Basement Jaxx‘s comeback may not spark the same mania as Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories, but Junto (Spanish for ‘together’) is totally in-sync with partyland’s rediscovery of deeper, groovier house music. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, whose partnership began as DJs in Brixton in the mid-’90s, have kept their trademark quirkiness. Junto is effervescent and festive.
“We’re still alive – so that’s good,” laughs Buxton, the combo’s extrovert. “We’re lucky that what we started doing has become fashionable again.” For a generation, Basement Jaxx provided an entry point into dance music culture, with the duo adding a UK twist to US house, techno and garage, while impressing the music’s traditionally protective forefathers, like techno icon Derrick May.
The Jaxx became live festival favourites, and even won a Grammy, but were eventually sidelined by the EDM revolution. However, amid a growing backlash to EDM’s commercialism, they’re more relevant than ever. Music Feeds recently caught up with Buxton to get the scoop on the duo’s industrious ‘hiatus’, mainstream culture, the paranormal and the Jaxx’s Australian touring plans.
Music Feeds: Junto will show Rudimental and Disclosure who’s boss – it fits in so well with Britain’s future garage scene. Are you trying to reclaim territory?
Felix Buxton: No, we’re not trying to show anyone who’s boss [laughs] We’re very happy for Rudimental and Disclosure and everybody… It’s not about us – it’s about everybody making their expression. Rudimental came with us onstage just recently. People always dress up as gorillas during Where’s Your Head At and they came on and did that, so they were really chuffed to bits!
MF: The one act you have referenced in Junto press releases is Baauer, through his hit Harlem Shake. We can’t hear the influence!
FB: It wasn’t really just Baauer specifically – it was more like trap music. I think they probably mentioned Baauer just because he was one that people have heard of [laughs] But we’ve always been interested in new kind of derivatives of the bass music scene – whether it’s drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, trap, whatever stuck.
I mean, they give it new names all the time, [but] it’s all more or less the same stuff. It’s a bit of bass and it’s a bit more hip-hoppy… So that stuff is always on our radar. We’re DJing – often we’d play stuff from that scene or footwork music from Chicago – it doesn’t matter. I don’t see any of it as radically different. It’s not like we only listen to house music.
I don’t think anyone should ever do that – that’s very small-minded. I listen to classical, opera, Indonesian gamelan music, African, Turkish, Iranian, and yeah, bits of hip-hop and R&B and stuff like that as well.
Watch: Basement Jaxx feat ETML – Never Say Never
MF: It seems like ages since Scars and Zephyr came out, but in the interim you did an orchestral album and some film scoring. Was it that you wanted time out and were actively seeking new challenges or did those projects just pop up?
FB: We knew that we wanted to just kind of take the foot off the gas. We’d been in the game for a long time and we didn’t wanna become jaded and cynical. The thing is, old bands can get very grumpy and they complain about touring and stuff like that. It’s like, well, you’re very lucky – if you don’t wanna do it, don’t do it!
So I think we were protecting ourselves from becoming like that. The orchestral idea came up just because [conductor] Jules Buckley approached us and said, ‘Would you be up for doing an orchestral project?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write some classical music, so that would be a great opportunity to do it.’
But it was just to maybe forget about touring and putting out albums and work out the next step. We didn’t know if we were going to do another album or not. It might have been that Simon said, ‘I wanna go and become a fisherman’ or something like that. Who knows?
We thought we’d give each other breathing space, pick up the remnants of our past relationships and that kinda thing and try to become human again.
MF: Scars’ song Twerk with Yo Majesty was very prophetic because now you have Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus fighting over who ‘invented’ twerking. There’s a “twerk-bot,” too, in the Never Say Never video. What do you think of twerking becoming so mainstream now?
FB: The mainstream – people always get excited and upset about things, which seems like an absolute irrelevance. The thing is, if you know about stuff, when it comes from a scene, it’s like what the mainstream goes on about is nonsense. It never really bothered me. It’s such a small, closed-minded approach to things, generally, anyway – so, yeah, that’s never really interested me.
MF: On Junto you’ve largely worked with cutting-edge names like ETML, who sings Never Say Never. How did you A&R this record?
FB: Pop music is so kinda contrived now. Everyone’s ‘featuring’ everyone else, trying to get success. It just seemed like, well, we need to get back to the core of what Basement Jaxx was about. It wasn’t about individuals – it was about creating some music that spoke about a collective experience and about different voices – and looking for honesty and sincerity, really.
With ETML, the fact that he hasn’t been out in the world that much, his voice spoke to us – he seemed sincere. That’s all we’re looking for. It can be anyone, any age, any style – it doesn’t really matter. But I think that’s become harder and harder to find because everyone’s so media-savvy and kind of manipulating themselves to fit into this mass machine.
We just found him – that was through [industry type] Nick Worthington, who helped us with the record. Patricia Panther, who does the rap on Summer Dem, I was at the Edinburgh Art Festival and she recognised me in the street. I think she was doing some radio thing at the time and asked me to do an interview.
I stayed in contact and then, doing Summer Dem, I just thought it’d be great to have a rap – but rap has become so kinda tired and cliched, it’s to have it in a way that sounds fresh. I thought, ‘Well, Scottish rap – I can’t think I’ve ever heard any?’ So that seemed like a good starting point!
Watch: Basement Jaxx – Unicorn
MF: You cut Buffalo with Mykki Blanco, who also turns up on Tricky’s new album, Adrian Thaws.
FB: That was very much to do with a friend, Graeme Sinden, who’s a DJ and producer. I first met him ’cause he was working in a clothes shop in London. I wanted to get a warm-up DJ for the party I was doing in Brixton and the best music I’d heard was actually in that clothes shop. I’d always go in there and I’d never buy any clothes, but I’d talk to this guy about the music there.
I thought, ‘Well, that’s good.’ I phoned him up and said, ‘Have you ever DJed?’ Would he like to come and be my warm-up DJ? We could try it twice and see how it goes [laughs] He said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ So now Graeme is a producer, he’s a DJ, and he was in LA and he said, ‘Oh, there’s this singer Mykki who’s really great.’
I heard his/her voice and thought, ‘Okay, for Buffalo it’d be great to have something and I like where he/she was coming from.’ That was the one track that was done on the album where we weren’t actually in the studio [together] – so it was kind of an email, sending back and forth [process].
I was trying with Buffalo, to evoke the spirit of the original Native American Mother Earth spirit and the buffalo is kinda like a symbol of nobility of Native American Indians – that was my mindset on that one.
MF: Talking of mystical experiences, we’ve read the story about how you saw a UFO.
FB: Well, I don’t try to know what it was. I saw something. I wish I could see it again! I constantly look up to the sky now and see things – which is good. I think generally looking up to the sky is a really positive thing to do – and it’s good for people ’cause people look down too much, anyway.
But, yeah, it was the middle of the afternoon. I was with this singer – we were having a cup of tea. It was just something sitting right there in the middle of the sky – it looked like a flying saucer – and so me and her got our phones out and filmed it. Unfortunately, blowing it up, it’s just like grey splodge. But that was it. What it is, I don’t know. But I do believe definitely in life on other planets.
I believe in whole spiritual dimensions – and I think a lot of things we worry about, we’re just being exceptionally narrow-minded. I think the human experience is far wider than we imagine. Some people are into intuition or getting in contact with ancestors – I believe in all that stuff. I believe in ghosts, I believe in angels… I love the fact that there’s this whole other level of things.
To me, it makes life complete and makes it meaningful – because if it is just X Factor and going to work and day-to-day, we might as well all top ourselves. I think the spiritual dimension of being human is so important because that’s what makes it happy and gives us reason to live. There’s lots of stuff out there. It’s like anything – it’s like religion as a whole, you have to kinda take from it.
There’s good in everything. I believe in all religions, really. It’s just the man-made structures around them that can make them evil enterprises and make people say, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this for God’ – which is a nonsense thing to say. Speaking on behalf of the greatest power in the universe or whatever is very arrogant, I think, of anyone to do that. But I believe everything is one.
MF: What are your tour plans for Junto in Australia?
FB: I’m really hoping that we can come in February and do some shows. We just did Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and then Camp Bestival – we headlined that here in the UK – and we had a whole load of people on stage. But I’d love to bring the whole load of people down to Australia as well!
Watch: Basement Jaxx – Galactical
Basement Jaxx’s seventh album, ‘Junto’, will be released in Australia on Friday, 22nd August.