It was rock’n’roll that first inspired The Chemical Brothers’ revolutionary electronic sound

Get the latest from Beat


It was rock’n’roll that first inspired The Chemical Brothers’ revolutionary electronic sound

Photo: Hamish Brown
Words by Augustus Welby

We chat to the electronic kings before they drop Down Under.

There aren’t many artists who’ve worked with a wider variety of collaborators than The Chemical Brothers. Dating back to the mid-1990s, the UK act has showed that although they were making electronic music with hip hop and house influences, it wasn’t in opposition to rock music.

Noel Gallagher, Beth Orton and DJ Kool Herc were some of the Brothers’ earliest featured guests. In recent years Q-Tip, Beck and the Pixies’ Joey Santiago have all lent a hand to Chemical Brothers releases.

“We grew up in the ’80s, which was when hip hop and electro first really hit, but at the same time we were indie kids,” says one half of the duo, Ed Simons. “We liked bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, but then found the more fun thing was going to house clubs and hearing how that energy coincided.

“So we never sat down with some big master plan to put all our different things we’ve heard over the years into a melting pot, but that’s how it came out.”

Simons and his trusted production partner Tom Rowlands left London in the late-1980s to study at the University of Manchester. Outside of academic interests, they were lured in by a shared love of New Order and the northern city’s esteemed music history.

“Then when we got there it was all about the Hacienda and Mike Pickering and Chicago house music,” Simons says. “Particularly an album like [1999’s] Surrender, which we feel like was probably the real apex of a lot things meeting – particularly the track we did with Bernard Sumner [‘Out of Control’] and ‘Got Glint?’ – they were records that really came out of that Manchester thing.”

The Chemical Brothers’ latest release, this year’s No Geography, demonstrates their albums don’t rest on the reputations of the featured guests. The main vocal contributor is Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA. Japanese rapper Nene also features, as well as Eshan Gopal and Snowbird’s Stephanie Dosen.

“AURORA was the first person we worked with after touring Born in the Echoes and from that emerged a lot of different vocals and three core tracks,” says Simons. “So rather than approach lots of guest vocalists we thought we’d use all of those songs and build the album around that song identity.”

After working with St. Vincent, Beck, Cate Le Bon and Q-Tip on 2015’s Born in the Echoes, Simons and Rowlands were eager to make something more cohesive.

“There seemed to be a quality to [AURORA’s] voice which matched some of the vocal samples of ‘Free Yourself’ and ‘Got to Keep On’. Aurora helped us focus in on a story and an identity. Perhaps it’s a bit of a throwback to the first couple of records we made.”

No Geography is the Brothers’ ninth album and it comes 24 years since their debut LP, Exit Planet Dust. They’re not the only act from the ’90s that’s still making music, but not many have maintained such high-quality output.

“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t still enjoy what we do and enjoy being with each other and making this music,” says Simons. “Going around the world and touring relies on the fact that we can get on and be, in different circumstances, pretty tired. We must between us have some unspoken desire to connect people.”

Simons and Rowlands are still very intent on making records that cut through. They’ve never really gone down a purist path, nor taken pains to match contemporary trends.

“We’re quite interested in the idea of accidental pop records – records that we make as things to DJ with or just send to a few DJs and then we work out how they could perhaps get on the radio or reach a broader audience.

“We try not to be too conscious of the fact that we’ve been going around for so long. You’re only as old as your last hit sounds.”

The Chemical Brothers come to Melbourne Arena on Tuesday November 5. Grab your tickets via Frontier Touring.