For all his international acclaim and house-tinged pop smashes, Basement Jaxx’s Simon Ratcliffe still comes across as extremely down to earth. Defying the fame-related party clichés tracks like the notoriously raucous ‘Where’s Your Head At’ lead you to expect, Ratcliffe still lives in the same corner of Brixton in which he once – together with partner in crime Felix – launched the ‘Rooty’ club night that set Basement Jaxx on the long road to international notoriety. Ratcliffe summarizes the area he lives in as “far from glamorous”, and his studio apartment as “probably not big enough” now that he’s bringing up a three-year-old daughter. He still cycles to work every morning, and dismisses the five-star perks that come with being part of a noted touring band as “great, but you have to keep your feet on the ground”. This down-to-earth attitude to fame goes a long way to explaining why ‘Jaxx are so rarely in the press for anything other than their music, and why – a decade down the line – they’re still as influential as ever.
If you ask Simon for tour stories, he’ll admit there have been a few wild times (“but you can’t live like that all the time, we try to keep our sanity in check”), and – highlighting the abundant female singers accompanying the group – portrays the atmosphere as “almost mothering. If we were just blokes together we’d probably be a bit more naughty. But there’s a really good chemistry, all kinds of characters”. The pumping live show and manic videos are not so much a portrayal of the duos lifestyle, but “in a spirit of fun, humor, imagination and experimentation”. All, it seems, is not quite as chaotic as public image has led us to believe.
Kish Kash was evidently a massive breakthrough for the duo on a personal level. Having always relied heavily on guest vocals, Jaxx graduated from “grabbing people off the street” to working with an up and coming (and yet to be signed) Dizzee Rascal and Siouxsie Sioux. The latter, in fact, is the product of a conversation about the title track during which the duo described their need for someone ‘like Siouxsie Sioux’ to sing the vocals, and found they had the draw to get a proper pop star on board. “From that moment on, we felt that we could venture out and ask a few more people who are established. We’ve always had guest vocalists, but now they’re people who have their own careers. We look for people with real character and personality, and most of the people who have that are already established.”
Simon describes latest effort Scars as “Basement Jaxx ten years after ‘Remedy’”, and therefore “more mature and reflective, as that’s where we were when we were making it, you can’t rock the world when you’re five or six albums down the line”. Despite acknowledging the new album’s successes live, it sounds like Basement Jaxx are their own harshest critics. “I’d have loved it if Scars had sold millions of copies and gone to number one all over the world. You put your heart and soul into something for two years…”
The house to Scars pop is Zephyr, an EP originally slated to stand alongside Scars as a double album. Simon describes the two efforts as “the two parts of the Basement Jaxx brain. Zephyr’s more influenced by jazz and experimental music, and we know there are people out there who like that side to what we do. In a way that comes from the original meditative deep house music, which was very soulful and reflective. It’s less like a set of songs, and more just a stretch of music”. By separating the two, Jaxx also hope to make Zephyr distinct from a ‘bonus CD’, and while they’re certainly not expecting much commercial success from the EP, they plan to promote it as the more experimental effort that it is, as well as marking it out as distinctly different to the new album without the less pop-focused audience switching off.
They’ll be plenty of chances to air their more experimental side live, too: “the live show’s wicked for us, it’s a chance to reinterpret stuff. I’m more in the mood for the DJ side of things right now, rather than the songwriting, so we’ll be taking the chance to do a little bit of what we were dong twelve years ago. New voices give you new ideas, so we rearrange the songs. Obviously we can’t have Yoko Ono, Dizzee Rascal etc. on tour with us every time, but there are about ten people on stage. It always goes off in Ireland. People are not portentous; they get stuck in. If people will come, we’ll be there.”
It’s hard to push Simon on where things might head next. The remixes seem to be a thing of the past, with Simon pointing out “the last thing we need is any distractions, and people are really good at doing mixes with their laptops. We were known for our part in the mash-up, bootleg scene, and everyone’s doing that now. It seems a little bit pointless, and the desire isn’t quite there at the moment. Vampire Weekend asked us recently, though. That could be interesting.” There’s a sense that it depends a lot on where the next spark of genius comes from, but Basement Jaxx are certainly at something of a creative junction: “Scars was the fifth album of a five album contract, and now we’re looking back at the DJing. It’s all very cyclical in a way. Ten years we’ve been with XL. Now the future’s open. The final date of the tour is the 28th of February in Japan, and that will be kind of the end of an era. After that, I think we’re both keen to take a break, maybe do a few things just for fun”. At a push? “I’d like to do some more stuff like Zephyr, and we’re thinking about doing some film music. I’d like to get together with someone who’s making a film”. There it is, then: Basement Jaxx, coming soon to a stage and a screen near you.
As published in State Magazine, December 2009. Click here to view the original.