Foundations: Basement Jaxx’s Felix Buxton

Five essential influences…

Foundations is where we, usually, speak to an artist about five vitally influential albums that have shaped their own approach to creating music. But then, the other month, we let Fatboy Slim choose tracks, rather than long-players. And, because we’re nice, we’ve done the same here, as Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx talks us through five amazingly personal pieces of music.

Basement Jaxx – a dance pair you might just have heard of, completed by co-producer Simon Ratcliffe – have just released their new album, ‘Junto’. From it comes the track ‘Galactical’, which you can see and hear below, prior to Felix’s foundational five.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – ‘Confutatis’ (from ‘Requiem Mass In D Minor)’ (1791)

“I’ve always loved Mozart. My dad tells me that when I was very young I was whistling ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, when I was about three or something. And he went and got mum to watch me, and then got a tape recorder. I was just whistling it in my room. So, Mozart has always connected to me, and excited me. I love him because his music was joyous and painful, and funny, and I really like his humour. Some classical music can be quite turgid, quite straight, but Mozart has always filled me with happiness.

“That said, the one I’ve chosen here is a requiem! It is a recognisable one, but it’s one that really moves me. It’s beautifully painful. There’s nothing more to this, really – this transcends my state of being. It’s sad, but it makes me want to live.

“This requiem was finished after Mozart’s death, but I think that’s fine, in today’s pop too. I think we can get over-obsessed with people’s egos, and this idea that they own a sequence of notes. That’s kind of ridiculous. Pop music has just been a set of variations on the same themes for years, and that’s why I’ve put this in here – because it’s outside pop music. But even in Mozart’s time, other people were producing similar work. He was very much a product of everything around him at the time. He has his own style, and took it to new levels – but it was never that he ‘owned’ this music, and it was all him.

“Great music is usually the product of a few musicians’ influences. And for all anyone knows, perhaps melodies here were ones he overheard a housemaid whistling. Does that make them his, if he’s incorporated them? I’m not into the idea of anyone owning notes, because music is around us all of the time. All we can do is pluck them and put them in an order that is acceptable. We get obsessed with putting names on things, to own them, but I feel that’s becoming an out-dated idea.”

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Shy FX & UK Apache – ‘Original Nuttah’ (1994)

“This, to me, is a punk record. It’s got all this frustration in it, all this energy – the energy of punk. But it’s a jungle record. At the time, jungle was very new, and this felt like a massively original release – and it was showcasing British Asian culture, too, and it was great to hear this other voice, another take on the multicultural, urban UK. But with this punk attitude.

“Also, though, this is a very hedonistic, positive record – in that sense, it’s part of the happy house and rave culture. It was drawing on quite a few strands, and solidified them in one track.

“There’s a guy I know, who was DJing when I first moved to London, called Rhythm Doctor. I think he was from Coventry, or Birmingham. He told me about the genesis of punk, which was interesting because he’d been there. And he said, at the beginning, the rastas and the punks, they’d mix a lot. It was about being alternative, and creative, and that was something I’d not really realised before – because when I’d see punks, rastas seemed very far away from that, and also I’d get a bit mixed up, between the various punk subcultures, the skins and all the different tribes. I couldn’t work out who was racist. It never made much sense to me.

“But the punk attitude, I think, is a really British thing. We were just in Japan, for Fuji Rock Festival and we saw Goldie – he actually came on stage with us, dressed as a gorilla, for ‘Where’s Your Head At’, and he loved it. But he’s got a punkishness to him, in the way he looks at life. I really like seeing that. He’s not necessarily someone’s ordinary idea of a punk – but he has this real punk mentality, in a positive way. That’s the side of punk that appeals to me. Instead of wanting to destroy the system, let’s look at how we can celebrate the diversity within it, and use force for change in a progressive way.”

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Logic – ‘The Warning’ (1990)

“If you listen to this song now, you’ll have people tell you how cool it sounds, how fresh it feels. But it’s really old. And back then, nobody else was really doing this – this came out right at the beginning of the deep house thing, which I really got into. It’s weird, because I’ve never heard this as a dance record – it’s not one you can rave to. It’s more of a meditation.

“When I was a student, I would listen to this over and over again. I love its tranquillity, and its depth. Thinking now, there’s a real parallel to be drawn between music like this, and what I used to hear in church, when I joined the communion. Mozart’s requiem touches on the same feelings.

“I just like the place this kind of music puts me in. I know people who claim it to be wallpaper music, and in a way I can see what they mean. It’s the same with some of the jazz music I like. But even records that some might call elevator music, it can have real depth, and these artists know what they’re doing. It’s not created as a pastel – there’s real richness there, if you look closer.

“But with deep house, you could just switch off – and I’d always dance to it with my eyes closed, and go off somewhere else. You’d dance really hard as well, which was part of the style – which seems weird when you actually listen to the music, because it’s really gentle.

“It’s rare that I hear anything new in house music anymore, and I guess that’s the difference, between then and now, when I was 17. Everything seemed important then. I remember standing around a ghetto blaster with friends, playing a cassette recording of this. It made no sense compared to what we’d heard before. It sounded like the work of a computer. It was brand new, another way of seeing things. The next time I experienced anything similar was in 1991 or 1992, with drum & bass, and that was another case of people finding new forms of music. So I suppose that period, the late 1980s into the early 1990s, was something of a golden era – the music wasn’t adhering to any templates. Segregation came later, which is probably the fault of people like yourself, the journalists!

“As for the house revival now, it’s cool. When I was a teenager, I was into music from the 1970s, and that felt exciting – it was old, but new to me. So if the new house scene is looking back at the old house scene, that’s alright. It’s weird to be able to, when DJing, play a new track and mix into something from 1990, and nobody sees any difference. It’s the nature of fashion and music, but the way we look back at things now, it happens at an accelerated rate. And I think, nowadays, that pop is finished. And I think that’s healthy. Kids in Dalston, listening to 1930s music – that feels a lot fresher than what’s considered pop now.

“I’d say that about five years ago, dance music got pretty anal, with all these tiny genres, all these divisions. But I feel that some fun has come back into the equation now. A lot of the younger kids on the scene seem to be enjoying themselves, which is good, because dance music should be about letting yourself go. And the whole EDM thing illustrates that. Some of the records, they’re just aerobics records. People know where the music is going: weeeeee, into dush-dush-dush. But that was the same way during happy hardcore. People knew it was stupid, and cheesy, but embraced it. They were having fun, and I think the EDM scene is like that. I don’t think anybody is taking it too seriously.”

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Pharoah Sanders – ‘Olé’ (1982)

“I’ve probably seen him eight times, so I’m a fan, and when we first started Basement Jaxx, he was someone who immediately came to mind, who I wanted to get in on a track at some stage. Around the time of either our second or third album, I got chatting to his wife about possibly getting him in, but it ended up too expensive. I think they were charging a lot, thinking he wouldn’t be around for much longer – but, actually, he’s done quite a lot since.

“I last saw him a year or two again, and he was maybe the best he’s ever been. Compared to 10 years or so ago, when he seemed as if he’d lost his fire, and was in the comfort zone. For me, I’ve always been into the message that he, and Alice and John Coltrane, were putting forward – I’ve still got a picture of the three of them on my wall, together, outside some club. They were into spiritualism, transcendence, and using different sounds together in amazing ways. Sanders flirted with reggae, and Indian music. And some of that isn’t his best work, but I loved his cosmic jazz thing, where all religions are one. That realisation of the cosmic nature of life. I connect to that.

“We did one track with a saxophonist, and I was encouraging the player to be more like Pharoah Sanders, to play like a wild boar, to charge through the undergrowth. And on the second take, he had to leave to be sick – I’d pushed him a bit too hard, I think. I wanted that raw expression, and sometimes session musicians are programmed in a really general way, able to deal with only very middle of the road sentiments. We wanted more fire and life, and to make this guy let himself go. Stop being so safe!

“But it’s weird with Pharoah Sanders, because the saxophone was, for so long, one of my least-favourite instruments. You see it and think of Kenny G, and I felt that stigma and hated it. It made me feel awful – tight jeans and Miami hairdos, and cheesy sentimentality. But then Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane, I love them – and even though they play the same instrument, you can hear how they approach it differently, and they find their own sense in it.”

– – –

Manuel Göttsching – ‘E2 E4’ (1984)

“Is it, the title, based on a chess move? Oh, I never knew that. That would make sense. But I wasn’t sure about including this – it sort of falls into the same category as ‘The Warning’ in so much as some people will think of it as aural wallpaper. But without wanting to over-intellectualise things, I just like it, and I like that it went on for ages. I’ve played it a lot over the years, and I’ll probably end up playing thousands of times. It’s always in my car.

“I’ve played this to a lot of people, and they get really curious about it. It’s not necessarily the most amazing record you’ll ever hear, but it stands for something. It goes on a vibe, and stays there for ages – like a lot of African music can, where some bands can play a track for an hour and a half, around just a single groove.

“It’s a one of a kind record, this, and the genesis of so many other tangents. It’s been sampled a few times, too – and that’s how I first heard of it, through another record called ‘Sueño Latino’. I probably bought four records that sampled this, before I got the original piece. And then I had the realisation of how much music had come from this. Art Of Noise’s ‘Moments In Love’ was similar – I heard that in various forms, across several records, before I realised that it was actually one piece of music by a single artist originally.

“This is all about a mood – it finds its own place in the stratosphere… in the sonicsphere?”

– – –

As told to Mike Diver
Photo: Emma Blau

Basement Jaxx’s new album, ‘Junto’, is out now. It’s reviewed here. The band is online here

Related: more Foundations features

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