“You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong.” This is a lyric from the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! It is sung by the titular heroine to a group of acrobatic waiters as they lead her into their restaurant. It could just as happily apply to dance music veterans Basement Jaxx. I am on the set of the video for their new single ‘Hush Boy’, the kind of cheekily euphoric pop record with which their name has long been synonymous. The shoot is taking place in Marco Pierre White’s now defunct restaurant, Titanic. I walk down the stairs and in to a cluster of young men dressed to look like Dolly’s cartwheeling escorts- all greased side-partings, cropped red jackets and ludicrous facial hair. Elsewhere amongst the flapper girls and art-deco fixtures are Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, the Jaxx, 12 years in the game and still going strong.
By any account last year was a triumph for Basement Jaxx. They sold 800,000 copies of their ‘Singles’ collection, headlined Glastonbury and won a Grammy. “What was funny was that we only made two songs, but had more success than ever,” explains Buxton, the band’s bearded and bespectacled livewire. After a big tour and a greatest hits package it is not unusual for successful bands, rich and running out of ideas, to call it a day. Basement Jaxx went straight back to the studio. “The ‘Singles’ album helped a lot of people realise that ‘Red Alert’ was by the same people who made ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ so we wanted to capitalise on that,” says Buxton. His partner, Ratcliffe, was less enthusiastic. “At the beginning of every album I always think that I don’t want to do another album. I think I want to be a shepherd in the Pyrenees or something,” he explains, “then things happen beyond my control and suddenly we’re making the album. Then I remember how much I enjoy doing it.” Ratcliffe is the tall one with the dry wit and, for today at least, a twirly moustache painted on to his upper lip. Despite the make-up he is, he admits, the band’s straight man. “Felix is the effusive one. I’m much more introverted and interested in fucking around.”
Their new album is called ‘Crazy Itch Radio’ and it begins as you would expect: brash, funky and just a little bit silly. “It’s a modern galaxy radio station,” explains Buxton. “We thought it would be a good way to make sense of all our different styles.” And the Crazy Itch? “It’s that something that motivates us. Like when you draw blood or get slapped in the face with a wet fish. The Crazy Itch taps into life, inspires us, makes us realise we’re alive.” The album also reveals a different side to Basement Jaxx, a more reflective, melancholic side, best captured on the haunting ‘Lights Go Down’ featuring UK soul legend Linda Lewis. The duo recorded 40 tracks in the last year and had intended for ‘Crazy Itch Radio’ to be a double album. “We wanted to make a disc of short pop hits and one that was an ambient soundscape,” Buxton reveals. Fast approaching deadlines forced them to make the album a single disc, but the soundscape idea is something that clearly interests them both. “The problem with us has always been that we love writing melodies and the traditions of songwriting, but we also like just fucking around and doing dark stuff and experimental ambient stuff,” explains an animated Ratcliffe. “In many ways it’s a lot more enjoyable to write music like that and we’re not short of ideas. There’s another song we recorded with Linda, a duet between her and Devendra Banhart that will definitely come out at some point.” “I think we’ll do the soundscape thing in the next six months or so,” says Buxton. “Just put it out on its own, no pressure.” This move would be typical of the pair. While they may enjoy chart success and arena tours, they also run club nights in Brixton and have a record label, Stop, that puts out “all kinds of fucked-up underground music.” Buxton recently compiled an album of Eastern European dance music, the sounds of which are channelled into ‘Hey You’, a track featuring Europoppet Robyn and a children’s choir. It’s this magpie approach to influences that has always made Basement Jaxx such an exciting band. From their early Latin-tinged house records, through the ragga-and-sirens mayhem of ‘Fly Life’ to the punk-garage of ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ they are a band in constant evolution. This may explain how they’ve managed to transcend the waning world of dance music and with it their contemporaries. “It does feel like the scene we’re from doesn’t really exist anymore,” says Buxton. Ratcliffe agrees. “At one point we felt we had people either side of us. It was healthy competition and exciting, too. We were bonded by what we were doing but we didn’t want them to beat us to an idea. Now we’re a bit more isolated, but maybe liberated as well.” Such is their success that their record label, XL Recordings, seem compelled to find their successors. Are new signings Bugz in the Attic, with their squelching basslines and broken beats, the new Basement Jaxx? Are Various, who create bastard hybrids from grime and rock and house and folk, their new competition? Only time will tell. For the time being Ratcliffe says they are content at the top of the pile. “I think we just feel really comfortable with what we’re doing now. We’re not embarrassed about the music we make. We love it. And if we ever stopped loving it we’d making something else instead.”
We love writing melodies and the traditions of songwriting, but we also like just fucking around and doing dark stuff.