From Brixton to festivals the world over and back again, Basement Jaxx has been getting the party started for two decades. And they’re not done yet, finds Shaun Curran
It is 20 years since Felix Buxton and his friend Simon Ratcliffe began a club night called Basement Jaxx in their adopted home of Brixton. Apologies if that makes some readers feel their age, but Felix says for him the journey from the rear of the old George VI (sadly, now a Tesco Express) to becoming influential dance music veterans happened in the blink of an eye.
‘Twenty years doesn’t seem to register with me. I think it might be because I DJ in clubs. I’m always playing to young people. They stay the same age, it’s us that got older!’
Much has happened in those two decades. Basement Jaxx evolved from the coolest party in town to a hit-making, chart-topping duo and through their house-influenced pop became kings of both the airwaves and the dancefloor. Their newly released seventh album Junto, with its stellar, Ibiza-inflected comeback single Never Say Never, proves that they still are.
Felix says that Junto was a deliberate move to ‘get back to the essence of what we were about’, which goes all the way back to their initial Brixton-dwelling incarnation: ‘Yeah, those first nights were a huge part of it,’ he says. ‘They were called something else at first, but Basement Jaxx came about when I first met Simon. The original name might have been Basement Jaxxy, but that’s toilet in Irish so that had to go! But I thought it was a good name, and we thought a good party had to have a good name.’ Felix’s idea was to bring a slice of the Big Apple to the various pubs and cellars of Brixton.
‘Basically, I was trying to do what I thought was happening in New York. I had an idea of what the club would be like and one room had to have a stack of speakers, one strobe and one red light with music from the early house scene, Latin culture, black culture. The early Basement Jaxx sound was based on that. When I finally got to a club in New York it was exactly the same. I was so pleased!’
The nights were a collective, local effort with a helping hand from friends: ‘Alma from Clapham, who ended up on some of our songs, did the door,’ says Felix. ‘My friend Fiona would bring her university mates, so we’d have these posh white girls and then some crack heads from Atlantic Road. They were very interested to meet each other. It was always a good cultural exchange.
‘It was all about having fun’
‘Early on we had open mic with all sorts of entertainment. That’s how I met the Brazilian crew, on Brixton riot night, actually. The tube stopped at Stockwell and didn’t go to Brixton so I was chatting up a girl and through her I got to know a lot of Brazilian people. They would come down and play percussion and dance. We had a lot of performance art. It was all about having fun. Club culture now has grown up and become so commercialised.’
Speaking of commercialised, I ask Felix about a subject that has become increasingly pertinent in London suburbs: gentrification. The ‘Claphamisation’ of SW9 has caused consternation among those that feel Brixton is losing its identity, but Felix disagrees.
‘I know some people get scared about that, but I think it’s good for the place. It’s safer, it’s cleaner, the market was dead, so it’s a positive thing. Everything changes all the time. Don’t hold onto a stone being washed away by progress. Five years ago Brixton Village was a ghost town, but I DJd there in the summer and it was so much fun, people were laughing, interacting, doing stuff. It reminded me in some ways of when I was first living there.’
Felix’s reminiscing is apt, as things have also come full circle for Basement Jaxx. After a five year break (‘we felt like we were musically stationary and we wanted to reconnect with friends and family and become human beings again’), Junto is a return to what the duo do best.
Furthermore, the emergence of acts like Disclosure and Rudimental, who make no secret of their admiration for Basement Jaxx, made their comeback a more appealing prospect, not least for Felix himself: ‘We’ve had lots of minimalism and heroin chic, which is the opposite to our world full of colour and texture. The world had come back round again. I meet young producers and DJs who consider us legends, which was flattering, but it’s more a feeling that we fit in again.’
To celebrate a year that has reaffirmed their status, Basement Jaxx take their legendary live show to the 02 Arena: ‘We want to create a clash of going to a club, seeing a gig and going to the theatre,’ says Felix. ‘I’m very excited about it. It’ll be a great way to end the year.’