It's not often that you get approached by your government and dispatched to a former colony to help them celebrate their tenth year of democracy. It sure beats the hell out of being sent to Iraq, which is the other place the British government is intent on sending their citizens. But the assignment for these James Bond's of groove is a lot more festive, and we South Africans are set to reap the rewards for our efforts of mass construction. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliff, the talented London based duo who make up the Basement Jaxx are on their way, with orders that come straight from number 10, to help us celebrate our metamorphosis from stinky apartheid pariah to one love democracy, ten years ago.

Much like South Africa, the Basement Jaxx got themselves together in 1994 with the advent of their record company Atlantic Jaxx.

'Yeah, that's a nice synergy.' Says Felix over a crackly telephone line from his living room in central London.

Despite their association with dance music, a notoriously shallow and hednoistic canon, the Jaxx have set themselves apart as a particularly discerning and positive dance band. Since then they have released three albums (Remedy, Rooty and Kish Kash) all of which have been huge. Their sound, for those who don't know (where you been, under a rock or living on a farm in the Northern Cape?), is strictly feel-good, eclectic dance anthems; the base is house but layered and textured with great vocal arrangements and a huge variety of influences ranging from bhangra to samba and live African percussion. They also attract a diverse and integrated crowd of mongers, everytime they play, which must have been a key motivator for their inclusion in the British Council's D+10 celebrations. They represent that new breed of positive, responsible Briton; who relishes the multi-cultural urban experience, eats organic food and washes it down with fair trade coffee.

'Our music has always celebrated diversity,' says Simon Ratcliff on his mobile phone from a studio in South London. 'So I guess we're kind of an appropriate band. We're relevant to today, our music is of now, of the moment. It's a positive, optimistic sound, I suppose.'

'We've heard things about big trance DJs going over to South Africa and we could have earned a lot of money,' adds Felix seriously. 'But I don't know, it didn't seem very real from what else we've heard about the country. It didn't seem like a nice way to go over there, just to cream a few pounds and come back again, and just perform for the elite, I suppose. So when we were invited to be part of the 10 years of democracy celebration, we were very proud to be asked.

'I really hope we get a mixed crowd.' Admits Felix of his expectations. 'Obviously that's going to be very difficult, because all the people who have been targeted and get to hear about us - are pretty much like ourselves. The thing is, once we're there, there's no point in worrying about whether there are enough black people or whatever, we've just got to do what we're doing. It would be good if we could do some sort of free gig while we're there.'

The British Council's D+10 celebrations present an interesting axis of politics and partying.

'I feel it's kind of the British government giving something back.' Says Simon. 'Back in history so many things were taken from so many countries, so it's quite nice to be giving something back.'

Even though dance music is not the most political form of expression?

'For me there has always been a message in everything we do.' Felix continues. 'The problem with dance music is people have always seen it as avery shallow thing and that it is very superficial. But the reason I got into house music in the first place was that I saw it as quite a deep feeling. You know they always had this a cappella that they put over records saying: "Welcome to my house, you may be Jew, you may be gentile, it doesn't matter what you are in this house". And it's a really strong message of unity, of people coming together, and definitely having been over to the States and going to Chicago and seeing some of the more seedy clubs there, you find transvestites and dwarves and all sorts. Not in a trendy kind of way, but like people on the fringes of society, and in that place, there are no barriers. That's always been very important to me. And that got totally lost in popular "DJ bring the beat back" dance music. But in everything we've done, the sentiment and the feeling and the importance of what it puts across has always been right up there.'

'You can use this position to spell all kinds of messages.' Says Simon, sounding like a dance music Bono. 'The truth is, whether this is tasteless or not, I make music for my own reasons really. I make music because it makes me happy. It's quite selfish, but I didn't decide to do music because I wanted to better the world, really, truthfully. I did it because I love it, it gives me satisfaction. It also gives me a lot of pleasure that other people enjoy it as well. To go back to what you said about dance music not being political, when I started it was very political. Especially when you had the rave scene over here. It was illegal to dance all night and people had to go off and express themselves. It had something revolutionary about it as well. It gave a sense of unity. And that's disappeared now because dance music has been appropriated by the mainstream. It's used in airport terminals and lifts and shampoo commercials. But any form of art is political, it's always expressing a point of view. Like we said before we're multicultural and we encourage people to keep dreaming and believing in themselves and pushing forward the human spirit.'

So if you're playing the gig in Joburg and you look up from the stage and you see Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in the crowd, what track would you drop to get them moving? You can hear Felix rubbing his chin as he ponders. 'I think older people generally like the softer, more feel good tracks, or something with a young girl being slightly flirtatious on stage [he laughs]. The track would have to be "Jump 'n Shout". It always gets everyone up and together.'

'What track would I drop to get Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu moving?' Simon repeats the question. 'I think "Red Alert" would get them into gear. "Aint nothing going on but history, don't worry, don't panic". It's a good motto.'

As a live act, what can we expect?

'Look, it's not DJing at all,' says Felix. 'That's really dreary. Our music is mostly songs, we've got about six singers with us, a visual show, a lights show, a live drummer, I think we're going to have percussionist from South Africa with us. Simon plays guitar, I play keyboards. It's multi-media really, a mix of computers and instrumentation, but it feels very alive. The computers are right in a suitcase in the back.'

'We're less of a dance band in the DJ sense and more of a band really.' Adds Simon. 'It's dance music, it's in your face, but it also has a cabaret feel to it.'

What do you image comes to mind when you think about South Africa?

'I only know what I've seen over the years on TV,' says Felix philosophically. 'The townships and fighting, and then I've seen footage of the trance parties, so in a way I've seen these little pieces, but I don't really know how it all fits together. it's going to be really interesting to see the way it is.'

'I know it may be a cliché,' admits Simon. 'But I just think of sunshine.'

On Thursday 14 and Friday 15 October, London groove maestros, the Basement Jaxx, play Cape Town and Johannesburg.

About Us
Branded Content
Film & TV
Events & Projects