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Chem Bros - A Chemical Reaction

Author: Cyclone
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Can The Chemical Brothers defy the fickleness of the club culture that spawned them over a decade ago- Daft Punk have…but they possess mystique – and shiny robot helmets. 3D’s Cyclone investigates.

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons mounted a bold comeback campaign with last year’s We Are The Night, their sixth LP. Speculation was that British retail stores were unenthusiastic. Nevertheless, the album topped the UK charts. What’s more, The Chems have just picked up a Grammy for ‘Best Electronic/Dance Album’, beating hip favourites LCD Soundsystem as well as Justice. But the Grammies are one thing, clubland is another.

The Chemical Brothers are cognisant that they’re competing against fresher acts like Digitalism, a new guard they’ve undoubtedly influenced. Indeed, for We Are The Night, they slyly collaborated with Klaxons on All Rights Reversed.

The story goes that when Klaxons came to the studio, they presented a half-assed demo. The Chems were mildly galled. The newbies realised quickly that they needed to pull out a magic trick.

Rowlands laughs. “It was weird because they were right in the middle of a European tour. They’d done a gig in Italy or something on a Saturday night. The only time we could get to do it was a Sunday. They agreed to do it – we were amazed. If we’d been playing a gig on a Saturday and then had another gig on a Monday, we might want that Sunday to lie in bed. But they were like, ‘No, we’re gonna come and we’re gonna do it.’ We were really impressed by their dedication.

“It’s just that, when they turned up to the studio, it looked like it was gonna be a long, difficult session, ’cause one of them, Jamie [Reynolds], had recorded something onto his phone, him mumbling, and played it to us. We were looking around going, ‘Oh my God, how is this gonna work-’

“But that’s the beauty of a collaboration. We had that day and that night to make something happen – and we did. It was exciting. The ideas went back and forth and we ended up with something that we all really love.”

Then there’s the ubiquitous Salmon Dance, featuring Fatlip of The Pharcyde, a track that has irked clubbers – and critics. It’s closer to a novelty record like that dreaded Crazy Frog anthem. Rowlands, who’s read the debates on The Chemicals’ website forums, accepts it’s a love/hate track.

“People are just like, ‘What are you on about-’” he chuckles. “People are still having difficulty coming to terms with that song. But [the] people who just totally get it and totally love it will see it how we saw it – which is like psychedelic hip hop. It reminded us of a De La Soul kind of thing, but with an acid wonkiness to it.”

The Chemicals themselves were astonished by The Salmon Song – and that’s why they issued it. “We wanna be surprised. We’ve made a lot of music. It’s our sixth album. We like the idea of surprising – or confounding – people this far in.”

In Australia for the Future Music Festival, they’re also performing stadium shows in select cities – unusual for an electronic act here. Rowlands insists that, as their Glastonbury closer illustrated, they can deliver.

“It’s just something that seems to work,” he says. “For a while people were sceptical that electronic music could work on that scale, but I think the fact we headlined Glastonbury in 2000, and we’re still doing gigs of that nature now, shows that it works. But you never like to say it will work, ’cause it might not! It might be a terrible disaster – you never know!”

WHO: The Chemical Brothers
WHAT: Play Sydney Entertainment Centre / Future Music Festival, Royal Randwick Racecourse
WHEN: Friday 7 March / Saturday 8