x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Basement Jaxx set the pace at Yas

The British dance duo, who will headline a Skybar after-party in Abu Dhabi this weekend, discuss collaborations and the difference that a live audience makes.

Basement Jaxx's typical stage show is anything but low-key.
Basement Jaxx's typical stage show is anything but low-key.

"There are times when we go a bit too ... Basement Jaxx," says Simon Ratcliffe, one half of the British dance duo, before describing previous DJ sets as "quite erratic". 

For a group who have sold more than three million albums, won a Grammy Award and played a headlining slot at Glastonbury, such a crisis of confidence is rather unexpected. But Ratcliffe makes it clear that it is not self-confidence that the pair are regularly forced to grapple with when performing, but self-indulgence.

Best-known for the singles Red Alert, Where's Your Head At? and Good Luck, Basement Jaxx will be heard mixing songs from their back catalogue with those of some of their favorite artist when they play the Skybar, at Abu Dhabi's Yas Hotel tomorrow night.

"Sometimes [the shows are] not totally cohesive," he says. "But when we get it right and just tone that wildness down a little bit ... I feel really happy and think, 'Wow, we did a real Basement Jaxx night and we kept the crowd with us'."

The group began life in the mid-1990s, with Ratcliffe focusing on writing music and his collaborator Felix Buxton organising parties. Their regular event, called Basement Jaxx, was held in a number of venues around Brixton, south London, and guest DJs included the French superstars to-be, Daft Punk. As the pair became increasingly involved in the house music explosion of the late 1990s, Basement Jaxx's focus shifted towards making music and eventually signed to the indie label XL.

Their first album, 1999's Remedy helped earn the group recognition not just from clubbers, but mainstream music fans too. The four LPs that followed (most recently 2009's Scars) were each loaded with huge singles, earning the group an impressive clutch of awards.

"From day one we were always just in our own little bubble; into everything, but never really part of a gang," says Ratcliffe.

"When we started, our music was inspired by really deep, soulful underground house. These days that type of feeling can be found in dubstep, drum'n'bass, minimal techno - you'll hear all that when we play."

Basement Jaxx managed to reach fans of many different musical genres by collaborating with an array of vocalists on their albums, including Dizzee Rascal, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Lily Allen and Yoko Ono.

"It was great meeting Dizzee for the first time. He was a fresh-faced 18-year-old, just quite humble and cool," says Ratcliffe.

"He came in and we had three grooves ready for him to pick from; two of them were grimy garage tracks - which is what you'd expect him to choose - the other was a lot more off the wall. We were quite surprised when he didn't want to do one of the grimy tracks, but that's probably what's got him where he is today - he's not self-conscious, too many people in the world are and it stifles creativity."

In recent months, Basement Jaxx have increasingly been including dubstep tracks into their DJ sets - the notoriously woozy genre is the favourite of London's latest generation of laptop musicians. But despite the marked differences between dubstep and Basement Jaxxs's upbeat, colourful sound, Ratcliffe says the pair are keen to embrace all styles.

"The summery outdoor festival stuff is certainly a side of Basement Jaxx and that's probably what we're best known for, but it's only half of what we do. There have been times when dance music has shifted into an area where we feel less comfortable, but now it's actually in an area where we actually feel more comfortable."

But the group's apparent fondness for low-end frequencies and undanceable rhythms may come as a surprise to anyone who has witnessed their full live production. During major tours and festival appearances, as many as 15 people take to the stage, dressed in carnival gear.

"When we started putting parties on in Brixton we were friendly with the Brazilian community, we'd ask percussionists, dancers and vocalists to come down," he says.

Ratcliffe says they were inspired by many of the group's early contemporaries, such as Daft Punk, Cassius and Air, who had all begun touring like rock bands, with increasingly grand productions.

"We just thought if they can do it, we can do it too. All of a sudden, we weren't just two guys standing anonymously behind a mixing desk anymore," he says.


Basement Jaxx will be performing at Skybar at the Yas Hotel tomorrow night. For tickets see www.thinkflash.ae

For more coverage of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, go to http://thenational.ae/abudhabigrandprix2010.