The UK electronic duo Basement Jaxx started out trying to evoke a mythical
American dance paradise in their music.
But for many flesh-and-blood U.S. dance fans, the band's thumping,
party-ready sound instead has become the soundtrack of the moment.
Remedy, the debut full-length album from the hip-hop-, R&B- and
house-influenced dance duo, has only been available in the U.S. since
Aug. 3. But already it has spawned a #1 club single, "Red Alert," and
Spin magazine placed Remedy at #45 on its list of the top
90 albums of the decade.
"Red Alert" (RealAudio
excerpt), which combines Blue James' classic disco-diva vocal
with a pulsing rhythm track and an insistently catchy synth-bass riff,
has been on the Billboard Dance/Club Play chart for 10 weeks,
peaking at #1. The track is currently at #13 on that chart, keeping
company with such artists as disco-pioneer Donna Summer and veteran
The U.S. success of the Brixton, South London, group, whose only members
are producer/DJs Simon Ratcliffe, 29, and Felix Buxton, 28, is fitting,
since the duo drew their initial inspiration from American dance music,
according to Ratcliffe.
"We were basing our sound on deep house and garage music that was coming
from the States," he said. "We wanted to re-create ... the myth of
America in our minds. The music there had a dignity to it that a lot of
European music doesn't."
In addition to such cult U.S. dance producers as Armand Van Helden, the
duo also was inspired by early production work by Sean "Puffy" Combs
"before he was cheesy 'Puff Daddy,' ... and other American hip-hop and
R&B producers," Ratcliffe said.
Critics have noted that such Remedy tracks as "U Can't Stop Me"
excerpt) use the stop-start beats of R&B producer Timbaland, for
instance, while the duo draw from hip-hop beats and sampling techniques
throughout the album.
"I was drawn to [R&B and hip-hop] because it was soulful but it was also
modern," Ratcliffe said. "I get turned on by production techniques and
differences in style — in music there's only so many things to
express, so it's how you say them."
Though most of Basement Jaxx's music differs greatly from the
rock-fan-friendly big-beat sound of Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers,
the duo are not above employing an occasional guitar in their music.
A rapidly strummed acoustic guitar gallops through the album-opening
excerpt), while the stand-out track "Yo-Yo"
excerpt) includes the Basement Jaxx's first genuine rock-guitar
In both cases, the guitars are played by Ratcliffe, who confesses to a
background in rock music. "I always dreamed I'd be Jimi Hendrix, but it
didn't happen," he said.
The fuzz-guitar riffs of "Yo-Yo" were inspired by the track's bassline,
which Ratcliffe said reminded him of Washington, D.C., hardcore band
Fugazi — a group not generally known for their influence on UK
"We were quite worried about people's reactions, because there's a rock
guitar in [the song]," Ratcliffe said. "But all our fears were totally
unfounded — we were probably too worried about what people would
In the U.S., where electronic dance music and its various subgenres are
less firmly entrenched than in the UK, such self-consciousness is even
less necessary, according to Ratcliffe.
"[In the UK], there's so much categorization," he said. "But [in the
U.S.] it's more like, 'I like this, I buy that.' That takes us out of
belonging to one scene."
Still, some longtime fans of the duo, who began releasing singles in
1994, admit to being bemused by the Basement Jaxx's newfound mainstream
visibility after several years of cult fame.
"They were huge on an underground level — now they're being marketed
like the Chemical Brothers," said Sean Holland, manager of Satellite
Records, a Manhattan, N.Y., store specializing in dance and electronic
music. "But it's not surprising — they have a ... unique sound."