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Culture Reviews
Basement Jaxx
By Ivor Crotty
Fittingly, in a city of jaw-dropping juxtapositions and cultural collisions, the last night of Basement Jaxx’s summer tour brought a hybridity and experimentalism to B1 Maximum that the Muscovite audience responded to in kind. Be it cheesy house, mental mosh-ups or Jamaican Gabba Street parties replete with skipping ropes, Moscow lapped it up and asked for more.

The set, percussion, DJ, drums and 3 horns provide a backdrop for 3 super-talented vocalists, an MC and guitarist and Basement Jaxx founder Felix Buxton, to run amok, and reflected the street party vibe at the roots of the Basement Jaxx route to popularity. The group draws upon the music of Brixton and London SW9, from the street sound of Jamaican ragga or The Clash to Saturday night house music and Sunday morning atonement with a church gospel choir to constantly surprise and uplift the audience by bringing a new vibe, a new twist, and countless costume changes.

Opening on an up and keeping it there, they brought the street vibe to Moscow, Jump’n’Shout had them high-kicking for starters before they stitched together three pieces from 2001’s Rooty and 2003’s Kish Kash that endeared singers Linda Lewis and Vula Melinga to all and sundry. The dancing was Jamaican, the singing was soulful, the horns were Latin and the beats were massive, yet it sounded like ska, or maybe hip-hop, or was that disco? It was loud though, very loud.

Four tracks in and it was time for “Take Me Back to Your House”, the video to which is saturated in Russian and soviet iconography and as such has received saturation rotation on MTV Russia. It was rather like seeing Prince in 1989, and standing agog as he played “Purple Rain” four songs in. Like, what were they going to do next? What about the encore?! Like Prince, Basement Jaxx had faith. They even chilled out for a bit – giving the white jump-suited horn section a Memphis moment before kicking into “Do Your Thing” from 2001’s “Rooty”, an Aretha meets Blues Brothers belter replete with manic Charleston dancing.

They did it again too, giving a big-up to label mates White Stripes by bashing out “Run for Cover”, before dropping the pace with a soulful “When the light is over now”, beautifully sung by Linda Lewis, whose extraordinary vocal prowess proved too much for the sound system, which frankly, should have been switched off altogether and must have been handled by a deaf 16 year old on speed, but more of that later.

The energy kept coming from stage centre, while video screens relaying the on-stage shenanigans to the gathered masses, filling Club B1 to about 3/4s capacity. Rooty’s “Get me off” was performed like Salt’n’Peppa (remember "Push it"?) were actually there. Ten times cheekier than Gwen Stefani, the girls loved it, both on stage and off. “Just Look Around”, (Yo Yo Yummy Yummy!) brought a dominatrix and a lime green track-suited belly dancer to make us smile, before things got totally out of hand. “Where’s Your Head At” was utterly lost in the sound – which was by now dangerously stupid – only matched by the on-stage cavorting of the Jaxx-ers, and the brilliant Horn Section costumed up as Klingon-Silverback-Ninja-Warriors in Tubeway Army’s castaways. Looked great, sounded terrible (it actually sounded like this at several points).

With that it was goodnight time, though a 20 minute African-Mambo multi-party singalong (It’s Basement Jaxx!) encore stretched the evening to 10.30, and brought the groups summer tour well and truly to an end. Right up to the end they were tight, together, having fun, and working hard, an infectious cocktail.

Groups come and go but a venue and its management remain. B1 Maximum has lead Moscow’s foray into quality musical nights out over the summer, offering a series of concerts appealing to a European/Western musical palette. For me, Air’s kaleidoscopic 2 ? hour set stands out in this respect though others would argue that Sonic Youth or Gogol Bordello are more worthy of mention, though perhaps I’m just showing my age. In short, Club B1 is a quality venue offering quality events with quality artists at Moscow prices. Basement Jaxx’s visit represents the latest efforts of Moscow’s more savvy music promoters to bring us a quality night out… as opposed to the Scorpions, again.

But, there is room for improvement. The sound was truly awful. The system regularly peaked at dangerous levels, prompting apologies on the band’s myspace site. If Club B1 wants to stay ahead of the posse of promoters and venues offering nights-out to Moscow’s revelers it will have to pay more attention to fundamentals such as this, and let the gloss take care of itself.

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