TOKYO (TR) – To support their seventh album “Junto,” British dance music act Basement Jaxx played last year’s Fuji Rock Festival. The London-based duo will return to Japan next week for shows in Osaka and Tokyo.
In late February, The Tokyo Reporter spoke with member Felix Buxton via Skype about collaborating in Japan, the state of electronic dance music, writing and going clubbing before work.
You seem to spend time in Japan. You don’t just get off the plane, hit the venue and then head back to the airport like some do.
When I was there before I went to Hiroshima. And one of the last times I went I did some recording with (Japanese singer) Chara for the “Junto” album (track “Wherever You Go“). I always try to make use of the traveling when I’m there.
I was impressed with (Chara’s) voice, her style and what she did. She seemed artistically interesting. And I was very keen with the album to get some people from different areas of the world because our music is very global. It’s about inclusiveness. It’s about looking at different perspectives and genres.
Rather than looking out from a street in London, now that we’ve got to know the world a bit more, it made sense to get people (to collaborate with), work in different countries and experience (production) from another point of view.
Basement Jaxx have lasted a long time. When you first got big, most dance acts were a couple of guys on the stage making beats. Your shows have always been busy and closer to a traditional live music experience. Was that deliberate or something that happened organically?
I never try to work out how important or not we are. There’s so many people who have contributed so much to so many scenes and styles of music that never got thanked. A workman is whistling something when you are on the way to the studio and it touches you in some way, touches one of your emotions and it makes you create something just because you have the equipment there.
With house music, we had a spin on it. We thought we were very much part of a scene with people like (American DJ) Armand Van Helden and DJ Sneak in the U.S., Daft Punk in France…and us in the U.K. What we were doing was based very much on what was going on in Chicago and New York. But what we wanted to do, we couldn’t do it, because we didn’t have the equipment or we didn’t know how to do it. So we ended up getting more of our personalities across.
I remember meeting Armand Van Helden years ago and he said, “I love Basement Jaxx’s music, it’s so European,” and I was shocked at the time. We really wanted to sound American. But he seemed to like it.
We are definitely a part of the global scene we created. We did our angle, but there are other scenes, like the U.K. garage scene, and maybe we ended up representing that in the world. But they gave us so much inspiration.
The whole idea in the media of dance music was it was very electronic and very nerdy, by blokes who don’t dance themselves and who twiddle knobs. That was not how I came to dance music at all. It didn’t excite or inspire me. I loved acid house, but for me, when I started going to raves, I was going to jazz dance (events) as well. That scene was headed by (British DJ) Gilles Peterson in the middle of the afternoon. There were no drugs, and (it) was about real hardcore dancing. People were wearing 1950s clothes, doing the splits, spinning and sweating, which was just the same as jacking house from Chicago. That was what inspired me; a DJ was there to really make you dance hard. It was less about the knob twiddling (and) electronics, (it was) more (about the) Berlin(-ish) side. I was more into the American side.
We have loads of live elements in our music. Just to twiddle the knobs with the two of us just didn’t seem to represent our music. For Orbital or whatever, that completely represented their music, which is great, but we never saw ourselves as that sort of thing at all. Unfortunately, the world was very narrow-minded at the time. People thought that if you were into dance music, it was DJs and it was all like very cliched lyrics and “bring the beat back Mr. DJ” or no words at all and just bleeps. Now, the world has changed, which is great. But at the time, the idea of playing different genres of music people would sometimes find shocking, but nowadays that’s fine. That seemed good to us back then.
Going to the (early acid house club events) in London, they played all sorts of music, not just one type of house. The Chemical Brothers was just one side of it.
I wonder whether with EDM (electronic dance music) we are not going back to a music that’s more restricted…
Right. What do you think about the rise of EDM, the U.S. A&R man in clubbing and the direction of the scene today?
All that stuff existed back (in the early 1990s). It is just happy hardcore or hard house wasn’t considered cool. What EDM is now used to be called happy hardcore or hardcore house. It was about having cheesy breakdowns and then when (the beat) comes in it’s, you know, full of firepower. Back then it wasn’t cool, but the world has become a bit more shallow and culture has become very throwaway and lightweight. The EDM sound is is on a par with that. It is what it is. There’s no point moaning. EDM is evolving. You’ll always have some people who will chase after the money and they’ll be around for a bit.
The core pop entertainment system doesn’t interest me. It’s like seeing a Hollywood movie, where it’s all explosions and effects — it’s really exciting, but then you leave and you can’t really remember what you saw or what it was. It hasn’t left anything with you, it hasn’t changed you or your emotions or viewpoint on something. You’ve just distracted yourself for a moment. That’s fine…It’s another part of the rich tapestry of being a human.
What else will you do while you are in Japan?
I want to get writing. I want to write a musical. So anywhere I can sit and write, I’ll find a spot. We did stuff with the (jazz and pop) Metropole Orkest before. We had a 120-piece orchestra and choir on stage. It had elements of contemporary dance, ballet and all sorts. It’s really (about) taking that further. And Alan Bennett, the (English) playwright, I’ve spoken to him and he says he’ll read some stuff I’ve written, so that’s exciting.
It’s basically long been illegal to dance after midnight in Tokyo. And London is one of the cities that has embraced club culture and created a world class scene. What do you think of the ban in Japan?
A lot of the things that have appealed to me have not been (at) world-class clubs. I love playing on a great sound system or playing at a big festival. It’s definitely great to have big spaces can play music, dance and express themselves…that’s fundamental. How you do it…I DJed at something called Morning Gloryville a couple of months ago. (The set is here via Soundcloud.) That’s a morning rave, which is quite popular now. So there’s no alcohol or drugs, obviously; it happens at seven o’clock in the morning, people dance for two hours and then go to work. That’s a new way of looking at dancing. And I’m totally into that.
I understand with club culture it’s the seediness that takes over and the authorities don’t like that. But I think in society there should be a place for everything and it should be for people to decide what they want to do and where they want to go. So if people want to build a place and put on a club then they should be able to.
Note: Basement Jaxx play at Namba Hatch in Osaka on March 12 and the following night at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo.