Listening to the first release from The Chemical Brothers, two thoughts strike me: first, this is very ambient-meets-techno, second, what took them so long?
I always loved dancing, and dance music. I didn’t recognize the labels -house, electronica, etc (not that they existed much) -so much as enjoy the output. I danced with equal vigor to the latest pop hits of the day (something about the hummable jumpiness of MJ & the bass-heavy, thumpalicious grooves of “Nasty” sister Janet still moves – literally) as the wordless, hazy instrumental stuff you heard everywhere but could never quite name; it had a groove, it had a heart, it had a beat, and it breathed, in a wordless, low whisper, “move…”
So I did -to everything from 70s era instrumental funk and disco to 80s glam pop to the awe-inspiring, genre-defying sounds of the 90s, when technology took a decided leap forwards and married metal, rock, beats and block-rockin’ rhythms to create a holy land where definitions vanished and were replaced by a nirvana outlined in the fuzzy shapes of outstretched limbs and undulating hips.
Dance has always felt like a kind of holy sacrament for me. After moving home from Dublin and London, I bemoaned a North American club culture that seemed to cater exclusively to the under-21, micro-skirted, posing-with-cocktails set; I was more accustomed to the cargo-panted/t-shirt, big-boots-and-all-ages crowds actually dancing at clubs in Ireland and England. The phrase “dance music” has very different connotations between continents; even now, with the success of bands like Air, Daft Punk, and MGMT, it’s still, I think, somewhat ghettoized as being the exclusive enclave of the young. Nonsense.
As Robbie Robertson breathily intones in the gorgeously dense Howie B. track, “Take Your Partner By The Hand“:
this is a place she goes to fulfill a very basic need
… to communicate without talking…
she wants to make a connection
…this is about smoke and sweat and beats
this is about no questions
I relate even now, my club days like foggy, happy, multi-color memories smiling at me from afar.
So with The Chemical Brothers’ new release, I’m taken back to that place. I love hearing the notable embrace of past (with samples of work from The Who, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd certainly audible) and fearless celebration of present. The Chemicals were one of the first big acts to hit the mainstream back in the 90s, and they paved the way for others –The Prodigy, Orbital, Underworld -to come forwards in North America, and dip into a bigger ocean in Europe. I’ll never forget walking through a dull, flourescent-lit department store in Dublin (a more depressing, middle-of-the-road retail spot you couldn’t find) and hearing “Firestarter” piped through the store’s enormous, bland expanse. Young mums walked by pushing strollers and grannnies glanced at sale-tagged sweaters as the screaming insistence, with echoing beats and shouts, bounced off the scratched, matte lino: “I’m the firestarter…”
These days, the songs being piped through that dreary store might be made by someone on a laptop, living in an equally dreary suburb; it doesn’t matter about the source now, so much as the spread. Everything yawns open, embraces, pushes, pulsates, sways and shimmies; the Chemicals recognize this bold, scary, exhilerating sense of the unlimited essence of sound, music and experience -that basic need to communicate – and with a wink to the past, they’re kissing the future, and moving feet, hearts, minds, past categories and into the horizon where sea, sky, and dancefloor bleed.