Music interview: Basement Jaxx at Tramlines festival, Sheffield

Basement Jaxx. Picture: Jean-Luc Brouard
Basement Jaxx. Picture: Jean-Luc Brouard
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Dance pop duo Basement Jaxx are currently on tour and James Nuttall caught up with them ahead of their appearance at Tramlines.

One of the pioneers of house and electronica will be gracing the stage at this year’s Tramlines Festival in Sheffield. Dance-pop duo Basement Jaxx are still touring on the back of their 2014 album, Junto, which was released a full five years after their last studio effort.

Speaking to Felix Buxton ahead of Jaxx’s appearance at Tramlines, even he is surprised to hear just how long the gap was between records.

The band has not been silent, however, they have been undertaking several projects. In 2011, the duo collaborated twice, once with Metropole Orkset, an orchestra from the Netherlands, for the live album Basement Jaxx vs Metropole Orkset.

They then went on to provide the soundtrack for the film Attack the Block, which starred Jodie Whittaker.

“We’ve worked on a couple of films and we were just keen to broaden our palette; we wanted to do something creative in a kind of different way,” he explains.

“The film experience was really good, we really enjoyed that. Also, the orchestral album came out – I worked for a year or so with Jules Buckley on that.

“We were doing some different stuff in a creative way, but less based around the clubs or festivals or that kind of thing. We were sort of doing the odd DJ gig and doing live shows, so we were kind of busy off around the world in various places. Also, we moved studios and stuff like that, so it was kind of a time to readjust our lives, because we’ve been pretty busy for about 12 years.”

Basement Jaxx’s first studio album, Remedy, was released in 1999. It reached No 4 in the UK charts and has since been certified platinum.

Their next three records, Rooty, Kish Kash and Crazy Itch Radio were all Top 20 hits, each of which also made the Top 5 on the US Dance charts.

After Scars and Zephyr were released in 2009, the band seemed to disappear off the music scene. This long absence is unusual for Basement Jaxx, who once released two albums in the space of a year. While the gap is not typical of their history, Buxton explains that the making of each album differs.

“It all depends. There’s always loads of material and lots of different types of things around, it’s just whether they see the light of day; or whether they become Basement Jaxx or something else. Because the young DJs were saying they were playing our old dubs from the beginning and the old style House came back, it seemed to be that people just want the kind of thing that we were doing in the beginning.

“So we thought let’s do some more of that stuff because the Jaxx fans would like that, and just to kind of connect to the new lot of people coming through who were getting into House music.”

The musical partnership of Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe has been in existence since 1994, when they formed Basement Jaxx in Brixton.

While so many bands have collapsed due to the pressures of being on the road, Felix explains that the sparsity of their tour schedule has probably helped to keep them together. “We’ve never done it painfully. Some bands burn themselves into the ground and get fed up, everybody falls out and it’s all a bit grim, which seems ridiculous because there’s loads of people who’d love to be in their place. So, we’ve probably been grateful for the fact that we’ve had the opportunity, and we try to do it in a way that it doesn’t become tiring.”

Having been on the scene for well over 20 years, here is one musical duo who has a great overview of how the club scene has evolved. Beginning in the clubs of London and branching out to all over the world, Buxton says that it hasn’t changed all that much.

“I suppose it’s a lot more mainstream now,” begins Buxton. “When I was 17 and I was going out raving, you’d see some young people who were into the scene. The whole kind of house music scene, I believe was like the new 60s, it was a kind of acid house culture.

“There was a lot of things culturally happening, which was really exciting and it really did have a sort of feeling of the 60s; that whole kind of ‘make love not war’ sort of thing, which I really connected to. House music in the beginning was very much about that.

“Hip-hop’s become this kind of corporate pop R&B world entertainment, which always happens in music; it happened in rock and roll, funk, disco.

“Basically, clubs are the same in the fact that people are going out, dancing and having fun. The music’s pretty similar to how it was 20 years ago, which is weird.”

Tramlines Festival will be in good company with this duo, who are also set to perform at some of the most iconic venues in the United States, but what can the Sheffield crowd expect from them?

“It will be a full-on live show – probably about 10 of us on stage. I believe we’ll have our ballerina with us up there as well. It will be old and new; the hits of Basement Jaxx and songs from our new album – basically, a party.

“We were just in Korea, last week, we played a jazz festival there. It’s interesting, because the last time we played in Korea we played a rock festival, so we’ve always been kind of in between genres a bit, which is great.

“We’ll basically be doing what we’re doing at the moment in a few places over the summer: we’re at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and Central Park in New York, so we’ve got a really nice collection of gigs in good places, we’re very much looking forward to it.”

Basement Jaxx will be appearing at Tramlines Festival, Sheffield on July 25. www.tramlines.org.uk