There is nothing like a crisp autumn day chatting with one-half of the dynamic duo that is South London’s Basement Jaxx (Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe). Buxton was in high spirits despite a packed day of press and a schedule that would take the boys to Chicago to deejay a rave, then right back to Manhattan for a sold-out spin at Santos Party House. One would expect a string of US live shows from the Jaxx, promoting their latest effort Scars (and touting 2010’s Zephyr EP), but Buxton and Ratcliffe have decided to take a different route, stretching their DJ muscles and promoting their name, rather than trekking around the country putting on elaborate shows. As we sat on the newly opened Highline on the West Side, it was the perfect setting for a new album and chapter in the rich career of these dance pioneers.
Sentimentalist spoke to you guys two years ago when you were promoting Crazy Itch Radio, so it’s good to see you back. So what do you think of the Highline?
It looks like an urban wilderness, but it’s still chic!
So how long are you in New York for?
We’ve been here for two days, then off to Chicago to play a rave, and then back here to deejay on Saturday, then taking off on Sunday.
Your last live show here was three years ago at Webster Hall.
Three years ago we did a live show here, and haven’t done anything since. This time we’re doing a bit of promotion, letting people know we’ve got a new album and a second album/EP called Zephyr, it’s all finished, the artwork is now all done. It’s more ambient, trippy- a bit more Pink Floyd-y.
So no live stuff happening in the US?
No, this time it’s just deejaying. We’ve loved to have brought the live shows because they’re big and exciting. But, at the moment, we need to see what happens in America. We haven’t been here for a while. We really haven’t been here since Kish Kash, when we got a Grammy and were dropped at the same time [laughs]. After that we didn’t know what was going on in America and there are plenty of other places that want us to come and that’s been great. We’ve been really busy, and you can’t go everywhere all the time, well, you could but you would get exhausted so you need to balance it.
I was going to comment about your deejaying creds, I heard you guys fill in for Gilles Peterson on his October 28 show. How did you feel about that? It’s great to hear you guys spin your musical tastes.
That was nice; I really enjoyed it. I suppose it’s more my thing than Simon’s. I used to be a fan of the whole jazz dancing, I used to wear a pin-striped suit and do splits [laughs]. So you heard me play Zephyr then! I had a couple of drinks, it was relaxing. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and then I got on a plane to come here! Gilles plays a lot of music I enjoy.
With that, what reflects your playlist choices?
Well, for instance, Friday night in Chicago it’s going to be a rave: young kids on drugs, and they want it to bang and rock and be noisy and be fucked up. New York… I don’t know. Will it be an older sophisticated crowd? I have no idea. You look at the people when you get in there and see what’s being played. I’ve got enough CDs to go in different directions. Then after 15 minutes, try one experimental song and see how it goes.
Well, it’s sold out, so seeing Basement Jaxx on the bill propels people to get tickets.
It’s always one of these things where we never know how many people want to hear Basement Jaxx music. We were in Toronto two nights ago deejaying, and what’s good was people passing over their phones asking to play this song or that song. It was good to know, ‘Okay, you want that.’ It’s all good.
Do you like playing stuff from Scars?
We’ve been playing a new club mix of ‘My Turn,’ and unreleased club mix of ‘Feelings Gone,’ a mix of ‘Twerk’ and ‘Raindrops.’ Then some old songs, too. It depends on what the crowd wants. I am enjoying these deejays gigs. It’s more relaxing. The live shows are very [does sound of a trumpet]. Well, there’s like 12 people on stage, 18 people traveling around with the production. When we do the full-full show we’ve got visual screens, and last year we had animators from the London Film Festival doing pieces for different tracks.
Wow! When you were in the process of making Scars, what inspired you to get the likes of Santigold, Yoko Ono, and everyone else who contributed?
Well, we started the album two years ago in New York. We came here and I wanted to interview Yoko Ono, that was the main thing. I was going to have a creative holiday to live in New York for a month. One mission was to talk to Yoko Ono about life, the universe and everything. Maybe I was soul-searching a bit, trying to work out my way and my direction. I thought since she’s from the whole ‘peace and love generation’ which was an idealistic time, and now she’s making art which is deep, emotional, thoughtful, positive and uplifting. I think she’s got plenty of scars she’s had to deal with, and I became really impressed with her and I wanted to know what she thought. I’m quite imaginative and surreal in how I look at things sometimes and so is she. Meeting her and talking about marching sunflowers, she was like ‘Oh yeah,’ and we were like, ‘Cool’ [laughs]. That was the initial thing, and then Simon’s missus heard I was coming over and then he did, and we ended up getting a studio. So we booked in Yoko Ono and got some other people to come in, Santigold, who wasn’t very known then, and Yo!Majesty, too. The whole process was go-with-the-flow, with the intent of doing something.
Now it’s funny because a lot of these artists have blown up since then.
Overall, I think it’s just people with some individual character doing their thing. They’re not following a trend, they have their own style. I suppose with what we do, that’s what it’s about very much. On the album, the people on it are all their own character and have their own personalities, an open mind, positivity, and it’s all different. It’s a mindset.
I think if Basement Jaxx were about following trends you wouldn’t have lasted this long.
At the very beginning, the first Basement Jaxx thing I wanted to do was American house. That wasn’t popular in England. The first people that noticed us were in Italy and then New York. Then England started getting into it and we weren’t included in that! It took a little while for people to come ‘round! It’s quite nice when they do realize, though. It’s like, ‘Thanks for having faith in things and having your own mind!’ With any art you have to go with your flow. Fashions come and go, and you hope you meet with them and then it all comes together at the right time and you become popular. –Andrea D’Alessandro, Photo by Andrew Whitton