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Artist Profiles :: The Chemical Brothers

Chemical BrothersMany say they invented the whole Big Beat genre with debut single ‘Song to the Siren’ and follow-up anthem ‘Chemical Beats’. It’s a music which was once dubbed rave’n’roll, 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 city’s 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 Robertson’s 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 Brothers treatment.

Meanwhile, they were now resident DJs at the legendary Sunday Heavenly Social (originally at The Albany and then at London’s Turnmills), playing their own brand of dancefloor eclecticism to what soon became renowned as London’s most hedonistic club night, one of a host of ground-breaking big beat-based clubs, which included the Big Kahuna Burger and Brighton’s 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 get in!

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.

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Singles 1993-2003
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