolutely bang on and I’m right back to where I was as a student – it’s all a load of nonsense. Please, all you students: don’t waste your time on it. Go and make your own things and to a certain extent just ignore the media. It leads to dissatisfaction, envy, just loads of things that don’t make you happier and life can be amazing.