Jumping Jaxx Flash
Britain's Basement Jaxx steps up its lively house-music assault
The cover of Rooty, the sophomore album from U.K. house music producers Basement Jaxx, features a somewhat unsettling albino gorilla leisurely munching a branch. But one listen to the freaked-out funk of Rooty's opening number, "Romeo," and it's clear that Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton aren't just monkeying around.
A bouncy slice of verse-chorus-verse pop featuring British diva Kele Le Roc, "Romeo" appropriates an almost two-step rhythm. And while most Jaxx music revolves around a 4/4 beat, showcasing some two-step — a late-'90s British amalgam grown out of gritty New York house, reggae, R&B and breakbeat — is one more way for the Jaxx to reconnect with their British roots.
Owning up to their Brit background wasn't always a practice Basement Jaxx favored. Formed in the mid-'90s, shortly after meeting on a Thames riverboat party, the duo was originally attracted to the deep underground sounds of New York and Chicago. The Jaxx so wanted to be associated with those scenes that they had their early singles (recently released domestically as Atlantic Jaxx Recordings) shrink-wrapped, an uncommon practice in Europe that usually signifies an American release.
"We thought [American house music] sounded a lot cooler than the music coming out of Britain," recalls Buxton. "They seemed to be able to make dance music that had a depth to it, and wasn't just about drugs and punching the air — which was more of the European thing. So we tried to be American, and then some of the first feedback we got from American DJs was that they loved our records because our stuff sounded so European."
It is ironic that the Jaxx would attempt to downplay their Britishness, because their heady sound — introduced to most of the public on their 1999 full-length debut, Remedy — could only come from the cultural mesh that is London. To borrow a phrase from fellow Brit Fatboy Slim, Jaxx influences range from punk to funk, incorporating rock, blues and other African-American strains while peppering the mix with Brixton/South London-based hip-hop/ragga and Latin influences.
Their interest in modern hip-hop beat production, classic Prince-like funk and Latino liveliness makes for party music that eschews over-analysis and instead celebrates life. Time has helped the Jaxx avoid over-thinking the creative process in favor of celebrating their own style.
"I think our music started to develop with a lot more personality when we were less scared about who we were," admits Buxton. "I think probably on this album [Rooty], we felt a little more liberated because we had confidence with what we were doing from the success of Remedy. We've always been into a wide range of styles. I think with Remedy, we were branching out as much as we thought it was possible at the time, whereas now, hopefully, we're not held back at all, and aren't constricted by it being house music or whatever music. Hopefully something radically different but packed with life and positive aggression will be in our future."
Appropriately, the Jaxx's immediate future looks radically different and lively: Their first live tour features Buxton and Ratcliffe sequencing and mixing technologies live, throwing in a bit of guitar and keyboards amidst a flurry of singers, dancers and visuals. The Jaxx are hopeful audience members will be dancing right along.
"People sometimes forget that this music is for human beings to add to their lives and give them hope," says Buxton, "not mire them down in thought. When you're in a club, you want something that lifts you up and gives you life, because often in the modern world that's what we need: something to give us a kick."
Basement Jaxx play Fri., Oct. 12, at Earthlink Live, 1374 W. Peachtree St. Show time is 8 p.m. $18.50. 404-885-1365. www.earthlinklive.com.??