January 26, 2001

Ecstatic Beats

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Like starved dogs, electronica fans have been ravenously consuming every bassline and sampled loop produced by the Chemical Brothers—the godfathers of the breakbeat movement. Unlike many passing electronica bands, the Chemical Brothers have kept at the forefront of dance music by reinventing themselves and exploring new styles. Since the release of their 1995 debut Exit Planet Dust, the Chemicals have been conditioning their fans to lose control and truly experience the music. Being at a Chemical Brother’s show is a sublime experience, far from the experience of mindlessly dancing to “Blue” at Bibi’s. One look at the audience of a Chemicals show reveals the extent of the power that Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons possess over their legions of fans. Lost in a sea of beats, they are entranced ravers with the look of ecstasy.

The last single to be released off the 1999 masterpiece Surrender, “Music:Response” is a quirky techno-pop track that harkens back to the Moog-driven early ’80’s. With its simple loop of bleeps and a robotic, vocoder-distorted voice repeating the words “music-response,” the track is reminiscent of early electronic songs such as Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.” Although cool in a retro way, “Music:Response” is simply a set of samples thrown together with a monotonous bassline. It lacks the visceral energy of some of their other tracks off Surrender. The music fails to inspire the hard-driving response of songs like “Loops of Fury” and “Let Forever Be.” By releasing this song as an EP, the Chemicals are clearly throwing its fans a bone in order to keep them drooling for more. Yet, they make up for the shortcomings of the title-track by including two remixes that are much more imaginative and club-friendly. On the “Gentleman Thief” remix, Lionrock’s Justin Robertson transforms it into a rollin’ tune by adding hints of funk, drum ‘n’ bass, and trance. This version is a seven and a half minute onslaught of intricately woven chimes, tom-toms, and ambient samples. Using synth melodies (especially one sampled from the Underworld’s song “Dark and Long”) and a faster bassline, the “Futureshock Main Response” remix adds a factor of House to the mix.

The previously unreleased tracks “Freak of the Week” and “Enjoyed” are outtakes from the Surrender LP, constructed by combining different samples, loops, and beats left on the cutting-room floor. “Freak of the Week” begins with a slinky intro and then blossoms into a House tune with the introduction of phat, thumping beats. Including everything from fast drum ‘n’ bass percussion to a sample from “Thriller,” the Chemicals appear to have thrown in the kitchen sink along with everything else. “Enjoyed” is essentially an intrumental remix of the track “Out of Control” from Surrender, employing the same driving bassline. With well-layered electronic loops and a radiating sitar sample, “Enjoyed” is far more seamless in construction than “Freak of the Week.”

The Chemicals further entice the fans by including a live version of “Out of Control” from Glastonbury and a multimedia video for “Let Forever Be.” Enhanced by ambient samples and background cheers, the live version of “Out of Control” captures the high-energy, drug-induced atmosphere of their headlining performance. With this track, Ed and Tom remind the fans of their dominance onstage. Finally, the Chemicals attempt to keep their fans conditioned by including the video for one of their best songs. Complete with psychedlically distorted guitar riffs and a rolling bassline, “Let Forever Be” is the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Ecstasy. The song is augmented by Michel Gondry’s trippy, kaleidoscopic visuals. Although the Music:Response EP is not a good introduction to the Chemicals, it is a must-have for fans. Using layers of entrancing samples and beats, the Chemical Brothers successfully maintain their Pavlovian control over breakbeat fans. As long as they keep playing music, we’ll keep raving.

Archived article by Kouki Harasaki