Chemical reaction

With their techno-hip hop hybrid, The Chemical Brothers have cracked the guitar-obsessed indie market, while retaining dance floor credibility. Thom Dibdin discovers how.

t started with a whisper down the line. A mutter of two nutters from down Manchester way, via London, who couldn’t DJ but did anyway. There were murmurs of a dance act which combined the liberal inventiveness of hip hop with the vitality of rock. The whisper was about a band called The Dust Brothers who set the floor ablaze.

Then the rumours turned into fact with a frenzy of beats called ‘Song To The Siren’, released in 1992 on Junior Boys Own home of that other indie/dance crossover act Underworld. A plethora of manic remix projects followed, ranging from Leftfield’s ‘Open Up’ to Saint Etienne’s ‘Like A Motorway’ and Primal Scream’s ‘Jailbird’. There followed a DJing residency at the London club Heavenly Sunday Social. Finally, there was threatened legal action from a New York remix outfit, also called The Dust Brothers.

So the Brothers Dust Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands - became The Chemical Brothers,

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The Chemical Brothers: you won’t see them for dust

signed to Virgin and released an album called Exit Planet Dust. It was the hardest, dirtiest piece of noise to hit the dancefioors this summer an album which combined fast beats with techno noises, weird chants and sampled guitar. all whipped up with fiery blasts of hip hop scratching.

‘I wouldn’t say that there is one defining influence to our music,’ says Ed Simons. the ebullient half of the outfit, from the band’s recording studio which echoes to way-out sounds of early-80$ industrial percussionists 23 Skidoo. ‘Both of us listen to a lot of music and we can take a lot on board. I suppose the way that hip hop is put together and the liberating sample ethos behind it would be the thing that holds it all together in some ways. We don’t make hip hop, but that’s the way we approach 1t.’

Simons and Rowlands are in the studio to practise the live show which they take out on the road this month. That’s not live as in guitar, bass and drums, nor as a live PA miming to a DAT, but a fully live dance act, triggering samples and

mixing the songs into new versions as the audience dance.

‘There is a difficulty in bringing a dance act on the road.’ admits Simons. ‘but we’re going to bring our own sound and lights and stuff. So we are hopefully going to transform the venues we play into happening places for one night. like the Orb and Primal Scream used to do, and just have a party.’

The party will feature a slide and lights show from Vegetable Vision, hooked up to respond to the music. DJ support for the whole tour comes from James Hollroyd. resident at Bugged Out in Manchester. ln Glasgow. he will be joined by Andy Weatherall. Fine. but how does this allow the spontaneity of a live performance to come in?

‘lt’s different every time you put it down.’ responds Simons. ‘lt is just what we do in the studio. but transferred into slightly more difficult surroundings. We have expanded our set over the past year. it used to be pretty short and sharp but now it’s a bit longer and Chaotic. a bit more spontaneous: we work off each other through various different bits of equipment that we are using.

‘So far as I am concerned it is not visually exciting in that there’s no catwalks and stuff. Some of the best gigs we have seen over the last few years have been dance acts like Orbital who

‘The way that hip hop is put together and the liberating sample ethos behind is the thing that holds it all together. We don’t make hip hop, but that’s the way we approach it.’

put on a really good show. Obviously if you have a charismatic front man then that can carry a show, but there is no sort of set rule that watching someone play a guitar is more exciting than someone mucking around with a Juno.’

What sets The Chemical Brothers apart from the dance-aCt pack is the sheer adrenaline of their music. Theirs is not a formulaic procession of repetitive beats designed to hypnotise a dancefioor. but a complex and structured sound which entrances rock kids and the habituees of the manic edge of the dance scene alike.

Perhaps it is something to do with the drugs. Not ecstasy. although seven years hanging out in house clubs has given the music an acidic tinge and Rowlands started his musical career with the short-lived dance act, Ariel. No, their chosen was always rumoured to be the heart- accelerating amyl nitrate, a legal drug otherwise known as poppers.

‘We have a press officer who is very keen on amyl,’ says Simons. ‘lt’s not really an element in me and Tom’s musical thing. Our mad entourage like it and it was quite a feature ofthe

' Heavenly Sunday Social. That was held in dark,

horrible sweaty rooms with people taking amyl and drinking loads of beer.

‘I suppose we were the patrons ofthat scene but we didn’t actually indulge. There was so much of it around that someone spilt a load on the floor once and when they drOpped a cigarette they set their shoes on fire.’

So it’s true. The Chemical Brothers do set the fioorahghr

The Chemical Brothers play The Arches,

Glasgow on Thursday 29 September from 9pm—2am.

The List 22 Sept-5 Oct 199511