Last night, Jacqui Wonder had a very fun chat with Simon Ratcliffe, one-half of the legendary electronic music duo Basement Jaxx. They spoke about UFOs, twerkbots, and the massive Basement Jaxx family.
Where are you and what are you wearing?
I’m in my kitchen in London, and I’m wearing some customised Vans, beige chinos, a green t-shirt and a blue blazer.. I’m about to go to the airport to see my Dad!
So I’m very excited about the new album, to be honest that excitement has been building up for a liiiittttle while – what has been keeping you so busy between albums?
Well we’d done a whole decade’s worth of albums and in 2009 we’d completed our contract with XL, it was a five-album deal and we gave them six, and we decided that if we wanted to do any side projects it was definitely the time for it so that we could reflect. We didn’t just want to dive back into another album, it seemed more healthy to move on and we wanted to move studios – the recording environment we were in was kind of claustrophobic.
So we were looking for a new place to record and got offered two film scores to work on, we also worked on an orchestral project that we performed across Europe and in London which featured a 70 piece orchestra performing our music which was fantastic, and I did a little self indulgent jazz fusion project, which was a joy to do. Then after about three years we finally found a good studio in North London in the Kings Cross area with views of London and all the landmarks, and we’ve been working there ever since, for about two years, on this album.
So you haven’t been busy at all really… Such a huge range of projects you’ve been working on, what have you brought from those projects into the new album?
The orchestral project definitely influenced Junto, we have a really strong link with the director of that project and he’s had a lot of input into this album. We’ve met lots of people over the years on those side projects and some of those people have now worked with us on this album. The thing with Basement Jaxx is that everything is very fluid; people come in to the studio, they leave; people that are professional musicians come in, and people that are not – even just people that come in to deliver things – and we get chatting to all these people and get them to try out new things. Everyone’s included.. it becomes very hard work when we’re trying to give credits at the end!
All these people – the Basement Jaxx family that you’re alluding to – you’ve always had a huge range of people that come in and collaborate and feature on albums – who are some of the people you’ve worked with on the new album who were highlights?
Well we have no one who is particularly famous, we haven’t done the thing of featuring some celebrity. We’re very much back to how we used to do it. We think it’s great, in fact it’s more exciting, if they’re not someone well known we think it sounds wicked, and if it’s someone that we’ve discovered that’s even better!
On Junto we’ve got Niara – she sings ‘Power to the People,’ we’ve known her for quite a while – she is a proper songwriter/singer who we bumped into in the carpark outside our studio and got writing with. We have a guy called Shakka Philip who is an up and coming artist in his own right, though he’s only young but stupidly talented. He wrote the music for and performed in a play at the National Theatre in London, he’s written music for other people and now he’s been touring with us as part of our live show as well as sings on ‘Rock this Road’ on the record. We’ve got Patricia Panther, from Scotland, and Elliot (aka ETML) as well, a 19 year old singer who’s only been out of school for about six months so he’s very fresh to it all and has this wonderful voice.
We’re so used to these days everyone being perfect, everyone knows every little trill; we’ve got this X Factor/Australian Idol generation where everyone’s really slick but it doesn’t touch you – it’s the fragility and the imperfections that kind of touch us and make us pay attention. Though with Elliot, when he came to sing ‘Never Say Never,’ he wasn’t what we expected, his voice was really sincere and genuine, plus when the ladies heard his voice they were all ‘oh who’s this’ so that helps.
Sam Brookes sings the last song on the album ‘Love is at Your Side’ and he is normally a folk singer; he’s in an acapella group and from the southwest countryside of England, he’s got a beautiful voice that really suits that song because the melody is kind of folksy in a way. So we’ve got some awesome, great singers, and they’re all a new generation of singers – that freshness is great for us, it’s really invigorating working with the new ‘breed’ in a way. We haven’t really done that name check that is so popular these days of getting the in rapper or vocalist to feature on your song..
No, but what you are doing is helping to build the careers and get the names out there of a lot of young people..
Well it’s funny, a couple weeks ago we were asked about when we worked with Dizzee Rascal (on third album Kish Kash, 2003) and it was kind of insinuated that we jumped on his bandwagon – but back then when we worked with him, Dizzee wasn’t very well known at all. His album hadn’t even come out yet. So who knows? Maybe some of the people I’ve just mentioned will, and I hope they do, go on to become huge.
So you’ve kind of got this huge Basement Jaxx family if you will, including the likes of Dizzee and some of the singers we just spoke about – and I’m not a linguist by any means but I understand ‘Junto’ means ‘together’ in Spanish – does that represent the family or is there more symbolism at play?
Well we’ve got this experiment going, there’s a website called powertothepeople.fm, it’s based on the song ‘Power to the People,’ and we were trying to get people from around the world, with no talent or heaps of talent, to create their own versions of the song. As a part of that, a version was done in Paraguay, and there’s a lyric in the song that goes ‘we’re all in this together’, and they translated that word ‘together’ as ‘Junto’. So we were scratching our heads trying to think of album titles, trying to sum up the spirit of the album but everything we were coming up with just felt so cliched because in English everything’s been done before. But ‘Junto’ summed up all the feelings we were trying to capture, plus had some exoticness and mysteriousness to it.
You mentioned the track ‘Never Say Never’ before and I’ve had the video on repeat all day, did the sci-fi set get you nostalgic about ‘Plug It In’ or ‘Where’s Your Head At?’?
It’s funny you should mention ‘Plug It In’! The ‘Never Say Never’ video was done by Saman Kash and he did the video all himself, we had some conversations but he had this strong idea that he wanted to do this TwerkBot thing and we were like go for it! We had seen some of his other work so knew he had great style and taste, we trusted him and the rest of it was all his vision and it reminded me absolutely of ‘Plug It In.’ With Saman though, he has this kind of obsession with the Japanese aesthetic, it’s beautiful but has a slightly dystopian beauty to what he does. There’s been a few interviewers ask us about TwerkBots, asking if we loved twerking and whatever..
I was going to ask about TwerkBots.. but instead, while we’re on the sci-fi theme, did you really see a UFO from your studio?
[chuckles] That was Felix [Buxton]! I wish I had and then I could back him up! Not long after we moved in to the new studio, [Felix] was in there with a singer just talking and hanging out. They were just looking out over the London landscape and [Felix] saw a UFO.. which means he saw an Unidentified Flying Object.. which I don’t deny at all, my mind is open to all these possibilities.
In any case, any experience like this – it’s all food, it’s all stuff that you can put into your writing as you’re thinking about the world so.. I will admit, that there have been times as his partner, as the person that probably spends more time with him than anyone else, he was becoming slightly evangelical about it and would go on about it every single day for a good eight months – so I definitely became slightly weary of it and at times maybe it seemed I was being slightly incredulous or disbelieving, which isn’t true at all! I’d love to see a UFO! I look up in the sky now more than I have in the past wishing for that experience. You know how last year under the Mayan calendar the world was supposed to end? There was a general vibe where people were thinking about spirituality, the next dimension, the fifth dimension and [Felix] was tuned into that so he was in the right frame of mind to see something like that. We see what we want to see, so we don’t know whether these things are real or not..
So would it be fair to say that the UFO sighting influenced the ‘We Are Not Alone’ track?
Felix started off that track ‘We Are Not Alone,’ so yes it was absolutely influenced by that and there’s even a little line in there where it says ‘There’s something in the sky’. But then Meleka and I joined in the writing, we co-wrote some of the lyrics and I know that when I was writing I was totally aware of where Felix was coming from but I was also thinking I dunno, this could be anything, I knew there had to be a little more something – it could be about God, a greater being of some kind, or a power greater than us… It could be interpreted in anyway you want really.
Finally, you’ve got lots of dates ahead across the UK in November/December, any plans to come back down under in 2015?
Nothing I can say in concrete but undoubtedly we’ll come and visit that part of the world in 2015…
The brand new Basement Jaxx album, Junto, is available now through iTunes.