October 30, 2003

Basement Jaxx: Ka-Ching

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I never figured out why techno became synonymous with taking ecstasy. My best guess: you had to be tripping on ecstasy to be able to tolerate the annoying, thumping beats of electronica.

But Kish Kash, the latest from British group Basement Jaxx, has me feeling differently. It contains a sound that is decidedly refreshing, one that floats and oscillates with a dreamy resonance that does not require drug induced euphoria to enjoy.

The group, born from gritty DJ parties in Brixton, has produced numerous staples on rave club play-lists, including the now famous “Rendezvous,” “Red Alert,” and “Where’s Your Head At?” However, no song on Kish Kash remotely resembles those efforts. This is not traditional techno, and thus it is hard to label it as such. It largely rejects the bubblegum beats inherent in the genre, finding ones that are much more expansive and experimental. Instead of romping synthesizers, we hear Spanish guitars, funk, punk, garage rock, and soulful rhythms that would sooner have you meditate than dance. But this is what makes Kish Kash so engaging.

This is an album with mercurial mood swings. As it opens, “Good Luck” blares through the speakers with string quartets and frenetic drum beats rollicking throughout. “If I Ever Recover” is drenched in sonic sadness, lamenting an estranged lover, while “Right Here’s the Spot” bounces through your body with the same giddy flamboyance of a Parliament Funkadelic song. The album ends with “Feels Like Home,” a sublimely soothing track that bathes the speakers with an amniotic peace.

But the highlight is clearly the title track, bringing goth queen Siouxsie Sioux back out of the ’80s for a cameo on lead vocals. It is infectiously punk, droning with acid rock guitars and a pulsing bass strong enough to move floorboards.

This is dance music with soul. What Kish Kash turns out to be is a fusion of elements, bringing in guest singers and countless samplings of instruments to make an album that never repeats itself. This is not an album based on cohesion; instead, each song pours out a new sound. Normally, I would say that this is a bad thing, but here it seems to work. It reminds me of one of the best albums of the past year, Original Pirate Material, from another Brit, The Streets. Like Pirate Material, Kish Kash has a uniquely urban sound vastly different from most of the American variety.

Like other artists this year such as Outkast and Common, Basement Jaxx has courageously pushed the limits of the medium to create refreshingly unique soundscapes. They state their mission in three words on the album jacket, with a banner spouting a revolutionary message of “Soul — Punx –Unite.” This may very well be the beginnings of a techno revolution, one that challenges its place in music, demanding it do more than just make people want to bump and grind.

Archived article by Zach Jones