The Chemical Brothers



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CHEMICAL QUESTIONS, CHEMICAL ANSWERS, CHEMICAL TWISTS & CHEMICAL NOW.

How is it now?

a) The new Chemical Brothers album Push The Button is, as it should be, the same as all their others, and totally different. It's a follow up to their first album, and a follow up to their last album, and a follow up to the ones in between. One or two of their previous albums are a follow up to this one.

b) The same, because it is The Chemical Brothers, and they do what they have always done, build beats that become lead sounds and which battle with noises that pile in from how they imagine pop history to be, what they believe pop to be, a thing you dance to, a thing you get in the way of, a thing that happens abruptly, a thing that happens to itself, a thing that drives you into the future. The same, because this is what they do, grab noise, break beat all over it, invite singers in to add language and merge attitude, get real emotional about the way music can make the world go round, fast, faster, fastest, with a little bit of slow, a touch of gentle, a push of contemplation, a feast of effect.

c) Different, because the Brothers are not what they were, where they were, who they were, who we thought they were, who they thought they were. Different, because the way they compile time, rhythm, words, beats, slang, pulse, voice isn't how they did it last time, or the time before, or the time before that, give or take the fact that they still like it loud, and they still like it heavy, and they still like to shriek, and they still like to locate a place where dream and reality meet at the slipping, sliding center of sound.

d) It's what they do, thinking up tracks, and songs, and instrumentals that they would like to have had available as DJ's, sounds that sound like the sounds they would want to slip between something dead original and something that's simply fun, between something inspiring and something that, in many ways, is just insane. It's what they do, beginning an album with a warning, and then a threat, and then a promise, and then they get somewhere, and take it from there.

e) The way this track, or that track, with a title like "Galvanize", or "The Big Jump", or "Shake Break Bounce" builds up is supreme, perfectly done and impossible to imagine being done better.

f) The Chemical Brothers always did think for themselves.

How was it in the beginning?

a) There was history.

b) There was Public Enemy, Cabaret Voltaire, My Bloody Valentine, Renegade Soundwave, making big sounds across the universe, tearing up the neighborhood of space, beating up the time of their lives, and there was Bob Dylan, the Smiths, the Cocteau Twins, somewhere between sound and word, coming down gently and driven on the sure side of song.

c) 2005. Push the Button is the same and different because it is braggy, brain banging and blissed in and out, the same and different because it is edited and extended by a couple of characters who have always believed in the same thing, whether they were nerd teenagers or nerd pop stars. The Brothers believe! in the power of music to re-arrange mood at will.

d) 1988. There were two students who weren't from Manchester but who were in Manchester, taking the same medieval history course at Manchester University. There was the music that they listened to when they were growing up, which we know for a fact included Kraftwerk, and very possibly Blue Oyster Cult.

e) Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, who weren't brothers but were both male, and found a love for each other somewhere inside the love they had for music. Ed, born in 1970, loved airplanes and musicals as a kid, and then loved New Order, Tom, born 1971, loved bagpipes as a kid, and then loved Heaven 17.

f) They went north to study, from South London and Kingston-Upon-Times, because of the Manchester music scene. They found themselves at their University, tripping back to the 12th Century, at a time when Manchester was the musical capital of the world - it was right in the middle of a renaissance, it was Detroit, San Francisco, Berlin, New York, Liverpool, Chicago, Nashville, Sheffield, beats and minds and history and midnights and grooves and pulses and dreams and speeds were cascading all around them.

g) Look - there's Manchester's Hacienda, which was a nightclub located in the Manchester that was all in the mind, a Manchester that was somewhere between the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall 1976 where time started and the Chicago Warehouse where time was quadrupled, a Manchester that became the deep, rapid soul center for all this blending and sending out of bliss and beat, of house, disco, hip hop, Italy, rare groove jazz, northern soul, hip-hop, and the alternative dance of those who'd just come through the door.

h) 2005. Push The Button is the same and different because there is still the city of Manchester clubbing the dance sounds of the past and future into life, there is still the DJ's sense of if this happens, let's try that next, there is still the confidence success brings that what they are doing works, because it is the same, but different, there is still a love for making music, even if people tend to expect revolution when sometimes all you want to do is program the hell out of whatever the jams are.

i) 1989. Tom and Ed, mixed by Manchester, studying history where things happen because all sorts of things meet in the middle of where they happen to be, looked up at the DJ's like Mike Pickering and Paul Oakenfold. They heard the DJ's bringing music into the capital of the world from over there, out there, somewhere, bringing in music that had European energy, America energy, weird energy, and saw it transform the Mancunian atmosphere.

j) They would dance in fields at four in the morning to music that was punk, dub, African, chanty, trancy, smashed, smashing, psychotic, psychedelic all at once, in the same place, and, lo, they saw that the radical could make sense to the masses as long as it was wrapped around the beat, the beat that could be safe and comforting and warm and friendly even as the noise inside and out was ripping off the top of your head.

k) 2005. Push The Button sounds the same but different because you can hear this track, or that track, Hold Tight London, or Come Inside, coming in through the cold night air when everything is over, except the thing that happens next, and the Brothers use rhythm and sadness like they use rhythm and happiness, to make you happy, and make you sad, and blow your brains out.

l) 1990. It was that point in history when you didn't necessarily have to be in a band to play the music you wanted to play, or be a DJ like some moron on the radio. Ed and Tom sort of formed a sort of group, a partnership interested in an intense mixture of sounds and noises that they wanted the rest of the world to hear, and this group was as influenced by the Hacienda DJ playing records as it was by Cabaret Voltaire making records.

m) 2005. Push The Button is the same but different, because after all that success, after all that invention and discovery, after all the accusations and suspicion, after the purist dismay that the group - or the fictional group disguised as something real - sold out on the straight road to crossover success, there's still a sound, strapped to reverse sound, that makes you think of how Cabaret Voltaire, mixed with The Pop Group, juiced with Derrick May, might have ended up around 2005.

What happened then?

a) Public Enemy. The Beastie Boys. Revolutionary ways of matching nut case attack with mad fool sounds supernaturally stretched around the size of your life. A life which can sometimes be really really serious, and sometimes really really stupid, and sometimes both at the same time, with drums and knobs on.

b) An air raid siren.

c) Work it out for yourselves.

d) 1992. A chronological order that begins when the right pair of them gave themselves a name that was already taken. What were they thinking? Ed and Tom called themselves The Dust Brothers, after the production partnership that produced The Beastie Boys Paul's Boutique. It was like calling yourself Sonic Youth or Swell Maps or Cluster, but then for a while what Ed and Tom were doing was just a hyper hobby, folded inside the mythed up mania of Manchester. They played, at a club called Naked Under Leather, as if they really had something to get off their madchest, hip hop breakdown/breakup/breakthrough, strange house, indie dance fusion, sounds from deep, dark under the ground of the obvious and the logical.

e) The new blood, dub and club brothers decided to make a record that they could play amongst all the records they were playing, a record that fitted into their party play list, that would slip by a little anonymously, succeeding because it didn't stick out, just another strange combination of drum, space and sample kicked, clicked and tricked into the never ending night time.

f) "Song To The Siren". Using a random collection of basic technology in the bedroom that became a recording studio, they built up their own sound imagining a looped place where one different thing had something in common with another different thing, which created a third different thing which had something in common etc. There was the industrial, there was the ethereal, and in the gap between the two, at the edges around where they met, there was a chemical reaction where one thing led to another.

g) Released on the Diamond label, because that was Ed's nickname, 500 copies of the "Song To The Siren" record caught the attention of the right kind of people, the DJ's who were musicians, or who had labels, who didn't care that the tracks beats per minute - a wonderfully odd 111 - didn't fit into the fashionable routines of the time. Prime time music connoisseur stroke music archaeologist stroke London DJ Andrew Weatherall considered it a classic, knowing that the next big thing is never going to sound like the same old thing. He signed it to his own Junior Boy's Own label.

h) 2005. Push The Button is the same but different, because the Brothers put one thing with another thing to make another thing altogether, and then they put that thing with another thing, and they get somewhere, at some various rates of beats per minute.

i) 1993. The duo passed their exams. They did their first remixes, for Lionrock, Leftfield and Republica. They took their Manchester, and their music, with them down to London, clubbed and mixed and recorded some more, still Dust, still Brothers, still discovering ways to pack destabilizing, anarchic noise over the top of locked, locking beats, still exploring areas where the strange could be deeply satisfying. A couple more ep's, 14th Century Sky and My Mercury Mouth, where the heroic, entertaining and the romantic clashed swords and heads with the harsh, the dangerous and the uncertain.

j) 14th Century Sky contained "Chemical Beats", and this is where the duo signed themselves in at the door, with a ferocious flourish, as original stylists, as their own men, where they defined a sound, that became a genre, that became a style to copy, steal, rip off, rewire, reroute, tart up, invert, divert, chop up and turn up. They found their sound: it was there in the clubs, in the fields, in the bedroom, in the record shops, in the air, in the past, in Manchester, in the future, a combination of wildness and precision, certainty and sensationalism, the old and the new. It just needed close brothers to claim it.

Is the rest history?

a) Yes.

b) It can be written up as history, as this leading to that, and that becoming this.

c) 1994. The Dust Brothers, the two industrious students from Manchester who'd drummed up Chemical Beats, became resident DJ's at the Albany pub in London's Great Portland Street. They were in one way just playing records they liked, but the way they displayed their love for music and their understanding of the way sound could fit together in novel, liberating ways was the equivalent of a band putting together their influences in the way they wrote and played music. Listeners, customers, musicians flocked. Rock met dance, dance met noise, noise met beat, and the illusory division between rock and dance was finally totally shattered.

d) The atmosphere was dense with haze, phase, and stunned dynamic. The Dust Brothers at this club in a pub basement during the summer and autumn of 1994, with the myth making name of Heavenly Sunday Social, has entered legend, and confirmed that it was in the world of dance where the most ground breaking and forward thinking ideas were being uncovered - by looking outside boundaries, and snobbery, and simply pursuing a thrilling musical idea as far as it would go before it spilled over the edge into obscurity and chaos.

e) Lawyers for the original Dust Brothers pointed out that this dancing town wasn't big enough for the both of the Dust Brothers, Rowland and Simons were compelled to change their name. Chemical Beats gave them their name, although Ed's grandmother favored The Grit Brothers. The thing is, they were still brothers, despite the American lawyers, and word on the streets, and there was such a word, was so good, it really didn't matter that Dust had become Chemical. People wanted the sound, not the name.

f) 2005. Push The Button is the same and different, because there's no sense of following any of the fashions of the moment, no sense of turning to this style or that dynamic because it's in temporary favor, there's just a sense of following through on what has always appealed, a way of cracking together 23 Skidoo, Public Enemy and Traffic, or A Certain Ratio, Flaming Lips and Todd Rundgren, and sometimes this puts them ahead of the game, sometimes at the edge of the game, sometimes in a world of their own, which sometimes coincides with the world lots of other people inhabit.

g) 1995. The damned irresistible thing that the Chemicals had concocted, out of tradition and modernity, energy and tranquility, volume and tension, hooks and pile driving fury, got christened - Big Beat - and an instant faithful following. The splintering, flailing, infectious music the brothers played in their Social club flipped over into the music on their debut album Exit Planet Dust. There was no loss of furious, looped energy between the dance floor and your hi-fi or the radio. World's collided like they do in your bedroom, or in a club, and now your iPod, a musical universe where everything can happen at once. Where speaker stomping tapped hip hop distortion can run into bulldozing slabs of punk guitar and smash through high walls of funk and flash at the edge of electronic distress and fight inside dark disco and race past titanic techno might.

h) The two brothers were a group without a lead singer; they were lead singers in a group that didn't have a lead singer. As much as anyone they developed the formula for using a variety of singers on an album - if only to ensure they weren't making purely instrumental music, and also because they got the chance to represent the vocal variety of some of the music they played as DJ's.

i) Edge said the album was his favorite of the year, Norman Cook was inspired to become a sort of dark, jolly cousin to the brothers, his well dusted Fatboy fantasy eating up piled up plates of sweetened, saucy Big Beat. The Chemical's dirty, lusty party starting debut album was a careering collage of heart hitting beats, funny, freaky samples, diabolical detours and sensational short cuts through the musical decades, which came shooting at you in deranged order. It was the kind of big time big success big change debut that meant that everything The Chemical Brothers now did would carry the expectancy of significance.

j) The years passed, and Ed and Tom would appear in photographs representing The Chemical Brothers, but really what you wanted was a photograph of the sound. The years passed, and they rode on top of the years, as they passed, into the cool, from bedroom to club to festival to stadium, into the heat, it was roller coaster, 1995, 1996, 1997, the years passed, and then The Chemical Brothers were million selling, Grammy winning, chart busting, pop star remixing, catch phrasing, thumping, soaring mainstream heroes.

k) However you defined the holy trinity of British rock-dance icons, The Chemical Brothers were an unshakeable part of it - New Order, Primal Scream, Chemical Brothers, or Underworld, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, or The Orb, 808State and The Chemical Brothers. Exit Planet Dust would be named in top tens of the most important electronic albums of all time, alongside the follow up Dig Your Own Hole, alongside Eno, Kraftwerk, DJ Shadow, Massive Attack and Bjork.

l) When The Chemical Brothers are on top of their game, it is hard for anyone in their genre to touch them.

m) The Chemical Brothers would crash together "Chemical Beats" with the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" as an encore during their live shows. Tomorrow Never was an example of the studio Beatles feeding on the conceptual thrust of electronic pioneer Stockhausen and the art movement Fluxus, distorting time and stretching sound to represent their state of mind and their surreal position at the center of the universe. This Beatles, who came alive in the studio, which became for a while their refuge from the pop religion madness, fed directly into the brains of the brothers, and it became "Setting Sun", 1996, with Noel Gallagher, not a sample of "Tomorrow Never Knows" but a sort of psycho-jazz, ghost modern repositioning, an infusion of tribute, update, rewrite, remix.

n) Gallagher played the role all guests tend to play on a Chemical Brothers track - cameos by Beth Orton, Tim Burgess, Richard Ashcroft, Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue, Bobby Gillespie, Bernard Sumner and Gallagher bring to the Brothers important news from other worlds. The Brothers use rock, pop, folk and cult singers, and the personal words and melodies that they bring with them, to give their fantastic, randomly enriched collages important, grounding elements of the song.

o) Push the Button is the same but different, because there's Tim Burgess, just where The Chemical Brothers like and want him, reminding us of something, but suggesting something else, and now here's Q-Tip bagging a posse, showing off his figure, and here's Anwar Superstar wagging a finger, counting out the ways. The guest vocalists are honorary Chemical Brothers, even when they are sisters. The beats that are used are honorary brothers, or sisters, and occasionally, honorary Chemical Animals.

p) "Setting Sun" became one of the strangest, most deranged, and yet mesmerizing number one UK pop hits of all time. The greatest pop hit of the year. From this particular biographers perch, the greatest thing Noel ever did, an imagined Beatles as subversive sonic tricksters replayed in the post-everything world, not simply a rewearing of the clothes, an adoption of the poses, a smirking of the riffs.

q) 1997. "Block Rockin' Beats", as if they were now the Block Rockin' Brothers, at block rockin' number one in the UK again, identifying the enemy as the dull and the sentimental, organizing themselves as an attack force on the obvious and the sanitized. One number one might have been a fluke: two was sheer strategy. The arch samplers found themselves, a little on the anonymous side, sampling pop fame.

r) The second album Dig Your Own Hole was, boom boom boom, a dance album, full of fun, fury and all those beats, laid out as a landscape of joy, and layered with layers of repetition and variation, slanted towards the definitely physical, but it was also an ingenious electronic album that used the studio, machines, programs, plug ins, and accumulating experience to create a time shifting, space rocking, sense splitting surround sound that ecstatically explored musical history. Hip hop could exist in the 60s, psychedelia was invented after De La Soul, computers had the blues, glam was from Mars, and punk only happened after Nine Inch Nails. You could move to it, like your dreams were on fire, and it was quite terrifically moving.

s) Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, of all fabulous people, said: "Chemical Brothers - man, I'm tellin' you, track five and track nine on Dig Your Own Hole. Those things are slayin' me. Plus there's just enough room for a greasy blues guitar - I think I know who could supply it." Yee-hah!

t) 1999. The third album Surrender was all their own work again, and this included handling all the celebrity guests, which tested the patience of some people, but not Blue Peter, who placed a copy of the CD inside their third time capsule, buried in January 2000, revealing themselves as unlikely supporters of hedonism and hybrid pop with a hard on. They must have thought it was a loveable record, and indeed underrated, and in many ways it was, the newer influence in the Brothers box being how they had absorbed the new indie music that was being made that was itself influenced by electronic music. (Some might suggest that Blue Peter actually buried their Millenium time capsule in 1998, and the cd inside was The Spice Girls, but what do they know.)

u) Push The Button is the same but different because it is influenced by many of the things the Chemicals music has itself influenced.

v) 2002. Their fourth album Come With Us. Beth's back, and Ashcroft. Fatboy mixes the Chemicals. The world keeps turning, and sounds as good as ever. The beat might not be as big, as braggy, but it's no less a mind turning occasion.

w) 2003. The Chemical Brothers are, more or less, ten years old. A collection of singles and so on is released, and displays the group - are they a group, or just a behind the scenes way of being in full view - as exactly the kind of operation - are they an operation, or simply timekeepers - that would remix both Mercury Rev and Kylie Minogue. A group - or a piece of mind - whose battles were electronic, whose intentions were spatial, whose dimensions were distinct, whose actions were bold.

x) 2005. Just when you thought they must be running out of energy . . .

How do The Chemical Brothers make you feel?

a) Like a big bad motherfucker with a gun in your hands.

b) Like you now fully understand how drums, the sound of, the sampling of, the recording of, the fucking with, made all the difference to how the 20th century sounded.

c) You love them like brothers.

d) That music is energy in the air.

e) Wondering what there is in a minor chord that makes us weep.

f) Like tearing the stars from their orbits.

g) We look out upon the world through a refracting, twisting, distorting medium, so that nothing is what it seems, and were it not for mathematical relations, we should be in a universe of dissolving dreams. But they are everlastingly true. They are the rock-ribbed realities which hold together the shifting, vanishing phenomena of existence. Change your point of view as you may, they are undisturbed.

h) Everyone loves music!

i) Good cyberpunk soundtrack music can combine elements of traditional rebellious rock or punk, rap-style singing and electronic sound effects and sampling which seem to have penetrated every genre of music recently.

j) They like New Order, and Push The Button finishes with "Surface to Air", which makes you consider just how great a group New Order were, and just how great The Chemical Brothers are for knowing this, and being able to do something about it musically.

k) That your five favorite Chemical Brothers tracks were 1. "The Private Psychedelic Reel" 2. "Block Rockin' Beats "3. "Out of Control" 4. "Leave Home" 5. "Hey Girl Hey Boy", and how that is going to change because of this track or another on Push the Button.

l) Brutal and beautiful.

m) 2005, where a lot of music sounds like The Chemical Brothers, because The Chemical brothers sound like The Chemical Brothers.

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