Unpacking Jaxx

The basement boys bring the houseparty Stateside.

BASEMENT JAXX with Ugly Duckling

Showbox, 628-3151, $20 9 p.m. Fri., Oct. 5

"I ALWAYS WANTED to be a guitar hero, y'know? Like maybe Lemmy from Motorhead." So says DJ/producer Simon Ratcliffe, one half of good-time house duo Basement Jaxx. He's not making much progress on that fantasy, however: Guitars are in fairly short supply on his and partner Felix Buxton's buoyant, beat-heavy releases. Fortunately, little else is left out of the joyful noise the two mates create in their London studio and on dance floors around the world. Following a pub introduction through "friends of friends" in the early '90s, the pair (Felix the heart and Simon the brains, of a sort-"I seemed to know how to do the music and he had the ideas," says the latter) began their fairly swift rise from the underground to the pop mountaintop. Back when the rave scene still resisted sacrificing its guts and glory entirely on the altar of corporate co-opting, the two held illegal parties in South London's Brixton neighborhood, aiming to recapture the vibe of Chicago's early house scene. Club gigs led to first one hit—the now classic raga-inflected "Fly Life"—then another, "Samba Magic," as well as the requisite pocketful of white labels and remixes. Any label would have been foolish not to jump in on the action being stirred up by the duo at the now-feverishly attended monthly events known simply as Basement Jaxx; XL Recordings did just that in 1998, and were promptly rewarded with one of the biggest dance singles of the following year, "Red Alert." The track went top five in the U.K., and even notoriously DJ-resistant American charts registered Remedy's insidious powers.

"We wanted to be like the British Masters at Work," explains Ratcliffe, "and we imagined that [Jaxx vocalist] Carina would be like our India [Masters' vocalist], and front the band in a way, and we would be like the cool producers in the background." Instead, after a fairly fruitful collaboration, Carina became pregnant and decided to put music off for a while, leaving the boys alone again. Undaunted, the two hit the scene again with a new monthly, the cheekily titled Rooty—which, in typical Jaxx style, eventually became the title of their second full-length, as well. Soon the two were headed back for the studio, emerging with a follow-up that was less instantly addictive, but just as assuredly tuneful and actually more diverse stylistically. "We get bored just playing house music all the time," concedes Ratcliffe. " And the live show [especially] reflects that—it's not just us DJing, it's me and Felix at the controls on keyboards and computers, and singers and percussionists and dancers and visuals. We're there to entertain, but there'll be some stuff that's a bit more punky, a bit more dark, a bit more techno, some that's more soulful. . . . "

In other words, Ratcliffe concludes, "We just want to create a Basement Jaxx world where things sound like Basement Jaxx and we're free to do what we want. We have all sorts of different strings in our bow, and I like it like that, y'know?"


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