Felix Buxton (Basement Jaxx): KCRW Guest Mix

Written by Travis Holcombe

Where’s your head at, Felix Buxton? Photo by Jean-Luc Brouard

For nearly 30 years, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have been bending genres with an ear toward the dancefloor as Basement Jaxx. The London-based duo tend to use classic American house as their backbone, fleshing out their productions with globally-facing sounds that spin out in wild and unexpected ways. 

They are pioneers of a very English take on house music, with Jaxx tracks like “Where’s Your Head At”, “Red Alert”, and “Romeo” having crossed over into mainstream circles, opening new ears and beckoning listeners to venture into the dance music tent. 

More: Basement Jaxx: Exclusive Mix and Interview (Metropolis, 2014)

After spending years performing on the mainstream festival circuit alongside rock acts, Buxton and Ratcliffe are enjoying a full circle return to their DJ origins as they embark on a US tour of America. That comes complete with stops in SoCal, including a slot at San Diego’s CRSSD Festival going down Sept. 23 and 24. 

Ahead of their arrival on our shores, Basement Jaxx’s Buxton has cooked up a most excellent mix exclusively for FREAKS ONLY. There’s a lot to love: High-energy sounds fluctuating from house to breakbeat, classical movements with hard beats, mutant disco, and the iconic vocal of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” as you’ve never heard it before. 

Click into the mix now (set list below!), and read on for a conversation with Felix Buxton about the genesis of Jaxx, the similarities between church choir music and deep house, recent niche music discoveries, and his favorite tracks to break out at DJ gigs.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Travis Holcombe: We’re creeping up on Basement Jaxx’s 30 year anniversary. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Felix Buxton: That's not for me to say, but probably the core of it is honesty, sincerity, and the pursuit of doing something that feels real in a very unreal world at times.

Did you and Simon have a goal in mind when you were starting off? 

Well for me, I was working in an office in London, so I suppose my main thing was to not be working in that office and do my hobby for a job, which I think is probably the same for Simon as well. 

I would imagine being in a band or a group together for 30 years is something like being in a marriage. How do you guys keep things fresh?

At the beginning, it was very much about doing the work and achieving the goal of doing this stuff, and probably learning what the other one is like in the process. I was deeply into New York house and Latin jazz, and Simon was more into rock at that time. We had our different strands, but there were people like George Duke, where we overlapped. I suppose very slowly, we got to know each other. I believe in moving slowly, and that's probably why we can still laugh 30 years later and we also live very separate lives.

Do you mostly come together when it's time to work, or do you have ideas percolating that you want to bounce off of each other?

At the moment, we've got a run of DJing. And music making… there's not much of that going on. We've ended up back in the DJ world, which for years we weren't in at all. We were doing rock festivals next to the Arctic Monkeys or whatever, and it was a very different sphere. 

In the last few years, we've kind of gone back to the beginning of the cycle, probably because the music's the same as it was at the beginning. It's pretty much the same as it was 30 years ago, but just a bit cleaner and punchier. 

Also, we've had the chance to do different projects. I've got a two-and-a-half year old daughter, so I've just become an old dad. Simon's got a teenage daughter. The last few years have just been taking a step back, and getting married. I've written a musical as well. So that's something that I want to develop.

How does the workflow usually go between you and Simon in the studio?

Well, in the past, we were [in the studio] as much as possible. I had loads of ideas and things I wanted to try and achieve, and very little knowledge of how to use a computer, or samplers, or anything. And when I met Simon, he had the [technical] capabilities.

There was the track “Be Free”, which was on Basement Jaxx’ second EP [1995’s EP 2]. I wanted to have a flanger on it and he was able to do it. After that, I basically gave him cassettes of New York and Chicago house I was really into — people like Masters At Work and that kind of thing — and I said, “I want to do this project, but I don't want to pay you any money using your equipment. We'll do it as a collaboration.” And he said, “Yeah, okay, that's cool.” And that was how it all started.

When you're DJing, do you have a favorite Basement Jaxx track that you like to play?

I suppose the last few years, it's been remixes [of Basement Jaxx] because we’ve found people that we like and we've asked them to do a remix. In Ibiza the night before last, we played a drum ‘n’ bass version of “Good Luck” by a guy called Circadian. That was the last record of the night and it sounded really great. You've got festival drum ‘n’ bass now, which you never used to have, and [the Circadian remix is] more in that realm. There's also the Mihalis Safras mix of "Red Alert” that works really well. It's just got the right bass for big sound systems.

Have you noticed any differences in the way American vs. European and British crowds respond to certain songs?

You're gonna have to ask me that after we've been in the States. We haven't been in the States for so many years! I remember 15 years ago, standing with Calvin Harris at Electric Daisy Carnival, and he was saying, “This EDM thing, you know, it's gonna go really big.” Simon and I were like, “Yeah, we're excited about this new strand and it seems to be really working…” But it seemed like a moment in time. In Europe at that time, the young kids got very into the authentic creators of house music and its history, whereas in America, they were very much wrapped up in this hyper kind of EDM. I don't know, it seems like it's all swung back now. 

What musical wormholes have you gone down recently? 

I mean, I live in wormholes, probably. One recent example was spiritual music from a  Taiwanese Teachers’ College from maybe 50 years ago. Yeah, so that's very niche. When we were DJing in Japan, I put that in the mix.

One track that's been on the DJ key for maybe about 10 years is an Oompah Brass trumpet version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. There's no beats on it, and years ago would have been considered uncool, but it doesn't matter, because it's good music and it's done really well. People react brilliantly to it because I think people are very open minded. I think a lot of the younger generations are a lot more open because of the internet; they've just taken it all in.

The Basement Jaxx sound is so musically omnivorous and seems to draw inspiration from everything: Samba,  soul, drum ‘n’ bass, house and disco, and beyond. As time has gone on, you've incorporated more and more of these disparate elements into your productions. Do these sounds mirror your own taste at the time, or is it reflective of your skills as producers and being able to incorporate all these different sounds?

For a balanced human experience, it's very healthy to listen to every kind of music because music is an expression of being alive, isn't it? It's part of the life experience. If there's vibrance, positivity, and it's got a beating heart to it, then that's something we can all relate to.

One thing I've done in the last few years is work with choirs. I'm interested in sound healing and that sort of thing. I discovered that one of the best things we can do is sing with other people. When people sing together in a choir, all their hearts start to beat at the same time, which is really amazing. 

What sparked your interest in choir music?

When I was young, my dad was a vicar and I sang in the church choir. In a way, the middle of the service, where they have communion and often play the kind of deep music then, to me was always just like deep house. The sound of Mr. Fingers was just like the sound of deep choral music to me. It had a melancholy to it and a pursuit of some deeper understanding, and a kind of meditative thing. So it's probably part of that whole thing. 

I'm writing another song for the Citizens of the World Choir here in London. They're a refugee choir and they perform something I did called “Raise the Vibration,” which is under the artist name Celestial Being. That was a way to try and get this idea of… I call it spiritual music. Some people are gonna run away from that idea, but we're all spiritual beings.

It's been almost 10 years since the last record. Have you and Simon discussed getting back into the studio? 

Yes, we have been. I was there the week before [and] last night at his house. We've been working together for the last few years on the music for a children's cartoon called The Rubbish World of Dave Spud. So that's one thing we've probably been doing, and then with a little bit of Basement Jaxx at the end, but now it seems maybe we should do Basement Jaxx again more.

More: Explore the FREAKS ONLY Guest Mixes

Felix Buxton: KCRW Guest Mix Tracklist:

  1. 冬の章 空海 (Winter Chapter Kukai) - Takashi Toyoda 
  2. Express Yourself (Acapella) - Basement Jaxx 
  3. No Puedo Esperar - Reuben Vaun Smith
  4. 20HZ (Marco Lys Remix) - Capricorn
  5. Tudo Bem Tudo Bom (Original Mix) - Vintage Culture
  6. I Want You (Extended Mix) - Butch & Nic Fanciulli 
  7. Ottovolante - Piezo
  8. Human Wave (DJ Fudge Extended Remix) - Afromento 
  9. This Brutal House - Nitro DeLuxe
  10. Pump Up London - Mr. Lee (Accapella)
  11. Deep Inside Of Me - Bob Sinclar x A-Trak x Mele
  12. Fire Bell - Dexplicit
  13. Red Alert (Mihalis Safras Bass Mix) - Basement Jaxx
  14. Ku BO _ bounce Dat - Stereotyp x Stefan x Moerth x Sara
  15. Where's Your Head At (100GECS Remix) - Basement Jaxx
  16. Sex Drive (Hi Sexdrive Mix) - Envoy
  17. Let Me Take You To Ecstasy - Felix Buxton (unreleased)
  18. Unbelievable - Royal-T
  19. End of the World - Basement Jaxx (unreleased)
  20. Where is My Mind? - Pixies (Felix’s unreleased Bootleg Mix)
  21. Hideaway - Eats Everything x Jules Buckley x Vula x Pete Tong  (Instrumental )
  22. Klarneto - Jorg Kuning
  23. Century (Extended Mix) - DJ Meme
  24. Cish Cash (Superchumbo Remix) - Basement Jaxx (unreleased)
  25. Good Luck (Circadian Remix) - Basement Jaxx (unreleased)