Release Date: Aug 25, 2014
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
Basement Jaxx’s seventh album—the duo’s first in six years—comes along at the perfect moment. Their sparkly take on house and UK garage, perfect on tracks like “Red Alert” and “Romeo,” is currently back in vogue thanks to superstars like Disclosure and Duke Dumont. It’s long since past time for producers Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton to get back in the conversation.
After 2009's Zephyr, Basement Jaxx scaled back their tours, focused on more low-key musical projects and gave every indication of drifting into a raver's dotage. So, despite a promisingly funky EP last autumn, it's still a welcome surprise to hear them sounding fresh and invigorated on their seventh album. The timing is good: warm, carnivalesque house music is filling dancefloors again and tracks such as Mermaid of Salinas deliver a trademark blend of hip-twitching percussion and flamenco flourishes.
After several ambitious projects that included 2009's back-to-back albums Scars and Zephyr, the following year's collaboration with Metropole Orkest, and their Attack the Block score, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton devoted some time to their lives outside of Basement Jaxx. Their break coincided with the EDM boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s, and their return feels a little like a critique of that movement's sounds and attitudes. Unlike Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, which expressed that sentiment by diving into late-'70s and early-'80s styles that ranged from disco to AOR, Junto evokes the heyday of '90s house, a revival that was already gaining traction with new artists as well as the style's originators.
What Basement Jaxx presented to the world 15 years ago beginning with their debut, Remedy, is what today's high profile dance music artists are fervently trying to capture. Seven albums down the line, Junto verifies that the British duo is still the leader in sketching the blueprint for house music. .
Basement Jaxx have spent years playing to huge numbers of sweaty people in fields around the world, yet their recorded output has been far from essential. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe’s amped-up Brit house formula has barely changed since their 1999 debut ‘Remedy’. Album seven, though, arrives in the middle of a revival for the genre and feels like their most relevant in years.
If a Basement Jaxx album somehow found its way into the hands of an outer-space musicologist of the distant future, all context swept away by global warming Armageddon, she may very well make the educated guess that this was the most popular music of our culture. She’d elaborate that it is highly unlikely, given our crude technology, that any recorded sound could have stimulated the human nucleus accumbens more directly. In conclusion, she’d say, it’s quite danceable, and you know how those primitives loved to dance.
There are precious few UK dance acts that have had the tremendous crossover appeal of Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. Traversing the fickle venn diagram overlap where Top 40 pop fiends, Tyres-esque rave addicts, beglowsticked partyholics, belligerent tastemakers and festival dilettantes are to be found, they’re acts that everyone knows, and that everyone, at least in some capacity, loves. They’ve become ubiquitous fixtures of any frivolity without sacrificing quality.
It's been five years since the UK duo of Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton gave us a new album, but Junto is worth the wait. To fans of Basement Jaxx, Junto (meaning "together" in Spanish) is exactly what you would expect, and want, from the party-starting, fun-loving DJs — accessible, feel-good house anthems tailor-made for summer. With song titles like "Power To The People," "We Are Not Alone" and "Love Is At Your Side," Junto brims with positivity, with several nods to the spiritual and the cosmic.
Is it possible for an album to be pretty great and yet slightly underwhelming? Listened to on a Tuesday morning commute, I'm tempted to conclude that the new Jaxx LP is merely more of the(ir formulaic) same, superficially jazzed up takes on world music genres to sound in keeping with current musical chart trends. Listened to on a Friday walk home though, it is a glorious irreverent return from the kings of global pop dance anthems. And lest we forget, Basement Jaxx are insanely good at creating 4 minute chart hits you'll know off by heart within three listens.
Dance may be the most primal of all human art forms. Before the TR-808, kandi, and the resolute separation between the underground and big room, body gyration and beats were a fundamental part of human tradition: celebrating victories, commemorating tragedy, or simply exercising one’s own passions for some all-powerful entity. Like collectives Beats International or Thievery Corporation, the duo behind Britain’s Basement Jaxx have long sought to merge the bottle service club culture with much more organic electronic vibes.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Basement Jaxx's first release, EP1—and it's easy to forget how straightforward and underformed it was. But that's the case for just about anything compared to the mindbending pop-house they'd concoct throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. Remedy, Rooty, and Kish Kash made for such a definitive early-career run that their overloaded, Frankie Knuckles-via-Tex Avery sensibility shone through even when they felt like they were starting to coast.
Basement Jaxx were early dance polyglots in the Nineties, incorporating global sounds into their house and U.K. garage beats. The London duo's ears are as open as ever on their seventh album: Kicking off with a sample from First Nations powwow singers Northern Cree, they cherry-pick a dream team of power divas and U.K.-funky progenitors, sourcing styles that include garage, house, hip-hop, disco – even flamenco ("Mermaid of Salinas") and jungle-seasoned trap (the bonkers "Buffalo," featuring Mykki Blanco).
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "Raving is one thing, and it's working very well in America, but it's not the same as having a sexy dance." Felix Buxton's words in a recent interview about the new Basement Jaxx record Junto, offered a neat insight into the music he and Simon Ratcliffe have been making for years as a duo. As British dance music royalty goes, at least from the release of debut album Remedy in 1999 right through to fifth record Crazy Itch Radio in 2006, the producer/DJ partnership were knights of the realm.
The 90s are back and so are Basement Jaxx, whose Brixton parties in the latter half of that decade showcased a fusion of house and carnival music that injected a bit of sunshine and pop sensibility into dance culture. Nowadays shiny, poppy house music is in almost permanent residence at the top of the charts, and with their first album in five years Jaxx are reminding Duke Dumont, Clean Bandit et al what they brought to the table. There may not be a standout track here – a Romeo or a Red Alert – and the desire to show their range (almost every track fuses a different style, from dancehall to trap or tropicalia) dilutes the effect of the whole.
From their 1998 debut, Remedy, through 2003's Kish Kash, Basement Jaxx managed to court both the dance-snob vanguard and the U.K. pop chart with equal success. More than a decade later, their first three albums (which also includes 2001's Rooty) hold up remarkably well, despite their innovations having been long-since strip-mined for commercial use.
So far, the Basement Jaxx of this decade have felt very different from the Jaxx of the early '00s. They've put out albums sporadically instead of matching the every-other-year pace they set after their debut, Remedy. They've tuned in more to chill-out and coffee-shop world music than the demented, amp-straining dance-pop of their early hits. Now well into the elder-stateseman, post-retrospective singles collection era of their career, Basement Jaxx can seem more like a concern for pop traditionalists than dance devotees.Though the spiky energy of their youth has been reduced to a low boil, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe still have a weirdo vision of global fusion music, albeit one that traffics in smoother, more even-handed production.
Given the current influx of Jaxx-indebted newcomers, a fresh LP from Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe seems like an opportunity for the house genre’s elder statesmen to show these fresh-faced imitators a thing or two. But alas, ‘Junto’’s flaws, much unlike 2009’s forward-thinking ‘Scars’, are the fact that it is lagging behind rather than leading the pack, playing catch up with the duo’s own supposed pupils. Here, they fail to move things forward like Daft Punk on their ‘Random Access Memories’, and instead serve up a patchy collection – where only some of the parts equal the dizzy heights of their much younger contemporaries.
Back in the EDM stone ages, when producers carved beats out of boulders, two teams reigned supreme when it came to international house music: Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx. While commercial EDM in the late 1990s was lapping up the progressive house sounds of Sasha & Digweed and Paul Van Dyke, the helmeted Parisians Daft Punk were working with a minimalism inspired by early Chicago tracks and dropping warning shots like "Da Funk" and "Around the World. " This is a modal window.
The British duo Basement Jaxx specializes in party jams blown up to parade-balloon size, and its seventh full-length starts on a celebratory note with “Power to the People,” a partying-is-political jam with a wailing lead vocal from Niara Scarlett and backing vocals from fans who attended the duo’s 2013 UK tour. It’s a bit subdued compared to earlier Jaxx anthems like “Romeo,” but it’s a great primer to “Junto,” which uses a rotating cast of guest stars (the stirring soul singer ETML, the attitude-stuffed MC Mykki Blanco, the boastful Scot Patricia Panther) to whirl through 2014’s varying meanings of “dance music” at a dizzying pace. Under less skilled guidance, an album that whips from stadium-filling house tracks to spindly, sun-baked R&B and the spare beats of trap music would sound like a hodgepodge.
When Basement Jaxx emerged out of Brixton at the tail end of the ’90s electronic boom, their take on house music was a revelation: dynamic, arresting, and reckless, but also remarkably pop-friendly. In the hands of founders Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, controlled chaos reigned. Rhythm stormed to the forefront, while hip-hop, Latin, disco, big beat, and rock ’n’ roll grooves collided like bumper cars—leading to notable releases such as 1999’s dance-music totem Remedy, the Gary Numan-sampling “Where’s Your Head At?” and the Grammy-winning genre meltdown Kish Kash.
A look through Basement Jaxx back catalogue reveals a band who has the spirit of a carnival running through their veins: The hypnotic, sun-soaked shuffle of early instrumental “Samba Magic”, the dreamy bounce of Balearic dance-ballad “Romeo” and the confetti cannon explosion of empowerment that was “Do Your Thing”. Here was an act who took electronic dance music and blasted it with brass over a decade before Rudimental became a festival staple, in between releasing more expected, but equally exciting hits. Junto (Spanish for together) is the duo’s seventh studio album, and arrives twenty years after “Basement Jaxx” – the Brixton club night that started it all.