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In Praise of: The Chemical Brothers

February 4, 2012

Last night I was lucky enough to not only be one of the many fans watching the worldwide premiere of The Chemical Brothers’ concert movie ‘Don’t Think’, but to be in the same cinema as the director Adam Smith and the brothers themselves; Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons.

Zee meets Ed

Ever since I first heard ‘Leave Home’ (sound-tracking a mime act duo at PGL summer camp) I’ve been instinctively drawn to the raw power and spine-tingly pleasure of their music. I first saw the duo DJ in the Bugged Out! tent at Creamfields in 2003 when the ‘It Began In Afrika’ chant was looping around the festival, then a first live set followed at T in the Park’s SLAM Tent 2004. I pogo’ed to them at the ludicrously busy and bouncing Glasgow Carling Academy in March 2005, danced in the mud and rain of Glastonbury 2007 and watched in awe atop the Serbian fortress of EXIT in 2009; so it’s safe to say I’m something of a superfan.

It was therefore imperative that I was part of the ‘Don’t Think’ premiere, and the benefit of living in London is that we were privileged enough to get a Q+A with the affable director and share the experience with the men behind the music. Those who saw it elsewhere in the world can surely vouch for the brilliance of the film, which unlike any other concert film before it, gives a palpable sense of being involved in the performance. Through a combination of in-crowd reaction shots, Tom+Ed close-ups, creative interludes with the wonderful Mario Kobayashi Stoppard, and of course the mind-bending visuals created by Smith and his team, you get the full 360-degree immersive experience that even actual attendance cannot match.

As has been documented via the encouraged Facebook and Twitter responses, there we’re people dancing in the aisles at most cinemas, and the BFI was no different. Despite the wealth of canny editing, clever camera work and visual trickery, what’s impressive is how true to the actual Fuji Rock gig the film stays. And as Smith commented, it’s the perfect audience, as opposed to the reaction of a British crowd, the enthusiasm and wonderment of the Japanese people in attendance that night really makes it special. After the reaction it got I think it’s safe to say there’ll be a DVD out if not a full cinematic release, so for those of you who missed out last night, I implore you to get involved.

The one thing that’s always been at the back of my mind during Chems’ sets though, is the tracks that I love but never seem to make it to the live show. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give praise to my top five underappreciated Brothers songs:

Electronic Battleweapon 6 – Often precursors to new albums, the Electronic Battleweapon’s are exactly what the name suggests; devastating tactical armaments for DJs. And none so more than number six. Ostensibly a remix of ‘Hoops’ from ‘Come With Us’, this is in fact one of the nastiest slabs of peak time techno ever forged and I can personally attest to the damage it can do to a dancefloor.

The Boxer – I think it’s fair to say that ‘Push the Button’ was their worst album, but mercifully nestled amongst the mediocrity was this little gem. Probably best regarded as a great pop song rather than a vintage Chemical Brothers number, the combination of big piano riffs, baggy breakbeats and Tim Burgess’ soaring vocals make for a great summertime party song.

Music Response – I couldn’t decide which ‘Exit Planet Dust’ track I loved the most, so instead I’ve gone for one of my favourite’s off ‘Surrender’ that has slipped out of the set list in recent years. Album openers don’t get much better than this, and when I did hear it live at The Academy THAT work up/bass drop and later almighty breakdown stick in the memory as some of the best moments I’ve ever had at a gig.

Piku – It’s almost understandable that this track might be overlooked when surrounded by the other imperious anthems on ‘Dig Your Own Hole’, but the heavy bass and wonderfully crunchy beats of Piku deserve to be shouted about. For me it exemplifies the genius of their production; a keen ear for rhythms that naturally make people move and an originality that makes their music defy genre-specification.

Denmark – One of the best examples of the ‘downtempo track melding seamlessly into upbeat next track’ phenomenon that has cropped up a few times on their albums, the combination of ‘The State We’re In’ and ‘Denmark’ is truly a thing of great beauty. The potency of the latter seems to have been greatly underestimated though, as in my opinion it’s one of their best songs. Creative drum patterns, a brilliant build up, an ecstatic chopped-guitar riff breakdown and a boisterous latin fiesta to finish; it’s got everything a crowd-pleaser needs.

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