THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS have stripped things back for their seventh album, Further. They’ve disavowed guest vocalists and crossover bids, returning to their underground roots. And critics are proclaiming it their best effort in years. In fact, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands simply wanted Further to be closer in spirit to their live performances.
Further is still a collaborative album of sorts. The Chemicals commissioned their visual allies Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall to devise videos for all eight tracks – and these provide a synchronised backdrop for what is less a multimedia show than an experience.
The Chemicals previewed Further with four sold out nights at London’s Roundhouse in May. Now the Brits are touring Australasia for the first time since 2008 and, says Simons, they’re anxious to highlight their latest material. “Last night in Hungary we played a first stab at a new show which is like an amalgamation of quite a lot of the tracks off Further – but then seeing how they work with some of our older music,” he reveals. “It’s the same people who’ve made all this music so, even though we’ve changed styles and we have lots of different music, we hopefully have a consistency in our production that helps it all live together. So in Australia and New Zealand we’ll be playing big tunes that we’ve decided we like playing live from Further, but along with some of the older stuff.”
“If you’ve been in a band, or you’ve made a lot of music, there’s a danger that you’re always kind of like a retro act. I think it was good for us that we felt that all the tracks from Further are current and people would wanna see them. We feel that we can mix them up. But we don’t wanna be one of those retro bands!”
The Chemicals, both London-born, met while, strangely, studying Medieval History at the University of Manchester. The city’s key attraction for them was, of course, its nascent rave culture. Rowlands had been in the ill-fated Ariel. He and Simons began DJing as The Dust Brothers, later switching to The Chemical Brothers (after their track Chemical Beats) when faced with legal action from the US producers of the same name. The duo’s earliest official recording was Song To The Siren, which Andrew Weatherall signed to his Junior Boys Own.
Back in London, The Chemicals established their clubland credentials at the Heavenly Social, a hub for the big beat phenomenon. In 1995 the pair unleashed their much anticipated debut, Exit Planet Dust. The follow up, Dig Your Own Hole, encompassed their first number one, Setting Sun – with Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. The Chemicals also emerged as leaders of the so-called electronica explosion in the US. By 1999’s Surrender, they were bona-fide pop stars, transcending dance. Along the way, The Chemicals inspired Norman Cook’s transformation into Fatboy Slim.
The Chemicals’ last foray, 2007’s We Are The Night, again topped the UK charts and won them another Grammy (‘Best Electronic/Dance Album’). They’d collaborated with the nu-rave Klaxons as well as Midlake’s Tim Smith. Yet Further breaks with a tradition, or formula, The Chemicals set on Exit Planet Dust, which had seen them hire indie heroine Beth Orton. This time there are no star vocalists. They’ve even avoided any obvious hits, like the gimmicky (or divisive) hip-house Salmon Dance. Further’s subliminal lead single Swoon evokes the countercultural My Bloody Valentine and Midnight Juggernauts’ space-rock. If anything, the album has the underground feel of The Chemicals’ lowkey Electronic Battle Weapon DJ issues. Nevertheless, their old influences remain: the acid, house, techno, psychedelia and Balearica.
“The main thinking was that we wanted to make an album that was generated just by the two of us,” Simons outlines. The Chemicals didn’t need to rely on other artists – and their schedules. “[The last two albums] Push The Button and We Are The Night had a lot of guest vocalists – and it changes the way you work. You’re always expecting someone else to come in and finish off the music that you’re making and you’re waiting around on other people.” Being largely instrumental, Further is about sound. “It left us with some space. We’re really into playing around with our synthesisers and stuff – and all that’s come to the fore a bit more.” However, with Further, The Chemicals weren’t striving for credibility, Simons maintains. “I don’t think we were aiming for the underground – we were just aiming to achieve a style of working that excited us.”
Further has garnered The Chemicals’ strongest reviews in years from outlets as varied as Mixmag, the BBC and Pitchfork. Most artists with an album are keen to liaise with the press, but in recent years The Chemicals have declined interviews. Ironically, this started before Simons was linked to Lily Allen, becoming a paparazzi target and tabloid victim. Simons insists that they’re not deliberately shunning the press – although, in what he admits is a “cop-out,” their stance is that listeners should be able to appreciate Further without its creators’ explanations. “Apart from touring and making the music, we’re really lazy – I am in particular very lazy.”
The Chemical Brothers are set to headline the Future Music Festival, held at the Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney on Saturday March 12. Tickets start from $159.30 (+ bf) and are available through Ticketmaster.