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  Offworld Music
Record label catering to innovative music, artists and producers - from drum&bass to hip hop and electronic.

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CHEMICAL BROTHERS

 

This time around, it all starts off with the sound of Hal from 2001 fed on hallucinogens and P-Funk; a call to arms from a space bound Sly Stone conducting a symphony of detuned robots. It ends with the sound of a man stood on the edge of sanity pleading to anyone and everyone "Did I Pass The Acid Test?" Every point in between is constantly moving, constantly evolving, always evocative of tripping out of this world and into some distant uncharted corner of psychedelic space, way out ahead of anyone else. This time around, a couple of years on since our last trip with them. This time it's the fourth album by The Chemical Brothers, Come With Us. How did we get to here? Why are we on this trip? Read on...

 

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons met at Manchester University in1989, both studying Medieval History. Ed was born in 1970 in south London, his music tastes shaped equally by going to clubs at age 14 and hearing hip hop and rare groove played out by DJs alongside the two principal home stereo loves, The Smiths and New Order. Tom was born in 1971, grew up outside of London in Henley-Upon-Thames and, musically, progressed through the '80's, taking onboard Two Tone, then early electronica like Kraftwerk & Heaven 17 before moving onto the most iconic bands of the decade, Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Public Enemy. Tom & Ed moved to Manchester at a time when the city's music led England by the flares. They were inspired during their college years by equal parts Chaucer and "Most Excellent". Tom moonlighted in a band called Ariel, whose eventual legacy was giving Tom & Ed one of their first remixes ("T Baby"), a record that saw the demise of one band and the birth of another.

In the early '90's, Tom & Ed started DJing under the name The Dust Brothers which was borrowed (unbeknownst to them, temporarily) from the producers of the Beastie Boys' 'lost' classic album Paul's Boutique. Their first DJ residency was "Naked Under Leather", a deranged club night in a room below a grimy Manchester pub. Their sound at the time was unique enough to force them into the studio (Tom's bedroom) to record tracks to play out because there simply weren't enough about - the blueprint sound was a spine cracking beat and a virtual orchestra of sirens. Their self financed white label, "Song To The Siren", was this sound distilled onto 12 inches of vinyl. After a DJing visit to Naked Under Leather, Andrew Weatherall picked up on the track and signed it to Junior Boy's Own, remixing it under his Sabres Of Paradise guise.

After graduating from Manchester and relocating to London, Tom & Ed became permanent residents at the bar at Weatherall's Sabresonic club night, spending a weekly Friday night in a railway arch under London Bridge station in the company of 500 or so sweat drenched clubbers, a huge bass driven sound system and the world's foremost techno DJs. They repaid their musical debt to the club by playing their first live gig at the back of the hall, a 19 minute pile driver that saw the entire club facing the wrong way trying to make out what was going on. Within a couple of weeks, they headed off to Florida to play their second gig, cementing the mutual respect card that this country and Tom & Ed have had ever since.

 

When released in the spring of 1994, The Dust Brothers second single, the "14th Century Sky" EP, and more specifically the lead track "Chemical Beats", blew a huge hole in most people's preconceptions of dance music. With the urgency of techno, the white noise of acid house and the crunch and slam of punk rock, the record suddenly propelled Tom & Ed from little known backroom DJs to the top of most band's wish lists for remixes. Within the space of six months, they had remixed Primal Scream, The Charlatans, Saint Etienne, The Prodigy & Manic Street Preachers amassing a remix discography that read like a veritable who's who of alternative rock in the mid '90's. Through the summer they recorded their debut album and spent every Sunday night for 14 weeks DJing in another pub basement, this time in central London.

From the first week of August ('94) through to the start of November, The Dust Brothers blew up the now infamous London club, The Heavenly Sunday Social, playing a mixture of monolithic hip hop beats, pounding Euro techno and hands in the air, tears-rolling-down-the-cheeks rock 'n' roll. As the club came to an end, Tom & Ed finished Exit Planet Dust, with the help of two Social regulars, Beth Orton and Tim Burgess from The Charlatans and a safe knowledge that the tracks had been tried and tested on an audience of 200 rabid, Sunday night hedonists. After signing to Virgin in the UK and Astralwerks in the US, and a swift name change (the whole world had heard of the Dust Brothers so it figured that the Dust Brothers must have by nowŠ), Dust turned to Chemical and "Leave Home" was released in 1995. It gave the band their first UK top 20 single.

Exit Planet Dust was the collision point between the dance culture and rock 'n' roll that their music had always been gearing up towards. It was the point where ecstasy culture and the energy of the dancefloor was redefined for kids who'd grown up listening to everything from the Beatles to the Pistols, Public Enemy to Hardfloor. From the opening surge of "Leave Home" to the dying moments of hyper space ballad "Alive Alone" (their first collaboration with Beth Orton), "Exit..." slips easily between being a dancefloor record and a headphones record, defining the genre that would become known later as Big Beat. Within a year, Tom & Ed had redefined their sound and pushed their own boundaries to the point that it was nearly impossible to pigeon hole them stylistically. At the same time, they graduated in the live arena, having gone from playing clubs and supporting the likes of Underworld and The Prodigy to packing out their own headline shows.

At the start of 1996 and after a low-key EP release ("Loops Of Fury", their second UK top 20 single), The Chemical Brothers set about recording their second album. "Setting Sun", was recorded as an instrumental to which Oasis' Noel Gallagher recorded vocals in one take. The result gave the Chemicals their first single to hit the American charts, breaking into the Top 40 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart as well as becoming their first UK #1. The track featured Noel's vocals over a backing track that resurrected the spirit of "Tomorrow Never Knows", before taking it off onto a fantastic voyage that appeared to feature sitars being trampled by herds of elephants. The video for the track gave them their first (pre-Buzzworthy) "Buzz Clip" on MTV and propelled the band into the commercial radio psyche, garnering heavy airplay nationwide on KROQ-LA, K-ROCK-NY, Q101-Chicago, and Live 105-San Francisco to name but a few.

By the start of 1997, the Chemicals had completed work on their second album, Dig Your Own Hole. Preceded by "Block Rockin' Beats", their second UK #1, and the first to chart in the Billboard Top 100 (peaking in the Top 75) as well as breaking the Top 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The album entered the Billboard Top 200 Album chart at #14, making it the first British electronic act to crack the Top 20 (and went to #1 in the UK). The record saw them move further towards a more widescreen vision, presenting a blend of dancefloor chaos and wonder that now took onboard the sounds of pummelling techno while pointing forwards to a new psych'd out future ("The Private Psychedelic Reel"). The success of Dig Your Own Hole established The Chemical Brothers as the biggest band in their field both globally and domestically. The album saw Tom & Ed inviting more people to the studio, first off with Noel, then the return of Beth Orton ("Where Do I Begin") and Mercury Rev front man Jonathon Donahue (providing the massive wall of noise over the album's closing track "The Private Psychedelic Reel"). In no time at all, the album went Gold, and, helped by massive world tour that included two sold-out American legs, has since sold the best part of a million copies in the US alone, eventually seeing them take home a Grammy for "Best Rock Instrumental" for "Block Rockin' Beats".

 

In 1998 The Chemical Brothers released a DJ mix album, Brothers Gonna Work It Out. Unlike their previous DJ mix album, 1996's head-in-the-bass-bins Live At The Social Volume 1, the album showcased a broad cross section of Tom & Ed's musical styles, moving from psychedelic soul to strung out mixes of their own music (the Micronauts mix of "Block Rockin' Beats") through Dubtribe and Renegade Soundwave before ending up with two of their finest remixes, Manic Street Preachers' "Everything Must Go" & Spiritualized's "I Think I'm In Love". Apart from the odd DJ set, Tom & Ed spent the rest of '98 in the studio.

After the best part of a year out of the limelight, The Chemical Brothers re-entered orbit with "Hey Boy, Hey Girl", with it's omnipresent vocal line "Superstar DJs, here we goŠ" in spring of '99. The album from which it was taken, Surrender, was a towering wigged out gang show of a record, featuring the ultimate guest list of performers - previous graduates Noel Gallagher & Jonathan Donahue alongside a handful of first timers - Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, Manchester legend Bernard Sumner & Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie. The result was a consistently brilliant mixture of machine driven funk, other worldly laments and pulsing electro, each contributor bringing their own unique style, only to be blended into a seamless, timeless, beautiful psychedelic masterpiece.

Surrender saw The Chemicals head off on another huge world-wide tour, this time starting in South America, onto playing a series of British club gigs, and peaking with a joint headline gig at the legendary Red Rocks stadium in Denver with long time admirer and Astralwerks label-mate Fatboy Slim, both acts playing to a sold out crowd of 10,000 kids a couple of thousand feet above sea level. After the single releases of the Gallagher fronted "Let Forever Be" (the mind-bending Michel Gondry directed video for which got a MTV VMA nomination for "breakthrough video") & the Sumner/Gillespie track "Out Of Control", 1999 culminated with a Millennium Eve gig at a 20,000 capacity event in the UK.

The Chemical Brothers all but disappeared from view after headlining the main stage at Glastonbury, drawing one of the biggest crowds ever seen at the festival in its 30 plus years. Apart from a couple of low key DJ gigs in London, their most visible moments were spent in the company of a couple of hundred likeminded souls at their near legendary Glint club nights. Named in tribute to the Surrender track "Got Glint" and eluding to the state of mind of most of the clubbers present, the nights were held sporadically at a tiny underground bar in West London. As word spread, the nights were put on hold, the venue's capacity unable to cope with the demand.

2001 passed without much noise from The Chemical Brothers. After 18 months spent locked in a south London studio, emerging occasionally to test out new tracks on unsuspecting club audiences both here and abroad, Tom & Ed offered up a low-key single, "It Began In Afrika". The record was a thunderous tribal techno workout, an obnoxious hurricane of beats and bleeps that raced to the top of the Billboard Club Play Chart like some kind of demented uninvited guest. Although "ŠAfrika" was the precursor to Come With Us (working title "Chemical Four"), it gave very little indication of what was to come...

Due for release on January 29, 2002, Come With Us seems more of a statement of intent than ever, a gauntlet thrown down to all those following in their footsteps, relying less on collaborations and guest appearances and more on warping psychedelic cinema-scope music. The second single, "Star Guitar" is all sunshine bleached guitar lines twisting around an insistent pulsating rhythm track; "The State We're In" features gorgeous vocals delivered by the band's new Astralwerks label-mate Beth Orton- their third collaboration. "Pioneer Skies" starts as a 21st century take on late '60's British psych sound before ending up sounding like Pete Townshend & Keith Moon shoehorned into Jason Pierce's spacesuit. Elsewhere, "Denmark" is a furious mutant disco workout while "Hoops" is a glorious melting pot of West Coast harmonies, guitar scales and pulsing electro beats, the perfect pop record if I-Macs and X-Box's compiled the charts. The whole thing climaxes with "The Test", where ex-Verve front-man Richard Ashcroft stares into the void and rails against a soaring squall of beats and swelling noise, the words and music of men possessed.

At points, Come With Us features a sound akin to psychedelic folk, at others it sounds like one of the most futuristic albums ever made, an optimistic, brave new world circumnavigated in just under an hour of music. The Chemical Brothers most confident work yet, it sees them pushing further out there, alone in space, way out ahead the pack, programming '2001' sized super computers in the language of Sly and his kin. So we're right back where we started. This time around, they're asking you to "Come With Us". They're asking you to take the acid test. They've already passed...

 

 

Watch Chemical Brothers New Video
http://www.blastro.com/musicvideos/genre/electronic.html

Be sure to get the Chemical Brothers CD titled "Come with Us"

 

 

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