Basement Jaxx are on top of the world. It’s a view these inveterate musical explorers have long embraced, ever since minting, at the turn of the millennium, the currently voguish, airwave-dominating pop-house sound. But as they prepare to release their earth-shaking, hip-shaking new album, that view is taking on added meaning.
From Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton’s new studio in north London – in a business-y space that’s now the biggest music hub in the city – they can see the transformation of Kings Cross down below. They can hear it too: the clank and whirr of hard-hatted workers toiling to transform these acres of onetime railway yards into a new travel hub, new town-within-a-city, new gateway to Europe. Right now, there’s no place they’d rather be and, unlike their last studio, near Brixton, this one has windows. Let there be light, and tunes that hark back to the jump-around, era-defining likes of Where’s Your Head At, Red Alert and Romeo.
Junto is the duo’s seventh studio album. Two years in the making, it’s the first since they set out on their own after the completion of their decade-plus contract with XL. Now they’re working with Coop/PIAS to release via their own long-running imprint Atlantic Jaxx.
So it’s the sound of freedom (not that XL kept them chained in a cellar and made them churn out sweatshop sing-alongs).
And it’s the sound of ambition (not that the Glastonbury-headlining, three-million-album-selling, Brit- and Grammy-winning maestros of global dancetronica have ever lacked ambition).
And it’s the sound of Simon and Felix diving back into sunshine and the spotlight (not that they’ve been wintering in idleness and obscurity – they’ve written two film scores, produced an orchestral album and last year they released two singles, “just to dip our toes in the water”. They’re not on the new album. Basement Jaxx, blessed with collaborators and ideas, had too many other crackers competing for slots on the tracklisting).
The spirit of the album is there in the title. Junto means together in Spanish. It’s definitely not to be confused with the name for a despotic Latin American regime. And Simon and Felix wear their heart on their record sleeve: the cover of Junto features a new logo based on “clouds and nature and sacred geometry”, which was created by the winner of a design competition the duo ran a couple of years ago.
“With this album we wanted to do something that felt more at one with the world,” says Felix. “Which is partly to do with my awakening after I saw a UFO from the studio…”
But let’s not go there. Not today at least. (“He talks about the UFO every day!” exclaims Simon, his long-term partner, half-sceptical, half-believing “He’s evangelical about it!”) Let’s talk instead about the album’s most hardcore dance song, the heavy, grinding, throbbing Buffalo.
“In the car I was listening to some jungle on a pirate station,” says Felix by way of explaining the track’s genesis, “and I was thinking, ‘wow, this sound really fresh again…’”
“And we were partly inspired by Harlem Shake,” adds Simon. The pair are as much the enthusiastic students of dance music’s ever-evolving shapes and genres as they ever were. “So we thought it would be a good idea to do a drum and bass trap song.”
Vocals are by transgender rapper Mykki Blanco. Well, some of them are. “He’s pretty out there,” nods Felix, and this is truer than they initially imagined. Blanco vanished before they could finish the track with him – he’s currently, they think, really out there, in the desert.
It all adds to the cheerfully inventive, explosively enjoyable vibe of an album written and finessed over the last couple of years. As they’ve always been, Basement Jaxx are both diligent and instinctive, forever alert to the creative possibilities offered by new talent. Forget this-or-that Big Name Guest Star – what can a fresh voice bring to the party?
So “Junto” features walk-on vocals from singers they met in the car park of their studio (Niara, big-lunged singer of Power To The People), on the street at the Edinburgh Festival (Scottish rapper Patricia Panther, who’s on the sexually gobby Summer Dem), and from amidst the ranks of their carny-style “Jaxx family” touring party (Shakka, who toplines the World Cup samba-party vibes of Rock This Road).
Opening the album after an intro fanfare is Power To The People. The celestial strum of harp ushers in an anthem of global togetherness. Without getting all barefoot hippy and fluffbrained dippy, Power To The People is a call to peaceful arms. Niara’s clarion vocal is backed by a kids’ chorus, 5000 fans recorded on Basement Jaxx’s last tour, and The Recycled Orchestra of Catuera in Paraguay. It’s big on melody and even bigger on aspiration.
“We’re developing an internet machine, powertothepeople.fm,” explains Felix. “And Facebook friends from around the world that I’ve met over the years – from India to Indonesia – are going to be doing different versions of the song. It’s a very universal song, and it’s about how we’re all connected, chaos theory and all that.”
Watch this space for the big reveal: Basement Jaxx were hoping to unveil their multiple-participant iterations of P2TP on International Day of Peace on 21 September.
So, make love not war. It’s a sentiment echoed on Mermaid Of Salinas. Already released as a 12-inch in Japan – the Jaxx global family of fans are always hungry for tunes – the carnival-conjuring song was inspired by a friend’s experience getting amorous with a complete stranger in the waters off Ibiza’s chicest beach.
And there’s more on a vividly colourful album that bustles and bursts with robustly peacenik atmos. The closing song, Love Is At Your Side, a hymn to Simon’s young daughter, is sung by folkie Sam Brookes, and is like Bon Iver taking the mic at Café Del Mar. It’s a suntan for the soul, and it’s glorious.
The first single, meanwhile, is the euphoric Never Say Never, a scorcher-in-waiting. It’s not so much radio-friendly as radio-frisky, supremely joyous and irresistibly feelgood. Sung by south London school-leaver sensation ETML, flecked with strings and studded with piano, it’s youthful British soul-house at its ear-tingling best. You might say that Never Say Never joins the dots between all the big club/chart crossover tunes of the past year, then creates a whole new, next-level tune. From the guys who invented the sound, we’d expect no less.
And that’s about, oh, half the tracks and only a fraction of the guests and players and ideas on this bold, boisterous, brilliant album. Summer is almost here, and the Jaxx are back. Let’s get this party started. Let’s get junto.
BASEMENT JAXX – Dj Set TOGETHERNESS / SAT 7 NOVEMBER 2015 / THE ROYAL YACHT