Authenticity and reflection: Chatting with Basement Jaxx
Basement Jaxx are a British electronic music duo who have had a long and exciting career in the music industry. The two men behind songs like ‘Where’s Your Head At?’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Raindrops’ and so many more, they’ve been in the game for over a decade, and have wowed crowds all over the world with their thrilling live shows and jam-packed DJ sets.
Set to make their return to Australia, a country they once frequently visited every year but have since taken a bit of a break, we were lucky enough to have a chat with one half of the famous twosome, Felix. Reflecting on life outside of music, his career so far and all things Basement Jaxx, Felix provided some insight into their lives, remaining humble and self-aware. Catch the duo performing at Electric Gardens, dates below.
Purple Sneakers: Hey Felix pleasure to talk to you today.
Felix: Yeah you too, how are you?
Good, lets get into the questions. For starters, I know you and Simon are coming down here to play a few DJ Sets, how do you feel about that?
It’s good, it’s exciting, it’ll be nice. We haven’t been in Australia for a while actually. We used to go over there every year for a while, and it was always nice because we got the sunshine in January. All while it’s all cold and miserable in England.
You have had a long career with many hits under your belt, how do you choose what goes into your DJ sets?
Well, it’s an element of pleasing yourself and an element of giving people what they want and to take them on a journey. Being artistic about it without being cheesy; making it work without going to the lowest common denominator. Hopefully giving people something moving in the mental, spiritual and artistic sense.
When you say “make it cheesy,” what would be an example of that?
Well, you could play any dance hit from the charts, but if people like it, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, we want to do something more meaningful, and that shows how we see the world and what we want to entertain ourselves with.
In your long career, you’ve had your successes and you’ve also managed to keep up with the time without sacrificing that “Basement Jaxx” sound. How do you keep your music evolving without losing yourself or falling victim to the trends?
I suppose we are quite lucky, because the trends have come around to doing what we were doing 20 years ago. In a way, it’s amazing because it’s come back to what it was. Electronic music has always had its new things like dubstep, drum and bass, EDM. I think the key is to be honest and authentic, if that means you relate to people, great! But if not, well it doesn’t matter. We were lucky that what we were doing was ahead of the curve. The curve has now come back.
In electronic music, there are many duos: MSTRKRFT, Daft Punk, Justice etc. But the average listener might not understand what each member brings to the table. Can you go in depth about what each of you in Basement Jaxx do to contribute to the music you are making?
Well, when it started off, I had lots of ideas and he had lots of equipment. I’ve been more of a more ideas and melody focused while Simon… In the simplest form, Simon plays guitar and I sing the songs.
Enjoyment is a big part of creating music, do you feel satisfaction with how far you’ve taken your music career?
I feel blessed and lucky to do something I enjoy, and the fact that the music is still being played on the radio means that people still want to hear it. If that stays for another 50 years, remains to be seen. I think everything is about the journey and experiencing life. There’s a great song by Kamasi Washington called ‘Rhythm Changes,’ that’s just saying that our genius and our success is only temporary and will fade away anyway, so don’t get too hung up on them, and all we have is the moment we are in. One day, you might climb Mt Everest. The next, something tragic happens. I dunno, we are all just experiencing this rich tapestry of being alive. People are wrapped up in celebrity culture and fame at the moment, like that’s a way out to bring happiness. I’ve gotten to see that first hand and feel the same way before I started Basement Jaxx; the things that are important have nothing to do with your success. Yeah it’s nice to get a Christmas bonus or whatever, and that’s good, but that’s all surface stuff.
Good Words. You mentioned Kamasi Washington, while that shouldn’t surprise me because by stalking your Wikipedia page you can read about how you have a diverse taste in music, but what other artists are holding your interest?
I’ve never really listened to the hit bands. I don’t follow what’s the newest of the new because I find it to be a bit shallow and dull and self conscious. I’ve got one record I listen to… Navajo love songs, which is a bunch of men chanting over drums. It’s some native american stuff so I really like that. I like music that’s authentic and not trying so hard. I’ve also got some Finnish piano music I like. There’s something Basement Jaxx is putting out called ‘Go Be Yourself,’ where it’s an 80 year old man and a piano and we are putting that out as a single and I feel real happy about that. On the B-side, we have him playing organ music, so that’s music I believe is real. I’m not too fussed about genres or whatever. With pop music I’ve never been fussed about being whipped up about new bands.
Moving off from music onto your videos, you guys always seem to have very striking videos, I still remember the monkeys from ‘Where’s Your Head At’. How much are you involved with the visual aspect of your band?
Well we’ve always been involved with the visual identity. I’ve done a few of the album covers. But with videos like ‘Where’s Your Head At,’ that was entirely the idea of Traktor. He came in and showed us some ideas and showed us a picture of a dog with a human face on it and we were sold. We loved the idea of it. So it was really a collaboration always, with videos.
Speaking of collaborations in music or the ones you want to do in music, how do you go about picking them or getting them?
In the first place it was anyone we bumped into, like the first vocal song we did we got a girl who worked in a friend’s office in the daytime and they were like ,”Oh she’s got a good voice,” so we were like, “Let’s go with her because she could sing.” Then my girlfriend she was on ‘Back To The Wild,’ with her sister. That was a couple years ago, and they had never been in a studio ever when they sang that- they aren’t singers. If the voice is kind of true and doesn’t sound too manipulated or like they want to be on X Factor, then any human voice will do.
That’s one of the most interesting answers because most other artists talk about other artists, but you’re talking about coworkers and people you know personally. You’ve mentioned being true and authentic quite a lot in this interview, do you take that philosophy into all aspects of life?
What, of trying to make life authentic? Yeah. We’ve done gigs of being DJs and being DJs for corporate events. We’d get paid very well for being DJs, and we’ve done that to be paid well. That’s a bit Horses for Courses I know, but yeah as a philosophy for life being as truthful and trying to get as much balance as you can. At the moment in winter, I’ll go a couple of weeks at the homeless shelter and spend some time there, anything to keep you in check and stop you going up your own arse.
Keep it humble sort of thing?
So, outside of music, what are your interests?
Well, I’m very interested in what it means to be alive. I’m into UFO’s and other beings. I’m very into design and art. Actually I started a little art film in the hills of Norway about that alien and other being stuff. So a lot of little art projects. I went to Cali to help with the refugees and to help there a bit, which was very interesting. Travelling being in nature. Anything really. Swimming, being active even though I haven’t done that in a while because I’ve done my back in carrying a piano.
I find it interesting that you’ve not only got a film project in Norway but also your humanitarian work. So in your long career, what has been the busiest time, and the most relaxed time?
I remember when we did Glastonbury in the UK, that was the end of a few years of full on work. In a way, it was healthy stress because it was worrying about work or the next gig, the tour and putting a new record out. That’s when you kind of go for it, and you don’t get as much sleep and you keep on going. This was early 2000’s, but it’s still been consistently quite busy. The last couple of years, we have taken the foot off the gas. A year ago we stopped doing the live shows, ’cause we had been doing that for years and then we said, “Let’s take a breather from that,” so I thought it couldn’t get any better. It was a good time to draw a line on that. We were traveling with 18 people so we needed venues big enough to make sure we could put on a good show. I think drawing lines on things is a good thing to do. With Basement Jaxx, we may draw the line in a year or so, because I don’t think we need more music at the moment. Also at the moment I’m doing a project called Celestial Being, which is like a little side project, and Simon has his own side project working with an old country singer. We have are little pieces and we aren’t worrying about the Rolls Royce of Basement Jaxx sort of thing.
Last question, is there any message you want to get out to Australia or the world?
Well check out Atlantic Jaxx label, there’s a new thing called Joe Benjamin and it’s called ‘Go Be Yourself.’ I’ve been friends with him for 20 or so years and he’s coming up to 80 from Bermuda, so check that out over Christmas. Have a nice Christmas, and be kind to the people around you because the way we act is the world we create.
Catch Basement Jaxx at Electric Gardens:
Melbourne: Thursday January 26 Moonee Valley Racecourse
Sydney: Saturday January 28 Centennial Park
Brisbane: Sunday January 29 Riverstage
Perth: February 4 Red Hill Auditorium
Words by Aiden Benavides