Now while they may have cemented their initial approach in Lancashire Simons and Rowlands are actually sons of Surrey and old school friends who shared a passion for The Smiths, New Order, Goth rock, Public Enemy and Kraftwerk. In Manchester the rave scene affected their development most favourably and they combined forces in a variety of pop acts before settling on a blend of hip hop, techno and house, borrowing the name The Dust Brothers from the Beastie Boys producers.
They learnt their craft as remixers and then as resident DJs at influential Heavenly Social Club in Central London where regular visitors like Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and Tim Burgess soon became fans of their work on the decks. Studio mixes for The Prodigy, Primal Scream, The Charlatans and Manic Street Preachers were timed right to coincide with the MTV generation that craved dance rock sounds and a US tour with Orbital and Underworld did much to export their vision.
Inevitably the Dust Brothers name had to yield but renaming themselves The Chemical Brothers was no hardship. The duo's first albums, Exit Planet Dust (1995) and Dig Your Own Hole,(1997) arrived during a crazy flurry of activity when the twosome seemed to be working with every mover and shaker in town. And this during the absolute height of Brit Pop. Exit Planet Dust covered so many bases it's a story in itself. Beth Orton, subsequently a life long friend, added vocals to 'Alive Alone', while Tim Burgess was sharply on side to sing on 'Life Is Sweet' – both tracks charting well.
The logical next step was live work of their own and an important Astoria Theatre show received such great reviews that their DJ stunts at Heavenly and Turnmills in Clerkenwell turned them into superstars with queues of floor filling fanatics eager to catch their latest groove. Dig Your Own Hole, reacquainted The Chemical Brothers with Noel Gallagher who asked to sing on 'Setting Sun', which duly hit the top spot and is considered quite rightly to be a classic of the psych dance genre.
The key track is however the immortal 'Block Rockin' Beats', that award winning hand grenade of a monster which samples Bernard Purdie's drumming on 'Them Changes' and Schooly D's 'Gucci Again' as well a bass line from The Crusaders. 'Elektrobank' didn't quite match the latter's number one slot in the UK but it was a huge underground hit followed by 'The Private Psychedelic Reel,' a lengthy big beat acid trance groove that still offers plenty of mileage today.
Seeing out the old millennium and ushering in the new age Surrender and Come With Us continue in the tried and trusted manner, employing key guests as singers. Noel Gallagher ('Let Forever Be'), Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval ('Asleep from Day') and Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue ('Dream On') all contribute to Surrender, which acknowledges The Chemical Brothers' love for way out rock tropes as much as their innate big house loops. 'Out of Control' was another mega hit with Bernard Sumner and Bobby Gillespie keen to join the Brothers. Celebrity pals aside though Chemical Brothers hardcore fans swear by 'Hey Boy Hey Girl', a trance turned dance floor stomp that became a key part of their live act. Check the cover too. A generic continuation of the award winning album sleeve depicting an uber chilled festival crowd.
In June 2000 the Brothers wowed Glastonbury and pulled in the largest crowd ever seen to the Pyramid stage at that point. Come With Us benefited from their rapidly growing fan base. An instant number one and an acid house definer this disc picks up from the vibe they'd felt playing at Creamfields with the for DJs only initial pressing of 'It Began in Afrika' spreading tentacles to street festivals and Ibiza floors. Bigger, bolder and badder, that was the message. Orton's reign as their in house diva is maintained on 'The State We're In' while Richard Ashcroft stars on 'The Test', a slab of freestyle guaranteed to rock the house.
Following a singles compilation (93-03) it was back business with Push the Button, another Grammy and more Gold in the shops. Resistance now seemed futile as even the toughest critics gave in to a disc that made space for The Magic Numbers brothers and sisters band on 'Close Your Eyes' and reunited Ed and Tom with Tim Burgess on 'The Boxer' after a ten year gap. Other delicacies include the Moroccan flavoured 'Galvanize' - featuring Q-Tip - and 'Believe' where Bloc Party's Kele Okereke lends his verbal acumen.
We Are The Night (2007) continues the trick of sampling from within the ranks and segueing tracks into the whole so the listener feels like an event is unfolding rather than a simple song cycle. Euphoric and danceable as ever it'll be a moot point what anyone's favourite cut is but how about 'The Pills Won't Help You Now' where Tim Smith from Midlake adds his heavenly voice to proceedings? That alone is worth the price of admission.
B-Sides Volume 1 is for the cognoscenti, but that's a pretty broad church of followers by now. The previous six studio albums provide the grist and it's worth checking out how damn good those flips are. 'Prescription Beats' and 'Let Me In Mate' also unveil some of The Chemical Brothers lighter side while that playfulness can be heard on the otherwise unreleased 'Silver Drizzle' and 'Snooprah' - from 'The Salmon Dance 7"'.
The Brotherhood and Further bring us crashing towards the present. The former is a set of hits from 2003 on with a second disc helping of the Electronic Battle Weapon series of special mixes, including the indispensable 'The Golden Path' featuring Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips. Further (2010), which came in multiple formats, is found here in original format with the bonus 'Don't Think', from the film soundtrack to Black Swan. Completely on a par with their previous music but exhibiting less of the banging stuff and loads more of the trippier, fuzzier, frayed around the edges psychedelia that closed those early albums. Check the crazy 'Horse Power' or the blessed 'Escape Velocity' to hear those Chemicals at their most expansive.
Then again, don't assume that anything in the future will follow this mood. That's up to the Brotherhood.
Words: Max Bell
The former Dust Brothers make oblique reference to litigation averted on their debut full-length. The Chemical Brothers' sound is big on bombast, replete with screeching guitar samples and lots of sirens and screaming divas. A breakthrough album of sorts, Exit Planet Dust was, upon its release, one of the few European post-techno albums to make any sort of headway into the stateside market.
Words: Sean Cooper
Taking the swirling eclecticism of their post-techno debut, Exit Planet Dust, to the extreme, the Chemical Brothers blow all stylistic boundaries down with their second album, Dig Your Own Hole. Bigger, bolder, and more adventurous than Exit Planet Dust, Dig Your Own Hole opens with the slamming cacophony of "Block Rockin' Beats," where hip-hop meets hardcore techno, complete with a Schoolly D sample and an elastic bass riff. Everything is going on at once in "Block Rockin' Beats," and it sets the pace for the rest of the record, where songs and styles blur into a continuous kaleidoscope of sound. It rocks hard enough for the pop audience, but it doesn't compromise either the Chemicals' sound or the adventurous, futuristic spirit of electronica -- even "Setting Sun," with its sly homages to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and Noel Gallagher's twisting, catchy melody, doesn't sound like retro psychedelia; it sounds vibrant, unexpected, and utterly contemporary. There are no distinctions between different styles, and the Chemicals sound as if they're having fun, building Dig Your Own Hole from fragments of the past, distorting the rhythms and samples, and pushing it forward with an intoxicating rush of synthesizers, electronics, and layered drum machines. the Chemical Brothers might not push forward into self-consciously arty territories like some of their electronic peers, but they have more style and focus, constructing a blindingly innovative and relentlessly propulsive album that's an exhilarating listen -- one that sounds positively new but utterly inviting at the same time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
By the time of the Chemical Brothers' third album, Surrender, the big beat phenomenon they had done much to engender was more apt to be heard on a soft drink commercial than the world's hipper dancefloors. And with the growing omnipresence of big beat's simplistic party vibes threatening to cave in the entire scene, Tom and Ed came to grips with what is -- compared to their previous work -- a house record. The pounding four-on-the-floor thump of tracks like "Music:Response," "Got Glint," and the duo's take on KLF-style stadium house for the single "Hey Boy Hey Girl" signals that this is a transition record for the Chemical Brothers, one that could eventually take them back into the straight-ahead dance mainstream status enjoyed by acts from Daft Punk to Armand Van Helden.The irony here is that even considering the changes, Surrender still feels very similar to its predecessors. The focus on wave-of-sound production, buckets full of old-school vocal samples, and various sirens and beatbox effects sound like they were lifted wholesale from their breakout album, Dig Your Own Hole, or their first release, Exit Planet Dust. And while a few of the vocal tracks focus on new collaborations, they're along the same lines, making it tough to spot the differences from past albums -- the quavering British vocals of Beth Orton have given way to the quavering American vocals of Hope Sandoval, and the Charlatans' Tim Burgess is replaced by New Order's reclusive Bernard Sumner (a sure sign that the Chemicals have moved up a notch on the music-industry food chain). Also, two returning guests (Noel Gallagher and a member of Mercury Rev, here Jonathan Donahue) make very similar contributions to the record in the identical places they appeared on Dig Your Own Hole. Even besides its simpy title, the Gallagher track "Let Forever Be" is the very same electronica update of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" that made their 1996 collaboration single "Setting Sun" a number one hit in Britain. And the Donahue track, "Dream On," is very similar to the indie psychedelia of "The Private Psychedelic Reel" from Dig Your Own Hole. Sure, the Chemical Brothers do this type of music very well; it's just that Surrender isn't quite the change of direction they'd been aiming for -- it's simply the same great album they'd made two years earlier.
Words: John Bush
Don't call it a comeback (they never left) or a return to the underground (there's still a spot reserved in Britain's Top Ten). Still, after disappointing critics and fans with increasingly crossover material, Chemical Brothers Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons returned with a tighter, more danceable record, including fewer rock star collaborations (only two, shunted toward the end) and a lead single ("It Began in Afrika") introduced almost a year before, on white label only, for crucial DJ ground support. From the vocal sample introducing the opener ("behold...they're coming back"), it's clear Rowlands and Simons know the importance of this fourth album, and it detonates like a bomb blast, as though the duo knew that Come With Us had to be bigger and badder than all the bombastic breaks they'd dropped in the past. "It Began in Afrika" is next up, with percussion-heavy tribal-house charging into trance-state acid and a warping vocal sample repeating the title. After the opener, "Galaxy Bounce" is the best track here, locking into a nice Chic groove and alternating a strutting drum break with stop-time turntablism. The vocal features are solid but ignorable; Beth Orton's "The State We're In" is a predictable, pleasant folkie jam, and Richard Ashcroft's closer, "The Test," a pseudo-mystical breakbeat epic. The Chemical Brothers' best studio work has a kinetic energy and pace borrowed from the flow of their DJ sets. After forgetting the key on 1999's Surrender amidst handling all of the celebrity guests, they got back to business with Come With Us.
Words: John Bush
When the big beat boom gradually subsided, the Chemical Brothers initially sought refuge within a carefully crafted version of house music both epic and psychedelic. Still, the duo are fusion fans at heart, and their fifth studio album, Push the Button, finds them easing back to their true love -- pulverizing stylistic boundaries while they seek out clever hooks to hang their production caps on. The first half of the record is heavy on collaboration, beginning with the clear highlight, "Galvanize," which features guest Q-Tip riding a delicious mid-tempo groove and the brothers teasing out an ingenious Middle Eastern string sample over the course of several breakdowns and over six minutes. "The Boxer" has ChemBros veteran Tim Burgess of the Charlatans UK coming on like an extroverted Steve Miller, while the next track, "Believe," features Britpop newcomer Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party) agonizing over an energized electroshock production composed of equal parts Prince and Chicago acid house. It's clear the Chemical Brothers are still searching restlessly for new sounds and new fusions; only they could alternate a polemical hip-hop track -- "Left Right," a guest spot for Anwar Superstar, who, incidentally, may be the younger brother of Mos Def, but sounds like he's been living in Jay-Z's head for a few years -- with a feature for an indie band, the Magic Numbers ("Close Your Eyes"). Obviously, it's far more refreshing to explore new territory rather than merely go back over old ground; while "Come Inside" suffers by aping their 1997 approach, the subsequent track, "The Big Jump," finds the pair energized with a fresh gloss on their patented sound (although it is easy to notice how the skronky guitars in the background are clearly a post-electroclash development). While there aren't as many heart-stopping productions as on 2002's unjustly neglected Come With Us, Push the Button proves the Chemical Brothers have retained the innate curiosity necessary to keep them blazing trails for years to come.
Words: John Bush
We Are the Night is the sixth studio album by English big beat duo The Chemical Brothers, released on 27 June 2007. The record entered the UK Albums Chart at number and debuted at number 65 on the Billboard 200. It was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album at the 50th Grammy Awards, making The Chemical Brothers the first artist to win this award more than once.
Further is the first Chemical Brothers album without a guest vocalist since their debut. Consequently, with no worries about crafting tracks around a Q-Tip or Richard Ashcroft, the duo has full freedom to focus on enveloping listeners in the sound world usually just experienced at its shows -- although, naturally, without the lights and atmosphere to accompany the music. After a beatless first track titled "Snow," the 12-minute single "Escape Velocity" approximates a rocket launch, the impressive effects continually rising over the first few minutes until the beat kicks in with full force. Still, as a single or an album track, "Escape Velocity" isn't a total success. The effects and distortion would certainly do Kevin Shields or Sonic Boom proud, but the lockstep beats, when they do come in, are practically an anticlimax. From there, Ed and Tom go in differing directions, with typically varied results; they seem to have learned lessons from the past, varying their tracks slightly. "Another World" is a perfect example, appropriately otherworldly and shimmering, an '80s throwback capable of provoking jealousy in chillwave maestros like Neon Indian and Washed Out.
Words: John Bush
The Chemical Brothers' second career-spanning compilation is basically a substitute for the first, including nine of the same tracks first reissued on 2003's Singles 93-03 and then making room for a few of the touchstones released between 2003 and 2008 (two of which are new to this collection). The early classics "Chemical Beats" and "Leave Home" are still among the best of their career, while "Block Rockin' Beats" and "Setting Sun" (featuring Noel Gallagher) found the mature Chemical Brothers quickly growing comfortable with a stadium-sized sound and profile. From there, the duo appeared to merely refine their approach, gathering in further psychedelic and house influences while they scored gradually more popular guests over the subsequent ten years. Brotherhood's track listing could easily be quarreled with, but it includes most of the approved highlights from each album, early or old, innovative or orthodox. One of the new tracks features an intriguing matchup, with Spank Rock's Naeem Juwan joining the ChemBros for "Keep My Composure," a rather clever piece of acid hip-hop.
Words: John Bush
Ed and Tom's ten-year anniversary was an excellent time to gift the faithful with a compilation, and Singles 93-03 illustrates nearly every distinct phase of the duo's career -- from their early Bomb Squad fixation to their flirtation with Beatlesque Brit-pop and later reincarnation as psychedelic beatmasters. Still, this straight-up chronological look at the Chemical Brothers as a singles act certainly isn't the best that could've been done. It doesn't even include all of their singles ("Music:Response" and the non-LP "Loops of Fury" would've been excellent additions) and over half of the contents comes from the period after their first two (and best two) LPs. It does begin in brilliant fashion, with early singles "Song to the Siren" and "Chemical Beats" displaying the band's weighty influence from Public Enemy and My Bloody Valentine but also their fresh ideas about making dance music as fun as it had been during the rave era. Unfortunately, Singles 93-03 quickly cuts to weaker latter-day singles ("Hey Boy Hey Girl," "Star Guitar") as well as the Brothers' set of half-baked rock collaborations (including both Noel Gallagher guest-spots, "Setting Sun" and "Let Forever Be"). Two new tracks, "Get Yourself High" and "The Golden Path," are also collaborations. After a feature for fellow Astralwerks artist and rapper K-Os, the second delivers on most of its promise as a soundclash for two of neo-psychedelia's most interesting acts, the Chemical Brothers and the Flaming Lips. "The Golden Path" is a cool, crisp song with two surprises: it's clearly reminiscent of Echo & the Bunnymen and features the solo vocal debut from the Lips' Steven Drozd. (Wayne Coyne, the band's usual mouthpiece, is heard near the end.)
Words: John Bush
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, better known to their fans as the Chemical Brothers, present a handy package of hard to find tracks with this collection. B-Sides, Vol. 1 brings together nine rare non-LP single sides from the popular electronic dance act, originally released between 1995 and 2007, along with one previously unreleased track, "Silver Drizzle." Other selections include "Nude Night," "Prescription Beats," "The Diamond Sky," "Snooprah," and more.
Words: Mark Deming