When Basement Jaxx first rose to stardom, the duo was unsatisfied with the state of dance music, describing it as “linear” and “close-minded” and giving their debut album a bold title: “Remedy.” “Most dance music is very shiny and so robotic,” Simon Ratcliffe, one of its members, told Rolling Stone in 1999. “There’s just not much feeling. If we made a record like that, we’d be just like everybody else.”
Fifteen years and seven studio albums later, the group still has its ear to contemporary clubs sounds, but these days, that relationship is less about rebellion than inspiration. After releasing Scars and Zephyr in 2009, thus fulfilling their contract with XL Recordings, they decided against rushing into a follow-up, instead experimenting with film scores (Attack the Block, The Hooping Life) and a 120-person orchestral performance. Eventually, however, they not only returned to the studio, they moved to a new one that was more spacious and better lit. Meanwhile, new acts like Disclosure, Rudimental and Duke Dumont had begun taking over British dancefloors.
“The whole development of dance music, we liked lots of it, but it wasn’t stuff that came naturally for us to make,” Ratcliffe now says, referring to trends like dubstep and electro house. “It was a different sort of attitude, but things came back around to the more soulful side of things. Our type of dance music was kind of coming back in vogue.”
“Lady Gaga, she took house and dance music and made it world pop music,” adds Felix Buxton, the group’s other member, attempting to objectively assess the status quo. “Now all the pop charts of full of commercial, Euro, trance-y, trap-y beats. That means as a result, the underground is like, ‘Actually, we don’t want all that,’ and all the hipsters are into slower, sexier music.”
The Jaxx, accordingly, set out to make an album that was, in Ratcliffe’s words, “something reenergized, something lighter, brighter, might hopeful,” a record titled “make.believe” until a friend pointed out that Sony was using those same words, punctuated as such, to sell electronics. Junto, the finished product, includes everything from throwback New York house to a Disclosure-esque jam about the possibility of alien life and a fake Lily Allen song that beats anything the real thing has released in years.
That sort of eclecticism might not be subversive the way it was when the duo released Remedy, but what’s lost in edge is made up for in exuberance. “Mermaid of Salinas,” another standout, connects the dots between past Jaxx singles like 1996’s “Samba Magic” and current hits by tropical disco whiz Todd Terje, and the energetic “Buffalo” uses some of that commercial trap to cleverly update an old style. “We wanted to do jungle but without it sounding retro,” explains Ratcliffe. “We wanted to keep the whole energy of it and the excitement, but make it modern.”
With this approach, the duo is finding that their shows have often become a family affair, something Buxton particularly enjoys: “It’s a little weird to have daughters coming with their moms, but I think maybe the younger generations now, they’re not rebelling against their parents like they were 20 year ago. If anything, the parents probably come dressed like kids, and the kids dress more like adults, with big beards and suits.”
Whether they realized it or not, those handsomely dressed kids are also seeing some of their own favorite acts onstage, as members of Disclosure and Rudimental (not to mention the Streets’ Mike Skinner and the royal Prince Harry) have both jumped around in monkey costumes during performances of the Jaxx’s classic “Where’s Your Head At?”
“They were big fans,” says Buxton, not at all concerned by the passing of time, the changing of generations or the graying of his hair. “It’s really nice to feel included in their world and be respected. A lot of these guys are like, ‘You’re legends!'”