The Chemical Brothers interview, July 2003
The following is an interview with Tom Rowlands from The Chemical Brothers, from the Creamfields website, in advance of the Chems appearance at the UK dance music festival in August 2003.
THE CONFIRMATION OF YOUR RETURN TO
CREAMFIELDS - A WHOLE THREE YEARS AFTER YOU LAST SET THERE, ITS COME PRETTY LATE
It has been fairly hush-hush, though I’m sure it adds a little bit of excitement. But we played for Bugged Out! over in Manchester recently and, as that wasn’t announced until pretty late, we were actually able to go on without a fair amount of hoo-ha.
SURELY THERE’S NOWHERE YOU CAN PLAY THESE DAYS AND NOT EXPECT NO FUSS THOUGH?
We do our Glint parties in London and they’re a fairly simple affair. They still go off but it’s on such a smaller scale to, say, when we play live. Having that variation with the events that we’re involved in is what keeps us interested. So touring, for example, can be quite pressured- there’s a big crew of people involved and we have to pack up the whole studio. And while we love what we get out of that, it’s great to just pick up the record box and go and play some tunes.
YOU’RE HEADINLING THE BUGGED OUT! ARENA AND HAVE A LONG-STANDING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CLUB, WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL FOR YOU?
The people involved really. We go way back. Johnno and Paul of Bugged Out were mates at college. Then they created this club that was defined by its commitment to brilliant new music. Maybe even more importantly, they made it fun which, at that time, was revolutionary as those nights that leant towards techno were usually quite serious affairs.
DO YOU FEEL AN AFFINITY WITH THE OTHER DJS AND ACTS SHARING THE STAGE?
Well, Justin Robertson was absolutely instrumental in mine and Ed’s musical development. Right from when he worked in Manchester’s Eastern Bloc and sorted us out with our records each week. His Most Excellent night was then also really influential. Also, he was a southern boy who’d headed up north and, in that way, he was just like us. When he started remixing and producing records, he proved inspirational again and again.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THAT LINEUP?
It’s quality. Rob Bright! (Excitedly) Brighty! Another good bloke! Theyr’e all people who you can respect for being committed to their music but, just as much, they’re always really entertaining.
YOU’LL BE CHECKING THEM OUT YOUSELF THEN?
Yeah. And Dave Clarke’s playing his debut live set, isn’t he? I’m definitely up for that! It’s been a long time coming. He’s an astounding DJ and I love the way he puts his records together so I’m intrigued to see his take on live electronic music. I’m sure that will go right off.
WHO, IF ANYONE, WILL BE TEMPTING YOU AWAY FROM THAT ARENA?
I’ve seen Massive Attack a few times and they’re great. I’m hoping that we’re not on at the same time as I really want to check them out. James Lavelle’s UNKLE Sounds too. It’s funny because years ago we were flipping over these hip hop records for the instrumental versions with the weird effects until his Mo Wax started having them on the A-side- like on DJ Shadow’s ‘In Flux’. His approach was really in tune with us then. And now that he’s making these epic albums filled with collaborations and plays a real dancefloor set, there’s still some similarities there.
WHAT ABOUT AUDIO BULLYS? IHEARD THEM TIPPED AS THE ‘NEW CHEMICAL BROTHERS’ ONLY LAST YEAR:
(Laughs) But I remember there was a magazine article years ago that claimed Daft Punk were ‘the new Chemical Brothers’ and then, a bit later, Basement Jaxx were saddled with the same title. Obviously, they both outgrew that tag pretty quickly. But then we did too- y’know, back when… when we were cited as ‘the new Orbital’ (laughs again).
BUT, IN FACT, LIKE ORBITAL’S HARTNOLL BROTHERS YOU HAVE GONE FROM PLAYING SWEATY LITTLE BASEMENTS TO BECOMING A STADIUM-PACKING NAME, HAVEN’T YOU?
Strange, isn’t it? I actually saw Orbital play at Glastonbury years ago and there was so much controversy in the lead up to their set because a dance act were closing a big rock festival. But it worked. And since then, things have changed. And, admittedly, we’ve also played a part in that. ‘Block Rockin Beats’ made radio programmers reconsider their playlists after it went to number one. Suddenly, this record that even we’d never considered to be anything to do with pop music was the best selling record in the country. And because we’ve had such success, we have the belief that we can now play anywhere. I mean, we’ve gone on immediately after the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. We now know that electronic music can work on that level. ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ pumps up and everyone’s just like ‘Yeah! Let’s do it!'
AH, YEAH. ARE WE RIGHT IN SAYING THAT THERE IS A FAIR BIT OF SELF-PROMOTION INVOLVED WITH ONE OF YOUR DJ SETS?
The one artist who makes up the bulk of our set IS called The Chemical Brothers (laughs). It’s not that shameless though. I’m sure most people wouldn’t know that they’re our tracks. And even if they did, most of the DJing material isn’t actually for sale.
YOU ALSO HAVE A HABIT OF ADOPTING THE ODD RECORD WHICH SUBSEQUENTLY BECOMES A CHEMS SET STANDARD FOR SOME TIME. BACK IN THE DAY, WASN’T IT JOSH WINK’S ‘HIGHER STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS’? THEN, MORE RECENTLY, TRISCO’S ‘MUZAK’, FUNK D’VOID’S ‘DIABLA’, ‘THE JAZZ’ BY THE MICRONAUTS AND UNDERWORLD’S ‘KITTENS’?
Actually, we’ve only just dropped ‘Kittens’ from the set. But we can continue championing certain records in a way that other DJs can’t. People aren’t expecting us to just play all the upfront tracks and keep emptying our boxes of those records that we love. If we believe in a piece of music, we’ll continue to support it. The Micronauts track, for instance. That goes everywhere with us. It has done since we got it. We still play loads of test pressings of other peoples stuff alongside our own, but it’s usually those records that no-one else is touching.
AS A RESULT, IT IS ALMOST AKIN TO YOU PLAYING LIVE IN AS MUCH AS AN AUDIENCE WILL GET TO HEAR THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS. YOUR INIMITABLE TASTE ALONGSIDE YOUR ACTUAL MUSIC. AND FROM SONG TO THE SIREN, TO YOUR UPCOMING FLAMING LIPS COLLABOARTION ‘THE GOLDEN PATH’, YOUR OWN WORK GOES DOWN BEST, DOESN’T IT?
Yeah, but having that actual angle probably makes up for the fact that we’re not the most technically gifted DJs. We’re not like Danny Howells or John Digweed who are able to programme a seamless set. The key to our DJing is that we’re musicians who make records. That’s our pull, I guess. The DJing feeds our music and the music we make also feeds our sets. It’s the one really special thing about us as DJs. We’ll play records of ours that haven’t come out yet, early versions of tracks that have already been massive for us, obscure remixes and one-off cut-ups for our own use including those ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ things. But that’s actually how we started out producing by making the kind of records that we wanted to play out.
BUT THEN, AGAIN RATHER IMPRESSIVELY, YOU’VE NOT GOT TOGETHER ENOUGH OF THOSE TRACKS TO WARRANT A GREATEST HITS PACKAGE?
Well, we’re not really calling it ‘Greatest hits’. There’s a singles collection coming out to mark the fact that we’ve been at this for ten years now. Me and Ed have been listening back through the stuff lately while putting it together and, I must admit, I do feel rather proud. ‘Chemical Beats’, ‘Setting Sun’, ‘Private Psychedelic Reel’; y’know, they’re all still good records.
NOSTALGIA? WE THOUGHT YOU GUYS ONLY LOOKED FORWARD.
Actually, we’ve also created seven pieces of new music that will form the basis of our next proper album.
WHAT DOES THAT SOUND LIKE?
It’s really different. We’ve had this creative burst and put together what I think is the best music we’ve ever produced. I guess that we’ve begun to make the records that we’ve hinted at making for years. That track with Canadian rapper K-OS for example (as featured on ‘Singles 93-03’), is the kind of fluid, trippy, acid hip hop thing that we’ve been wanting to do for ages.
BECAUSE THERE WAS TALK OF YOU WORKING WITH EVE AT ONE POINT WASN’T THERE?
That kind of happened in as much as we were sent a recording of her rapping over ‘Hot Acid Rhythm 1’ (the Chems’ B-side to ‘It Began In Afrika’). We wanted to take it back to the studio and rework what she’d done and then there was plans for it being used on a film soundtrack. Only me and Ed missed the deadline and it became one of those that fell by the wayside.
AND DOESN’T THIS SINGLES COLLECTION ACTUALLY HAVE SOME OF YOUR HARDER TO FIND WORK ON IT TOO?
That was the most exciting part of it for us. We had the opportunity to go back through all these old tapes and dig out versions that we’d long since forgotten about. There’s a version of ‘Life Is sweet’ called ‘Delic’ for example. That one’s really strange. There’s also a track called ‘The Duke’ that didn’t make it onto ‘Come With Us’. That one’s been getting played out a lot lately.
WASN’T THERE TALK A WHILE BACK THAT THE WHOLE ‘TRIBAL’ THING WAS PROVING INSPIRATIONAL?
It was one of those things where we’d not heard Danny Tenaglia play but we’d heard so much about what he does. That whole hypnotic thing really appealed to us. Y’know, that out-of-body thing that people were rumoured to have experienced at his club. So we took our own idea of what that was and made ‘It Began In Afrika’ which was a concept based on this primitive percussion that was sent into space. Then when we encountered the whole tribal thing first hand, we realised that we were a bit off the mark. The reality of it wasn’t nearly as wigged-out as we’d hoped.
But it’s events like Creamfields that actually do give us chance to see what else is going on out there right now. We can finally check out all those DJs we’ve been hearing so much about. That’s what the festivals are all about for us.
And, y’know, we might just find ourselves in the hard house tent all night nodding to each other going 'yes, this is surely the future of music'.
Well (rather unconvincingly) you never know.