After forming in Manchester back in 1989, the Chemical Brothers have come to embody the movement which turned big beat into a sensation, with a characteristic speed and power epitomising their contributions to the increasing pace of UK dance music. Back in the early days, whilst still working under aliases The 237 Turbo Nutters and The Dust Brothers, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands honed their skills mixing hip-hop with techno and house, often supplementing sets with their own productions. By 1995 they’d moved back to London, taken up an a slot at the influential Heavenly Sunday Social Club and started a world tour, also embracing the name that we now know them by.
Following the chart-topping release of Dig Your Own Hole in 1996, The Chemical Brothers have seen each subsequent release enter the UK album chart at number 1, also enjoying excellent receptions internationally. Having long since carved out a place for themselves in dance music history, the pair’s sound puts them alongside the likes of The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim as the key players in the development of breakbeat.
Ahead of their headline slot at South West Four, we take a look at some of their best work in studio over the years.
“Don’t hold back” declares Q-Tip’s repeated vocal soundbite of 2005 single “Galvanize”, a funk-laden, big beat stomper that led the charge of Push The Button as the album took home a Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album in 2006. A hammer blow of jarring samples, raw percussion and abrasive attitude, it packs a punch and is one of the duo’s most immediately recognisable tunes.
Swooning vocals and bending synth lines, “Swoon” is a rush of summery euphoria, broken up by a breakdown stringing mystical female vocal snippets over a lightly over-driven bass. Smooth and mesmerising.
Kylie Minogue - Slow (Chemical Brothers Remix)
The Chemical Brothers showed off a positively naughty side with their adaption of this Dad-pop classic, pairing the minute Aussie’s intoxicating voice with typically impactful drum beats and sharply filtered synths to create a piece that sounds like the distracting call of Odysseus’ sirens ringing out in the relative calm before a nuclear storm. Five minutes in and the storm reaches its dangerous peak, a frenzy of fizzing electronics and fierce winds.
Combine a frenzy of smashed snares and deep ravey kicks with the Mancunion drawl of Noel Gallagher and what do you get? If you’re one of the Chemical Brothers, then the answer is your first number one single. “Setting Sun” took the UK by storm in 1996, establishing the producers as the big beat pioneers that we know today. Arrogant and angsty, the track symbolises a chaotic coalition of the two major powers of 1990s Britain: Brit-pop and broken beats.
Building gently despite its relatively fast pace, this one travels and transforms with filtered chordal shimmers and wide-panned vocals, all of which merge with the rhythmic backdrop to paint an unintrusive but pleasing picture.
The Chemical Brothers can be caught back in their home city this summer at Parklife, where they will headline Main Stage on Saturday 11th June. The duo join a huge lineup at Heaton Park including names from across the entire dance music spectrum, with live and DJ sets from Four Tet, Daniel Avery, Ben Klock, Katy B, Skepta and De La Soul, to name only a few. The festival will also feature a series of special back to back sets, including an Armand van Helden and Jackmaster dream team, setting 2016 up as Parklife’s best incarnation yet.
They will also appear live at South West Four in London, appearing as headliners on Sunday 28th of August alongside Above & Beyond. With further announcements on the way, the festival so far boasts techno craftsmen Paul Kalkbrenner, Recondite and Sven Väth, as well as Cirez D, Joseph Capriati and Sasha. Live performances from Booka Shade and Hunter/Game are also highly anticipated.
Words by Andrew Kemp