Junto for Basement Jaxx
It’s been a decade and a half since Basement Jaxx first broke out of the underground house scene with their chart-topping, critically-acclaimed 1999 album Remedy. Dance music has only grown more popular, especially in the previously electro-resistant United States, in the ensuing years, though the British duo has yet to capitalize on the recent EDM explosion in this country. That’s all set to change with Junto, the pair’s first album in five years, which is set to drop this week. I caught up with Basement Jaxx’s Felix Buxton to talk about the new record, playing electronic music with a live band, America’s newfound love of dance music and more.
You guys are about to release Junto, your first album in 5 years. What can we expect from this release?
We made an effort with this album to make it something where as a DJ we could play it in the clubs and we probably made an effort to do something that was going to connect with people more rather than going off too much on any arty tangent.
Are there any special collaborations on the record?
We made a point to try not to get any names on the record. We’re kind of where we started with Basement Jaxx in the first place, which is very much that it wasn’t about a name. I mean there are people like Mykki Blanco who is from the states, I mean he’s not very well known over here, but now we’re just sort of friends with him and another DJ. And ETML is on the first song “Never Say Never,” and he’s just so cool now. He’s completely unknown, but we came across his voice and thought he was great, and he was right. So yeah, we kind of let the whole system go very organically, really. We go with the flow.
Will you guys continue to incorporate live drumming and other instruments into your live show?
Yeah, well generally we have about 12 people on stage, so we’ve always kind of done that. More recently, we have a belly dancer and a robot, but the robot’s quite expensive. I’ve always found a lot of rock bands and DJs very boring to watch, visually. I mean that’s why we use all the flame throwers and all this other stuff now. So for us it’s a way of expressing the music and we create songs, so it’s great to have the singers of the songs with us. And if not then still have someone else perform it and make it like a piece of theater, a living theater.
How does your live show differ from your DJ sets?
Yeah, definitely well because DJ is just the two of us with a USB stick nowadays, mixing probably 3 or 4 tracks at the same time, and yeah it’s a different vibe—the DJ set is very much for the club and that atmosphere.
Do you use instruments when you record in the studio ad well? Or is a lot of it most of it done on computers?
With the live show, it’s a mix of both. Simon plays guitar, we’ve got live drums, live percussion, I play the keyboard and samples. But then we also have tracks running, also sometimes we’ll go into a DJ bit, but we also have a brass player as well and 4 vocalists. Some bits of the show we do acoustic and some purely electronic to keep it more interesting, to mix it up. We’ve always done it with half a DJ show and half like seeing a live band—that kind of represents our music.
In the studio, on the album, we’ve got lots of live instruments. I went and recorded with kids from Paraguay with The Recycled Orchestra. They’ve created instruments basically out of all the shit, all the rubbish. And there’s very poor people living there, they’ve made amazing instruments, and they’ve actually started a youth orchestra, they play Mozart, and they play all traditional Paraguayan music. It’s really cool.
I went in and recorded them in there on our song, “Power to the People.” They’re actually part of the PowerToThePeople.fm website we’re setting up. It’s there now. You can see some bits of what we’ve created at moments but we’re going to play it in a few weeks. And that’s with different pieces of music, so this song was called the “Power to the People” and we cut that in different languages so you’ll be able to play the verses sang in Indian, the chorus sang in Turkish, maybe a beat from a trap producer, and a bit of the music from some African drummers or something.
So with the “Power to the People” website you can sort of mix it up yourself? You can switch the languages?
Yeah, so that’s the idea for the listener to actually be able to open and try different things together and play it and it should all go in sync. We’ve been developing it for the last year with these guys called We Make Awesome Sh. Yeah, that’s their name. So that’s cool, and it’s something that I’m really excited about.
I see you guys are coming through the states right now with the DJ set, and you’ve got some live dates planned for the UK later this year. Are there any plans to come back to the states with the full live show, or maybe hit up some other parts of Europe?
That all depends on whether the states wants us with the full live band show because it’s actually quite expensive to do. There’s a whole load of people, and so we actually considered doing something again, telling them that the Junto album is coming out. We just thought we might as well do the DJ sets seeing that we’re here. Then we go back and do a live show in Brighton, England this year, and then we go to Japan and do Fuji Rock Festival. But yeah it’d be lovely for America to see what we do and kind of spread the love as they say.
How do you think electronic music has evolved in the two decades since you guys got started?
Well obviously massively because now it’s kind of on top of the boxes. It’s pop music, on top of the American charts and all around the world. When we first came to the States, it was probably ‘97. Then house music was definitely an underground form of music, it was stigmatized a bit as a gay thing because here we found it very hard for our music to fit in. We were kind of in between all of the radio stations—we had elements of punk, rock, it was very house music based as well. They didn’t know quite where to put us and house music was the real underground. The way we saw it, it was kind of for the misfits, for people for the fringes of society, the urban ghettos. It was very much about unity and drawing people together—that was the whole vibe of what we were doing.
Are you hoping that the new album gets a little more love in the United States now that things have changed with the electronic music scene here in the past?
Oh yes I mean obviously, we make music and we want people to enjoy it and to connect to it. I mean if they’re not interested then we will leave—that’s fine. [Laughs] But yes, with the success of EDM over here, and then also Daft Punk. We started with them, used to tour with them a bit. We were very much part of the same thing. I mean the fact that they came out with an album last year and it was that effective in the mainstream, even though it wasn’t kind of noisy EDM, that was really encouraging. EDM is fine, and existing as one thing, but there’s a lot more to electronic music that maybe a lot of people finding it out for the first time don’t know.