The Chemical Brothers are one step ahead of the game. Over 25 years they’ve seemed to be operating somewhere in the future, pushing an energy out into the world that somehow becomes more relevant as time goes by. With their ninth album ‘No Geography’ now five months past its initial release, it sets an eerily accurate soundtrack to 2019 – smoothly penetrating the high-anxiety zeitgeist via 10 club-ready bangers.
‘It’s not about trying to make people vote one way or another, the album is a response to our surroundings and the energy in our country.’ Says Tom Rowlands, one half of the legendary duo, when asked if this is their Brexit album. Constructed over the troubled post-vote years, Tom and Ed took the album-in-progress on the road to capture the feeling of frustrated citizens throughout the UK and Europe. ‘In a way the intensity built over the course of making the album. A lot of the tracks were developed by playing live and it was pretty amazing to travel around Europe and hear people to respond to different tracks.’
The album artwork, which Ed and Tom have always had a close hand at creating throughout their 9 record offering, is some of their most thought-provoking. ‘We’ve been quite thoughtful about what our covers are and have found them in various places. We go through a lot of records, we’re constantly surrounded, and I found this one in the booklet from Consequences by Godley and Crème. I felt like it belonged on the front of the record.’ The 1977 album was the first from the duo who had freshly detached from pop super group 10cc. It featured out-there effects which never would have fit the mainstream of 70s-Brittania, including engineering that placed a binaural head microphone in a coffin-like structure. The mysterious sound of the album permeates the album booklet and this oddly beautiful image.
‘They’re in a tank but what are they going towards? Are they heading into acid clouds or a sunset? It feels apocalyptic but it’s also, in some ways, very hopeful.’
Chemical Brothers records often seem like a transcendent pastiche of old and new, clever sampling and innovative production are the standard. Collaborating heavily with the futuristic styling of millennial darling Aurora, ‘No Geography’ sounds like it has been drawn from deep in the space time vortex. This could be attributed to the ‘1997 Corner’ of the Chemical Brothers studio. ‘A lot of the stuff we’ve always used and we’ve just kept. It’s like a playroom in a way – when we’re in studio sometimes we’ll head over to the 1997 corner and see what happens.’
‘We don’t let anything go and a lot of the stuff we still bring on tour with us. We still have this keyboard that we took on the road for years – we would wrap it up in a blanket and put it in overhead compartments.’
If what was delivered was a tightly wound, high energy political album – its live expression is nothing short of total catharsis for the duo. ‘Honestly some of the shows we’ve done in the last few years are the best we’ve ever played.’
The new live concept (touring Aus in October and November) was unleashed on Glastonbury in June to massive critical acclaim. As they still perform surrounded by any number of controllers from decades past, there seems to have been no expense spared to create giant mindfuck visuals. Lasers fused with disco ball reflections, giant partying non-human beings and a classic Chemical Bro strobe seems enough for sensory overload. ‘We’re really reaching an amazing height of intensity and to this joyous point and it’s been really special for us.’
After 25 years, what seems to emerge strongest from the evolution of The Chemical Brothers is this commitment to innovation amongst the ominous. But then, Tom would argue, they’ve never been pessimistic. ‘In a way it’s almost easier to make music that’s dark but I don’t think we’ve ever done that. We’ve always been hopeful.’
The Chemical Brothers Australian Tour