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Inspired By American Dance Music, Basement Jaxx Raise Roof In U.S.

UK electronic duo's thumping, party-ready sound lifts 'Red Alert' to #1 on Billboard Dance/Club Play chart.

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

pop-diva Cher.

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"

(RealAudio

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

"Rendez-Vu" (RealAudio

excerpt), while the stand-out track "Yo-Yo"

(RealAudio

excerpt) includes the Basement Jaxx's first genuine rock-guitar

part.

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

dance music.

"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

think."

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."