By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Barefoot dancers orbit the DJ booth at Nikki Beach Club, their legs white with sand. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, the British duo known as Basement Jaxx, plunge listeners into the wobbly bounce of "Romeo" and the g-funk-inflected swing of "Do Your Thing." One of the songs (though not one of the Jaxx's own) begins to skip. Buxton shrugs nonchalantly, then in one swift movement flips the flimsy vinyl and starts the cut again. The crowd applauds as though he'd messed up on purpose.
Anybody could make a mistake after an afternoon press junket that followed a long night of mischief. Buxton, a tan Spike Jonze-looking fellow wearing a tank top and swim trunks, greets me with a firm sun-dappled handshake and offers a hospital corner of the massive bed no one had slept in the night before. Relaxed, he launches into a description of the Jaxx's new material without hesitation. "With this album, we haven't name-checked people as much," Buxton explains. "Definitely with Remedy we were like, “Oh, [hip-hop producer] Timbaland is really cool in what he did, and that's interesting,' but we just kind of said let's do something and forget about what everyone else is doing. The main thing is that you don't lose a lot of people as you do something different, but you can't worry about that the whole time because it means artistically it stifles you."
For their follow-up album, Buxton and Ratcliffe say they found fewer sources of inspiration to diversify their already powerfully eclectic sound. "R&B is what I've listened to production-wise, and it's what I'm interested in," says Buxton, "but a lot of it seems so commercial and derivative and doesn't seem artistic. In England there's 2-step and the whole U.K. garage scene, which, dance music-wise, has been the only interesting thing that's happened. There will definitely be influences, but we didn't worry, “What does that represent?' Whereas the first album we were like, “Oh my God. This is our first album; what are people going to think if we do this?'"
Rooty strikes a balance between the disco decadence and punk irreverence of the late Seventies and the more restrained technical virtuosity and icy emotiveness of Eighties synth-pop. The pseudo-Timbaland stutter-step beats of Remedy's "U Can't Stop Me" are replaced by "S.F.M (Sexy Feline Machine)," which reinvents Q-Tip's "Breathe and Stop" as an R&B melody that can't quite turn itself over. "Where's Your Head At?" revisits the hybrid punk-house territory covered on "Same Old Show," melding guitars to throbbing 4/4 beats beneath sinister masculine chants. On the sassy "Breakaway," the Jaxx borrows from an "Erotic City"-era Prince, weaving a seemingly endless string of keyboard squiggles, blasts of horn, impish vocals, and the buried sound of children taunting a would-be playmate. "Broken Dreams," probably the finest track on the album, cruises along on a melody that is equal parts Ennio Morricone, Bebel Gilberto, and Buena Vista Social Club.
Back at Nikki Beach Club, fists are pumping and asses are shaking to "Romeo." Girls and boys of all ages writhe to the acid house beats, crying out the forceful hook of "Where's Your Head At?" The music trails off at the end of the set, and Buxton and Ratcliffe, enervated by the still-synchronized head-bobbing of the crowd, clap hands, soliciting applause for the fans who rush the stage.