Many say they invented the whole Big Beat genre with debut single
Song to the Siren and follow-up anthem Chemical
Beats. Its a music which was once dubbed ravenroll,
characterised by its sense of mindless devil-may-care fun and punky
aggression, distorted noise, riffs and violent bludgeoning beats.
Think of Public Enemy circa It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold
Us Back and your somewhere close to the sound. But today, Tom Rowlands
and Ed Simons, the duo who comprise The Chemical Brothers, have
gone beyond that, mixing an array of different musics in their own
unique style, both on the decks and in their own productions. The
success which has followed has few parallels. Today, along with
Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy they now rank as one of the three biggest
dance acts in the world.
The pair originally met while studying history at Manchester Poly
in 1989. Both had gravitated to Manchester from homes in the South
due to the citys renowned music scene, home to bands like
The Fall, Joy Division, New Order and, later the Madchester phenomenon
spearheaded by the likes of The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses.
Manchester was also the centre for the acid house explosion in the
North of England, with legendary house nights like Nude and Hot
at the Hacienda and Justin Robertsons Spice and Most Excellent.
Tom and Ed were both carried away by the scene: music was the bond
that sealed a lasting friendship. In fact, since they met over a
decade ago, the lads have only spent two weeks apart.
Soon they were DJing as a duo - originally naming themselves The
Dust Brothers after The Beastie Boys producers. Their first
residency followed at Naked Under Leather, where they soon established
their crowd-pleasing reputation, mixing up an eclectic and potent
brew of early acid house, hip hop classics and rock. At the time,
Tom was still involved with Balearic band Ariel back in his home
town of Henley-on-Thames. It was back there, in fact, in his bedroom
studio, that he and Ed ventured in a new direction with Song
to the Siren, playing around with breaks and beats, bowel-churning
bass and ethereal vocals. It was an experiment that met with a reception
beyond their wildest dreams - Andy Weatherall bagged one of the
500 copies pressed and played it to death for six months, signing
them to his Junior Boys Own label to boot. Ariel was dead and buried.
The Dust Brothers were born.
By 94, two EPs followed - 14th Century Sky and
My Mercury Mouth - with the boys also earning a reputation
as remixers par excellence. Primal Scream, The Prodigy, Manic Street
Preachers, Saint Etienne and The Charlatans - all received the Dust
Meanwhile, they were now resident DJs at the legendary Sunday Heavenly
Social (originally at The Albany and then at Londons Turnmills),
playing their own brand of dancefloor eclecticism to what soon became
renowned as Londons most hedonistic club night, one of a host
of ground-breaking big beat-based clubs, which included the Big
Kahuna Burger and Brightons Big Beat Boutique.
The Chemicals DJing style placed the quality of the tunes before
mixing technique and their residency there made The Heavenly Social
notorious for its mix of musical styles and punters. You could hear
Primal Scream and early Boys Own records, The Beatles Tomorrow
Never Knows, Barry White, Oasis, classic hip hop by the likes
of Eric B & Rakim - anything and everything that the Chemicals
and other Heavenly DJs (Harvey and the Grand Central crew among
them) felt like. And it was also famously the return of booze, rather
than pill-popping as the clubbing drug of choice. The Charlatans,
Oasis and Paul Weller all mixed in the crowd. Tricky even played
the last night at the Albany, when 300 people crammed into the 150-capacity
venue, while a further 700 milled in the street outside trying to
A major recording deal with Virgin followed shortly afterwards,
along with a name change to The Chemical Brothers (after the original
Dust Brothers objected to having British doppelgängers). The
result was debut LP Exit Planet Dust, which hit the shops in the
summer of 95 (featuring top 20 singles Leave Home
and Life Is Sweet and guest vocalists Tim Burgess and
Beth Orton). Its success was phenomenal, exceeding all expectation,
selling 275,000 copies in the UK and over a million worldwide.