In August I talked with Felix Buxton, one half of house deity Basement Jaxx, about their latest album Junto. The interview was for GT (Gay Times) and so we talked a bit about Basement Jaxx's encounters with the gay scene and Felix's thoughts on the relationship between gay culture and dance music. We also chatted about drugs, growing up and how Myleene Klass is hot shit. I've been a big fan of Basement Jaxx since they blew up in the mainstream when I was about 11, so it was an ambition fulfilled to meet Felix and thank him and Simon for so much great music. Having saved up my pocket money to buy their first releases I felt fully compensated later on at the Junto launch party where there was a free bar!
There was only space for about 800 words of this interview in the September issue of GT, so here is my full transcript for you to read. Felix says some quite in-depth stuff about how Basement Jaxx build their music, so I wanted to share it here on my blog for all to enjoy rather than sit and decay in My Documents...
FELIX BUXTON: THE GAY INTERVIEW!
(a section of this appeared in the September 2014 issue of Gay Times)
With the arrival of their new album Junto and its hit lead single ‘Never Say Never’, Felix “Jaxx” Buxton talks to Jack Cullen about GBFs, gay clubbing memories and the egalitarian message behind Basement Jaxx’s music.
Twenty years ago Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe bubbled out from beneath the undercarriages of Brixton’s deep house twilight zone, piloting their own dance scene and conjuring for themselves a unique sound that the world would come to know as Basement Jaxx. Their songs are sound collages that entwine the urbane with the ethereal, often combining pop, house and classical elements around a pelvically-dangerous soul groove, carried by unusual guest vocalists and topped off with a bucket load of bizarre samples and effects, Basement Jaxx tracks always pack a punch.
Today, on the eve of their seventh studio album, a bestselling greatest hits CD under their belt and a monthly Ibiza residency at Pacha, Basement Jaxx are at the top of their game. We caught up with Felix at his King’s Cross recording studio to chat all things Jaxx, with a gay twist of course…
Let’s talk about Junto the album...
Or “hunto” as it’s pronounced – it’s Spanish!
It’s your seventh major album but where would you place it in the Basement Jaxx story?
It feels like we’ve come back to square one. The musical style out there right now is like back when we started, that deeper kind of house has come back again.
The music press paints this portrait of Basement Jaxx exploding out of an underground Brixton scene in the 90s. What about the gay scene though? Lots of big dance acts like Felix Da Housecat and Armand Van Helden played in gay clubs in their formative years, what about BJ?
Well, not so much Basement Jaxx the act, but on a personal level the gay scene was part of my early years because my best friend from school Alex turned out to be gay.
Did he drag you round all the gay bars then?
Not quite, but yeah I did experience the London gay scene a bit back then. I remember Horsemeat Disco was good and we used to go to nights at The Fridge and there was a place in Brixton too. Characters from the gay scene used to come down to the early Basement Jaxx nights too. My Gaydar has always been absolutely rubbish though!
Are you still friends with Alex?
Yes! He’s a doctor now but he keeps his piano here in our studio.
Last year when you played in Moscow your singers wore rainbow coloured dresses onstage, was it a protest against how badly Putin is treating his LGBT citizens?
Yes and no. Rainbows fitted into the picture of what we were doing at the time, in fact rainbows have always been quite a Basement Jaxx thing, part of that “somewhere over the rainbow” concept and hippy ideals of peace and love. Our music has always been about inclusion, celebrating people who are different and embracing everyone, so not just gay people but anyone who isn’t white and straight basically.
Do you and Simon sometimes feel like a married couple?
Well… to a certain extent! We have been working together now for about twenty years, but I would say brothers comes closer to what it feels like.
Have you had fall outs over the years or have you ever had days where you just don’t want to see each other?
We’ve always got on fine. We started off more as two people working together and then became friends. My friendship with Simon is so strong though because it’s been developed over years and years. I’m not the sort of person who just makes friends with someone when I’ve just met them. Like obviously you meet people all the time and you have fun together and it’s great, but a friendship like mine and Simon’s is on a different level to that because of our journey.
If in one hundred years’ time a music lecturer had to pick out a Basement Jaxx song for a class of students and say “This is who Basement Jaxx were”, which track would you suggest?
Er… Well I suppose… ‘Good Luck’ might be the one.
Well when you listen to it, er… I feel like that definitely wasn’t by any other band.
It is THE sound of Basement Jaxx.
I like how Good Luck cuts across the middle of who we are. It’s rock and roll, it’s soul, it’s dance, it really brings it all together.
How come you’re in the studio today?
I’m sorting stuff out for this new project I’m working on with Ella Eyre. I’m doing a radio show on Capital Xtra next week, then we’ve got our Ibiza residency in Pacha and then we’ve got Bestival. I’m also working on a project for World Peace Day based around our new song ‘Power To The People’ so there’s a lot to sort out here!
It seems like in your early stuff that was more anger and rage. Songs like Jump N’ Shout have this real gritty, gangster, filthy sex, ghetto feel to them – you have sound effects like lighters flicking, and then over time your music’s become happier and has this glowing positivity about it, and you’re more likely to hear a harp playing than brakes screeching.
I think that’s just a response to the world we’re living in and what all of us are experiencing today. When you start out you feel this need to be as noisy as you can in order to grab attention, but now there’s so much stuff shouting at us all the time, that it’s boring to do that, that whole sound for us is a bit over. You have to remember the internet wasn’t even in place properly when Basement Jaxx began. When you listen to our earlier records they almost predict that the internet age is coming, that this overload of information and noise is one its way. And now that internet age has definitely arrived! And so I was very keen on moving forwards and away from that aggression and anguish you hear in the earlier stuff. We’ve done a lot of soul searching. Spirituality and new age ideals play a greater role in our music today, whereas in the past we might have used anger or these negative emotions for the base of a song, we don’t do that anymore. We’re trying to push out positive vibrations in our music. I’m very big on this psyche of not taking things personally, not making assumptions and always giving your best. Ancient Indian wisdom basically! Whereas back then for us it was very important to be as fucked up and twisted as possible.
On the new album there are still a couple of old-school Basement Jaxx tracks though right. Like “What’s The News” – that track really packs a punch, it’s like INXS and Freddie Mercury chewed up and rolled out of the Basement Jaxx hits factory. Really peachy, I love it.
Yeah, there’s a bit of that in there! With that track we really enjoying it in the live shows. Last week at Fuji Rock Festival in Nigata we really broke it down with this big section and then we did this whole kind of fashion show thing with it.
Now we wanted to talk to you about drugs. Clearly drugs play a part in the dance music scene, lots of people must party to your sets on drugs and you must have noticed a shift in the drugs landscape over your twenty year career. I just wanted some general views and perceptions from you, so like, Felix Buxton: On Drugs…
Obviously drugs has this sort of relationship with clubbing and house music, and when we started out in the 90s everyone was on pills all the time but for me personally I wasn’t into it at all. Maybe because I was skint, but me and Alex would go out to a club purely to hear the music and to dance as much as possible. Dancing was always what we went for. We didn’t even spend money on drinks! I remember we would play this game where we would both compete with each other to dance as hard as possible. We both liked doing the splits, ha, and yeah - everyone probably thought we were on drugs! But for us it was about groove.
Have you ever taken drugs?
Oh yeah, when I got to university I was exposed to all of that. The club we went to actually was called Natural High, but everyone was snorting coke and tripping on acid. I had a really bad acid trip and after that I made a decision to leave acid behind. I went through a period of about six months where I did E too, and then I remember this one night I was out seeing a DJ from the states that I loved and I was completely pilled up, and I had this feeling inside me and I realised that it was boredom. I just felt really, really bored. The E was getting in the way of the music, and what I wanted to feel and what I really felt.
Tell us about your Power To The People project…
So the song Power To The People off our new album, we’re doing a version of it with lots of people all around the world singing it in different languages and different styles, and then we’re going to put out a mash-up for World Peace Day. So today I’ve been listening to the Indian vocals. Myleene Klass is playing the harp on Hampstead Heath in it too.
Isn’t she a bit prim and proper for Basement Jaxx’s image?
Not at all, she’s brilliant. Life’s too short to worry about things like “image” in that sense of the word. People get very nichey in London and there’s this constant ghettoization of the arts but it’s funny, something you learn from travelling the world is how silly and meaningless that all is. Like something in London that everything cares about and fusses over can mean absolutely nothing in another part of the world. London can be a very small-minded city, I really like Myleene Klass’s music and I love collaborating with a wide variety of people.
Talking earlier about London, do you think you’ll settle down here when you’re old, or move abroad permanently, or spring back to vicarage life?
Hahaha. I really like Ibiza actually. They say the lay lines and the energy there is really good. There are wonderful restaurants, nice beaches, you can go and party if you want.
So you’ll be starting a family in Ibiza next year?
Maybe! A while ago I thought long and hard about where in the world I most want to live actually, and it boiled down to Tokyo or Buenos Aires. I love the warmth and energy of Latin culture and Latin people.
Going back to the artwork, this new logo on Junto is quite simple compared to previous motifs like your crazy-cool coat of arms on Kish Kash and the hyper sexual graffiti stuff on Rooty…
Well both Simon and I wanted this album to be very clean and pure and Heather’s ideas fitted perfectly with our idea for the album. The logo really made sense to me on a personal level too, I’ve been looking at geometry recently and how everything is connected and this sense of balance in the universe.
What happens to your old artwork and stage props? I read that Pet Shop Boys keep all of there shit in an archive in South West London. Do you guys have archive too?
We have a lock-up in King’s Cross yeah.
So there could be a Basement Jaxx retrospective art exhibition happen one day?
It’s definitely something we’ll be wanting to do in the future yeah.
You’ve always collaborated with newcomers and a wide array of artists. With this new album I love Patricia Panther, the Scottish rapper you’ve got on your track Summer Dem!
Haha, yeah. We met her on the street at the Edinburgh festival. I was with my Dad I think and she came over and said hi because she’s a fan etcetera and she interviewed me for some magazine or other and then we stayed friends. With this new album she emerged as exactly what we needed because we needed a rap but I wanted a rap that wasn’t like any other rap. I feel like rap has become really boring, it’s just commercial corporate pop music now, whereas a Scottish rapper – we liked that! It took us a few goes to get it right, but I love the results – it sounds really different and yeah – Scottish, as opposed to just trying to sound American.
What sort of music are you into at the moment?
Right now I listen to a mixture of Korean music and classical musical. With the internet everything is so available and there’s so much out there, there’s load of really good house coming out at the moment too but I’m going through a Korean / Japanese thing, probably because we just got back from there.
How come you’re in the studio today?
I’m sorting stuff out for this new project I’m working on with Ella Eyre. I’m doing a radio show on Capital Xtra next week, then we’ve got our Ibiza residency in Pacha and then we’ve got Bestival, so there’s lot to sort out.
Junto was released August 25th. Lead single ‘Never Say Never’ is out now with 5m YouTube views and counting! Basement Jaxx are planning a big O2 arena show in December, take a look at their official site for details.
~ The Endalude ~
Jack is also co-host of London's gay culture podcast 'Dylan and Jack' which he produces with Dylan B Jones. Listen on SoundCloud here: Dylan and Jack, or subscribe on iTunes here: Dylan and Jack.