Simon Ratcliffe is attempting to cook tofu stir-fry for dinner at his home in London when we get a hold of him, via a fuzzy Skype call from Hollywood.
A veteran of electronic music, with Basement Jaxx's debut album, Rooty, released back in 1999, he comes across as vibrant and easy-going - though he admits his cooking skills are not the best. In the midst of his musical endeavors - touring, scoring films and working on material, both solo and as one half of esteemed duo Basement Jaxx - he's also the full-time parent of a seven-year-old daughter, making it tough to find the time to hone his skills in the kitchen.
Fortunately, tonight he has help. His guest, who is visiting him from Holland, “is an expert in these things, so I’m really looking forward to dinner. Recently my diet has been leaner, so I’m eating a lot of proteins,” he tells us, fatherhood having seemingly focused his mind on other things in life besides music. “I’m cutting out carbohydrates and stodgy stuff.”
On tours, more so during Basement Jaxx’s live show performances, keeping to a healthy regime isn’t so easy. “That’s when everything goes wrong because you eat really nicely, the caterers are fantastic and they treat you really well,” conveys Radcliffe, drawing on the experience of a career that's seen him and his long-time partner, Simon Ratcliffe, go from a young duo inspired by the sound of US house stars, such as Master at Work and DJ Sneak, to festival headliners. “While I could specify that I want really lean food... the rest of the band will be very disappointed,” he adds on the democratic tour arrangements behind the scenes.
One of the first electronic acts to master the visual aspect on a live show, Basement Jaxx's traveling stage show often stretches to 18 others alongside Radcliffe and Buxton, creating a “spectacle that’s meant to take the audience into a different realm,” a big production that is colorful, flamboyant, has costumes and instruments, and has the potential, “to go one step further and be made into a full on musical.” Almost five years down the road from their last album, Basement Jaxx return to a world where EDM stars have finally begun to make this kind of traveling circus the norn.
Their seventh studio album, Junto aims to reinforce Basement Jaxx as leaders of this scene - though they never intended to release another record after the stellar Scars in 2009, following which they took an indefinite break, working on film soundtracks and solo projects instead. However, with the encouragement of friends and families, they changed their minds, Ratcliffe now of the opinion that “there isn’t a better time than the present to put out a release.”
“Fashion goes in cycles,” he explains. “In England, for example, there’s this whole generation of guys making music and it stuff that sounds like what we were doing 20 years ago.
“It became apparent that the musical landscape shifted with traditional house music, deep house, soul, even jazzy house, all kind of coming back in. Seven years ago, that was unthinkable.
“Daft Punk’s album release was also a major motivator for us because, in the screaming EDM climate, which is great and I have nothing against it, they did something that was soulful and groovy. They almost made more of an impression by being gentle, quiet and patient, and we related to that.”
Junto encapsulates the old-school influence of 90's disco-sampling house, moving it forward with modern beats and warm communion vocals. It's a revival of electronic music for people to “shake their hips to,” something, which from the look of festivals riddled with iPhone-holding folks standing around, doesn’t seem to be happening all that much anymore.
As American DJs have been labeled the ‘new rock stars,’ so their music has encompassed what Ratcliffe calls “huge riffs and fat drops, you jump up and down and punch the air. But that’s still a form of dance. It’s still bringing people together. It’s unifying.” Instead of this though, Basement Jaxx have stuck to their guns, like always, and are bringing back Latin jazz and Balearic-inspired sounds in their record, sounds that inspired when they first started out.
“We started in ’94. Not only was a lot of house music written and made by Hispanic people back then, but there’s also a Latin gene running through the blood of house music,” we hear on the vein that feeds a large part of Basement Jaxx's DNA. “I was into Latin jazz-fusion, like how Stanley Clarke and George Duke always kind of played Latin music. In ’95 we actually had a big tune called 'Samba Magic,' which sampled a Latin jazz classic called 'Samba de Flora' by Airto Moreira, who used to be a weather reporter and is a world famous Brazilian percussionist. If you look over our discography, we’ve probably got about 10-11 tracks that are associated with that culture.”
“But to be fair, it’s been a while since we've done it. On this new album, we have a track called ‘Mermaid of Salinas’ that’s got that flavor.” Written by their friend Andrea Tirana, a Flamenco guitarist, and given a thumping remix on the single by Loco Dice, it was also worked on by Michel Cleis. “He does a lot of stuff for the Cadenza label and he’s big on shakers, tambourines and percussion.”
Bringing the album to life is another extended cast. “We have some beautiful and wonderful singers and musicians,” says Radcliffe, this live element giving them an edge over many purely electronic acts, as they proved during a power cut at a Polish festival.
“The Arctic Monkeys were on before us and their set cut out halfway, then they started again, then we went on and the same thing happens to us, and now the whole system had crashed. So we’re on stage in front of 20,000 Poles. Fortunately, my guitar was still plugged in and working, so I started playing ‘Romeo,’ then the girls did an acappella version. By then we had managed to get everything sorted, the power was back on and functioning, so we started picking up speed and a few minutes later we had another breakdown. But you know, it's things like that which prepare you for all kinds of situations. The show must always go on.”
Recently Basement Jaxx brought their carnival-inspired production stateside for Ultra Music Festival Miami, followed by DJ sets at various clubs, including a notable one at Los Angeles’ sweaty, potently sexual soiree, A Club Called Rhonda, at The Los Globos Theater. “Yeah, I quite liked that,” admits Radcliffe on the famously far-out party. “It was a busy night and it was hot as hell in there. And there were transvestites. It was great. Very colorful, lot of support and lots of love. It felt very fluent and mixed, a good environment for us. LA is always so much fun. I think the last time we were here, we worked with Amy Goldstein on The Hippie Life documentary, because we did the music for that. We spent sometime trying to get film work and we ended up doing music for two films, but gig-wise it’s been a long time.”
For over a decade, Basement Jaxx’s music has resonated in various corners of the world because of its spirited and eccentric textures. “Our starting point with Basement Jaxx was house music. It’s music that celebrated the power of the human spirit, people coming together and fighting against the odds. House started in America, it was music for the minorities and there’s a real strength that comes through that.”
Today they're competing with burgeoning British acts, like Disclosure and Jungle, who are making headway in the United States. “Yeah, it’s definitely been a while since we’ve come to the States,” admits Radcliffe. “We’d love to do more shows. There are more possibilities now, too. We’re also taking meetings about getting the show into South America, like Uruguay and Peru, as well. But sometimes finances do prohibit it. If we can come and make it work by coming to North and South America, we’d do it.”
Equally as striking in their videos, as in their music and on-stage energy (the classic “Where's Your Head At,” for instance, features Basement Jaxx as a band of marauding monkeys), their latest single “Never Say Never” opens with the sight of a disembodied butt and goes on to show the building of TW3RK-BOT1.0, whose goal is to “stimulate the world to dance again.” It’s almost Basement Jaxx’s way of saying that they are reviving the forgotten spirit of dance music (the clue's in the name), something which has depreciated under the LED-glitzed umbrella of EDM. If their illustrious past is anything to go by, then whenever the British duo and their crew make a move, the world eventually follows.
WORDS: RISHABH BHAVANI