Metropole Orkest vs Basement Jaxx, Barbican, London
Monday 25 July 2011
Basement Jaxx's creative resource has let them survive the 1990s' dance-pop heyday with hardly a scratch.
The Brixton duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have embraced the live experience more than any other dance act, letting an outrageous cast of singers turn their shows into theatrical, polysexual celebrations. Their raids on global styles, from Balkan to samba beats have, meanwhile, retained the originals' essence. Maybe it was only a matter of time before they and their ageing rave audience mashed into the world of classical music. Working with the hip Dutch Metropole Orkest, the Crouch End Festival Chorus and ballerina, Jennifer White, under the baton of conductor Jules Buckley, the collision is a triumph.
Brass and strings add to "Give It Up"'s thundering percussive power, dragging people out of their seats early, flailing arms in wild dancing. But they sit quietly during long orchestral preludes, and when ominous gypsy violin accompanies a black-masked White who could have stepped straight from Black Swan – a rare meeting of very different dance music. The post-disco angst of songs such as "Lights Go Down" are given a pensiveness recalling the Pet Shop Boys, which there's rarely room for at Basement Jaxx's regular parties.
Sharlene Hector and Lisa Kekaula take the House diva roles in gold Elizabethan dresses and tiaras, singing with queenly dignity, when they're not bumping chests with outrageous cabaret baritone Le Gateau Chocolat, as he shakes an enormous frame stuffed into tight body-suits and flowing wigs. "Do Your Thing" is given a film noir arrangement suggesting Gil Evans' work for Miles Davis, before exploding into pure swing. That turns the Orkest into a Basie-style big band, which this 21st-century London crowd happily dance to. "Hey U" meanwhile shape-shifts this radical reincarnation of Basement Jaxx into a Brixton Balkan wedding band. Club music's regimented rhythm is happily replaced by jazzy limberness, as dancers somersault through strobing lights.
This isn't the simple orchestration of a few old hits, but their transformation into a theatrical revue of cinematic sweep, in musically wide open terrain that leaves everyone grinning. Felix Buxton comes on for a composer's applause, as I think, what a show.
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