Orla Conway speaks to Felix Buxton, one half of headline act Basement Jaxx, ahead of their performance at this year’s Trinity Ball. Here he talks about the artificiality of fame, how dance has gone mainstream, how UFO sightings inspired his latest album and how his passion for music has endured and developed in the 21 years since the band’s inception.
Q: Why did you call yourselves Basement Jaxx?
When we started, our first name was ‘Underground Oasis’ that was the name we were thinking of naming ourselves. But there was a friend of mine who was involved in the music scene and he said that there was this rock band called ‘Oasis’ and he reckoned they might get big so it might be a bit dodgy, people might get confused. He was right! So that’s how we became Basement Jaxx.
Q; How would you describe Basement Jaxx?
A: Every adjective under the sun is very apt, because we all are every adjective under the sun. We all are everything and that’s something I believe, it just depends on what aspect we decide to focus on. Our music is just music, all music is just music and melodies. It’s how you interpret it. Music I love stems from Mozart to African music, all the pop music is great. I love all music.
Q: What was the idea behind the last album, ‘Junto’?
A: We decided we wanted to do something we could do with DJing in clubs and something that connected with new DJs. We were meeting all these young producers who were fans of our music like Rudimental and it was like “oh, we should do something for those people” because for a few years we’ve been off doing rock festivals and off around the world and you kind of forget about the UK scene and the house scene here. And we’ve been quite a way away from that and it was just to connect back to that. It was for the people who listen to our music and what they’d expect from Basement Jaxx. Being careful not to be pretentious.
Q: Why and how did you decide to perform live with singers and dancers etc…?
A: We’ve always done that. On our first album, the record label said that we should do some live shows but we thought “but we don’t have a band”. [Our music] is very rhythmical so to represent our music and all the voices it seemed to make sense that we had to bring the voices with us. Dancers and the other elements have come into the show,, that’s just because I love theatre, I love dance. Generally I find (live bands) pretty boring. DJ shows (are) just generally a guy twiddling a knob and that’s very uninspiring and it’s just never appealed to me at all. I mean I love going to see DJs but the whole draw of electronic music was that it wasn’t going to see someone stretching their egos on stage, it was about everyone together dancing. Not about all looking up to one person. So with our live shows it’s about making a visual representation of our music.
There’s loads of really good club music and DJs and the whole scene that we came from is now absolutely mainstream in every single way. At the moment anything vaguely underground, Radio 1 will jump on because they want to be cool so it’s immediately not underground anymore. So Electronic music/dance music has grown but people are very commercially minded. When we started it was very true and honest and house music was about unity and breaking down boundaries and that was very appealing.
Q Over the years, what is the biggest thing you’ve learnt?
All the ideas of celebrity and fame that people learn are definitely shallow and empty. I never really intended to get to know that world but I’ve gotten to see it. When I was a student, all my cynicism about celebrity culture was all absolutely bang on and I’m right back to where I was as a student – it’s all a load of nonsense. Please, all you students: don’t waste your time on it. Go and make your own things and to a certain extent just ignore the media. It leads to dissatisfaction, envy, just loads of things that don’t make you happier and life can be amazing.
Q: Do you think money or class has anything to do with music?
A lot of the middle classes embrace (popular) music and it’s kind of become their thing. Pop music used to come a lot from the working class. I think that’s just the way society works. I think anyone can make music. You don’t need music. We had no money when we started out. Creativity is not about having cash.
Q: Do you prefer playing club shows or festivals?
A: They’re all different. I do love an absolutely huge crowd who want to be there and are interested in listening to you because there’s so much energy, and when the weather is good… When all the factors come together then a festival can be amazing. I like being outside so any way that I can be outside and the weather is good is generally a massive plus. But then you can do small little intimate things in a dive…. It’s a range, you get different thrills. It’s like everything in life there’s not one way of being that’s key, everything in life has something to offer and something to give you and fulfilling.
Q: What is one thing that has influenced you in particular?
When we started doing the album in April 2012 I saw a UFO at that point when we got our new studio in London and that was an amazing thing. So it ended up being a whole journey of trawling the internet looking up all these conspiracy theories and all the different ideas of life beyond and other dimensions. That’s been a really big journey for me. I did a talk at Oxford Union that summer and so I really had to try and work out my thoughts on existence and belief and the biggest things that’s happened in my life is that UFO experience. And seeing how small minded people were at the idea that I had seen something that I couldn’t comprehend and I couldn’t say exactly what that was. A lot of people came with the reaction “you haven’t seen it”, “you’re lying”. It’s amazing people get very angry. I thought that people minds are so small. But what was encouraging was I saw at the time when I talked to students, they were really cool and open minded. It made me realise that so many people in life get trapped in this rut and they have these close minded which means that the experience of life becomes more limited and unhappy. Musically, that is central to the album. There is a song called “We are Not Alone” and it’s the idea that it’s about togetherness and connections, with ourselves and with nature and the globe and with higher dimensions and our spiritual side and beyond.
When I hang out with students I think they’re all really cool and they haven’t been dumbed down by society. I think when you’re a student you have to remember to keep that.