UK house duo Basement Jaxx return to Dubai on Friday night at Zero Gravity's popular Ritual Friday night party, having last graced the city as this year's NYE headliner at The Palm's Inner City Zoo. The pair land in Dubai fresh from a summer residency at Ibiza's Glitterbox, and almost 20 years since they released their first album, Remedy, on electronic music giant XL Recordings.
The pair emerged at a fascinating time in the UK’s music scene. Following the legal restrictions on the rave scene and illegal parties of the late eighties and early nineties, clubbing seemed to fork off in two different directions, with the mega-clubbing brands like Ministry of Sound and Gatecrasher at one end of the spectrum, and a host of smaller nights and labels providing an eclectic mash up of previously disparate genres at the other.
Basement Jaxx fell firmly into the latter category, both in terms of their debut EP, released on a fledgling Wall of Sound Records in 1994, and their regular club night, also called Basement Jaxx, which toured around the bars and restaurants of South London at the time.
“When we started out we were aiming for that classic US house sound like Masters at Work and Armand Van Helden, but we ended up doing it slightly wrong,” Jaxx’s Simon Ratcliffe reveals. “It was an accident, but that’s how we became who we are. We probably spent about five years just experimenting with sounds and finding out who we were, doing remixes, releasing EPs, growing in confidence. We played with funk, fusion, latin-jazz, rock influences, ambient influences, and then XL signed us.”
The pair’s approach to their regular club events was similarly ramshackle, Ratcliffe adds: “Felix [Buxton, the other half of the duo] started up our first night in the back room of a Mexican restaurant at the end of the night, which isn’t where you’d expect to find a club night, just a little room with one light. I think that was before we were even Basement Jaxx. We were called Underground Oasis originally, but there was this rock band coming through that were tipped to get big, you might have heard of them, so we changed it.”
Ratcliffe admits that he was the quieter of the duo in the early days, happy enough to make music and occasionally DJ at the duo’s events, while his partner was the rabble-rouser: “Felix is more the one that was always out putting on parties, I just love writing music and making music, so I’m the dweeb, but I’d go down and DJ in all these old man’s pubs and weird places in South London, wherever they’d have us that was cheap basically,” he says. “It was a very home-made ethos, kind of a reaction to all those superclubs and big clubbing brands that were in vogue at the time. Most of the little old man’s pubs we used to play in are supermarkets and flats now.”
Ratcliffe admits that there’s a certain irony to the fact that a fairly direct line can be drawn from the underground genres and nights of the late nineties and early 2000s – scenes such as breakbeat, garage and dubstep – to the American mega raves of the current EDM scene, though he’s not one to dwell on it: “It’s funny to think how that all turned out with the whole EDM thing and that, but that’s the way it goes,” he says. “It’s natural that things will mutate. Different styles get mixed up experimentally and achieve some success, then now we end up with this kind of international hip-hop/r’n’b/EDM/Swedish pop/trap fusion sound of corporate tosh.”
Ratcliffe may be critical of current corporate electronic music, but Basement Jaxx hasn’t exactly lacked success themselves, with Glastonbury headline slots and Brit Awards under their belts. Does he feel any sense of contradiction?
“No, no - we’re not elitist,” he insists. “I’m not into underground music because it makes me more special or more clever than anyone else. I just like good music, and we both like good pop music too. Eurythmics, The Smiths, Bob Marley. It doesn’t have to be obscure.”
Indeed, Ratcliffe reveals that, following the success of Basement Jaxx, he is not filled with any yearning desire to return to the world of dingy back rooms and 1,000-unit EP releases: “We toured with Daft Punk around the time we signed to XL, and it became apparent that you could be a dance duo and have huge commercial success,” he says. “It was the producers who were becoming the stars, even though they weren’t necessarily very interesting to look at. That whole French wave of Daft Punk and Cassius, The Chemical Brothers, acts like that who previously would have been locked up in a studio while some pop star fronted the music. So with our first album for XL we were bursting with a hunger to do as much as we could. We knew we’d got the songs and it was just like ‘if those guys can do it….”
Seven albums later, they seem to have made good on their promise, and although it's been four years since their last album, 2014's Junto, Ratcliffe promises the pair will be working on new material soon. Recently, they've been tied up on other projects, Ratcliffe with a side project with a neighbour, and Buxton working with a contemporary dance group in Gothenburg.
The pair has also been working on a rather interesting project together: "We've done all the music for a new animated series on ITV," he says. "It's from the same guys that did Little Princess [director Edward Foster and producer Iain Harvey], which is a really popular British kids show. It's called The Rubbish World of Dave Spud, and is based on life as a kid growing up in Northern England, and he asked us to do everything – title music, incidental music, the lot. It 26 x 10-minute episodes, so that was a really big project and I can't wait to see it on TV."
*Ritual runs from 5pm-3am at Zero Gravity. Entry is free before 9. For further ticket details see www.platinumlist.net