Burning down the house that Basement Jaxx built
Anna Chapman hears how the duo's latest album Kish Kash got its name and why they're in a hurry to leave the past behind
Friday 24 October 2003
Basement Jaxx were going to call their third album Rhapsody when Felix Buxton's dad, a 70-year- old vicar, told the production duo that it sounded square. "Someone else said it was like a box of chocolates or a Gareth Gates album," Buxton says over an afternoon breakfast in a Brixton café, "so we changed it before the artwork went to print."
Buxton has been living in Brixton for 12 years and from the reaction he gets from locals it's clear that he's considered a celebrity around here, although you wouldn't guess that from the woolly hat that remains pulled over his ears throughout the interview.
Buxton met the other half of Basement Jaxx, Simon Ratcliffe(who is absent with the flu), in a Brixton record shop in 1994 and the sound of the area has had an unmistakable influence on the band. The type of music Basement Jaxx produce is a contentious issue and one they've grappled with since returning from their 2001 world tour to promoteRooty. House music was finally on the wane and, although Basement Jaxx weren't strictly house, both Rooty and their 1999 album Remedy contained huge club hits like "Jump 'n' Shout", "Rendez-Vu" and "Where's Your Head At" meaning they were often lumped in with the scene.
Rather than being called square by a member of the clergy, they opted to call the album Kish Kash - a phrase for money used by one of their friends. With warbling vocals about greed and payback from punk queen Siouxsie Sioux, it's definitely not what you'd expect from the duo. "We needed a strong female voice and thought someone like Siouxsie would be good," Buxton says.
Equally surprising is "Good Luck", their opening track with Lisa Kekaula, the formidable front woman of long-serving and underrated LA rock band The BellRays who combines the vocal charms of Aretha Franklin and Motorhead's Lemmy. A strange way to start the album?
"We had to kick it off with something. Whatever we chose people would say, 'That isn't house music.' Who cares?" (Complaints about the lack of house music have appeared on the band's website.) It's a brave track, even more so for including a 16-piece orchestra. But it didn't come easily. "Initially, Lisa sounded like a diva and we didn't want that. With two hours before she had to go back to America, Simon strummed an AC/DC riff and I scribbled down some words and suddenly we had something that didn't sound like a Basement Jaxx record - a rock 'n' roll song which didn't even sound modern."
Though Kish Kash is a departure for Basement Jaxx, Buxton doesn't think they are betraying their roots. "When I first met Simon I hated all UK club music. The quality had gone down because it was in a progressive cocaine stage. People wanted it harder with no melody or rhythm."
Indeed, Basement Jaxx's first single "Fly Life" glittered with ragga and disco and seemed to come out of nowhere. "People have always asked 'What are all the noises going on in your sound?' I think it's a reflection of the fact there are so many TV channels and programmes on how to sort out your life. You need to make sense of everything, that's what we're doing. I've always been serious about what we do."
Referring to the situation in Iraq, Buxton is excited about rising political consciousness in the UK. "It's the first time people have cared about stuff for ages. They're waking up again."
Recently they were summoned to meet Janet Jackson. She initially mistook them for another British team to which prompted Buxton to call her Céline Dion. "There wasn't a lot of laughter because she was so uptight." But despite this, a single collaboration with La Jackson is planned.
Another star looking for "cool producers to give him cred" was JC from NSync, Justin Timber-lake's old boy-band mate. At first, Basement Jaxx were suspicious of his pop past but he ended up on the album. "He could sing, was humble and flattered us loads, so that worked," quips Buxton.
The new-look Basement Jaxx are abandoning Rooty, their word of mouth club night. He thinks it's time to hand over to a new generation. "When I see old rock bands on stage I always think 'Let the young ones in.' There are loads of cool young kids out there who have a lot more to say."
Buxton is concerned his generation worries too much about being cool. "We need to be lighter. Old people who dealt with intense things and young kids who are open canvases don't worry so much. We get sanitised in our mid-twenties and think about how we react. A life lived in fear is a life half lived."
'Kish Kash' is out now on XL Recordings
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