The birth of our underground brand, Factory 93, not only brought on an adrenaline rush reminiscent of the renegade warehouse-era of raving—on which Insomniac was founded—but it also had us thinking back to all the people, places and parties that made this whole operation possible. And with that came a burning desire to crack open our collection and dust off the classic records we couldn’t live without. Through our From the Crate series, we’ll be breaking out both seminal and obscure cuts alike, imparting some knowledge in the process.
“We liked polished roughness,” London house producer Simon Ratcliffe told URB magazine in 1999, while his partner, Felix Buxton, professed to still believing in “the hippie ideal of out-of-body experiences, freedom, and everybody coming together.” As Basement Jaxx, they made music to match both statements, too: rubbery grooves that felt raw, even when they were overloaded with overdubs, the vibe communal even as it was definitively urban. On top of it, as “Red Alert” demonstrated, they wrote killer hooks.
Basement Jaxx met in 1993, when Ratcliffe rented Buxton and some friends time in a basement studio, bonding over their shared love of Masters at Work, who became their model—a production duo releasing on their own, as well as working with singers. Two years later, MaW’s Louie Vega called to compliment their work. “When that happened, we thought we’d reached our goal,” Ratcliffe told URB. “We thought, ‘What else can we do now? We’ve done it.’ He was a god to us for so long—untouchable.”
What they did was to ratchet up the music’s drive. Their 1997 12-inch “Fly Life,” full of the kind of ravey synths that had supposedly disappeared years earlier, reached #19 on the UK chart. In the spring of 1999, Simon and Felix appeared at Winter Music Conference, where their debut album, Remedy, issued on XL in the UK, was “the center of a bidding war,” Spin reported, between Sony, Interscope, and Astralwerks for American release (the latter won).
“Our record is a remedy for people’s depression, lostness, and negativity,” Ratcliffe told Request magazine that fall while discussing Remedy. “We are approaching the millennium, and there are many people we know that have been through the drugs and lost hope, and they haven’t found their way. Well, music is a remedy and living life is a remedy and love is a remedy. It’s getting in touch with yourself and looking outside your own mind and into the world… We want to create music that is the most wondrous thing, that changes people’s world and gives them hope and helps them find love and all those beautiful things… We want to be optimistic about life.”
Amazingly, given how utter pie-in-the-sky that declaration was, they succeeded—and did so nowhere more handsomely than “Red Alert,” the song that announced Basement Jaxx to the US. There was a great deal of Parliament-Funkadelic in the track; the bassline had the splendor of Bootsy Collins getting down on the Mothership—the spacecraft George Clinton’s crew would “land” on lavish late-’70s tours, and a later inspiration for Daft Punk’s pyramid—and the hectic responding background chants of “on and on and on” evoked those of P-Funk, as well. The words, meanwhile, recalled Prince’s “1999,” another anthem about dancing in the face of catastrophe: “Don’t worry, don’t panic,” sings Blue James. “Ain’t nothing goin’ on but history.” (At the time, that line was easy to hear as a subtle rejoinder to the Propellorheads and Shirley Bassey’s “History Repeating,” a silly big-beat hit from the year before.)
“Red Alert” was a number-one club hit in the US (though it didn’t make the Hot 100, it did get the occasional Top 40 spin), and it came complete with Steve Gurley’s knocking 2-step garage remix. How did their peers like it? Thomas Bangalter, after hearing the album, declared it “better than ours!”