“You feel bad for the legacy acts that are overlooked,” DJ Morgan Page said in a recent interview about the great EDM artists that came before the huge explosion of the past few years. In some respects, he is right. Even at EDC last month in Las Vegas, Moby and Fatboy Slim — two of the ‘90s acts that helped introduce electronic music to the masses — played after 2 a.m., and not on the main stage.
However, Moby and Fatboy Slim’s peers the Chemical Brothers, who brought dance to the mainstream with songs like “Setting Sun,” “Block Rockin’ Beats,” and “Galvanize,” were one of the headliners of this year’s Glastonbury Festival. For their last appearance at Coachella, in 2011, they closed out the main stage on night one.
While EDM may not be made for longevity, the Chemical Brothers, along with Daft Punk, have safely made their way into iconic status in the genre, in part because of love from the DJs and artists that have come after them. For instance, Calvin Harris slipped some Chemical Brothers into his set at EDC.
The ongoing love for and relevance of the Chems is evident when looking the roster of guest artists on the duo’s Born in the Echoes, their first album in four years. The Chems’ Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons go for a few well-known pairings, from “Galvanize” collaborator Q-Tip (if A Tribe Called Quest) to St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and the recent Album of the Year Grammy-winner Beck.
The Beck teaming, on the album’s beautiful, ethereal closer “Wide Open,” was special for Rowlands. “His music has just been a constant thing in my life for a long time, and that voice, that sound he gets and the way he makes you feel with his voice,” Rowlands tells Yahoo Music. “Then to work with him on a piece of music and hopefully, for us, create something that we will want to listen to and we enjoy and that touches us in some way is a dream.”
Beck, St. Vincent, and a hip-hop icon might seem like a disparate trio. (The album also features vocals from Ali Love, who worked with the duo first in 2007 on “Do It Again,” and Cate Le Bon on the title track). But Rowlands believes all three share a common trait. “The main thing for all these people that we work with is they’ve done something that we respond to. On this record, they all have a unique thing they do, whether it’s their voice or just the way they make music,” he says. “To work with Q-Tip again was a dream to me; we were working on that instrumental, we took it to his studio in New York, we had it up loud in his studio and the groove was bumping along, and then he starts doing his part. I love that moment when an idea that you have and then the person comes back to you and it becomes something you hadn’t imagined, then you respond to what they’re doing.”
They had the same experience working with “Under Neon Lights” partner St. Vincent. “Annie Clark is an artist that just comes up with something and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’d never think of doing it like that.’ It just inspires you and you feel just excited to be working with someone with a creative outlet, which she has. The reason why these people are on our album is because we are inspired by them and we are excited that they can fit into our little world.”
Rowlands will be bringing the live show to festivals across the world this year, including appearances at HARD Summer in Los Angeles and HARD San Francisco, and at Creamfields in the U.K. With Simons out of commission on “academic work,” Rowlands will be sharing the stage with longtime visual collaborator Adam Smith, a filmmaker Rowlands says is the perfect person to share the stage.
“He’s someone we’ve toured with a lot and someone we’ve collaborated with on the live show since the start. So if anyone is gonna step in, Adam is very well qualified,” he says.
For Rowlands, bringing in a new onstage partner as well as new music is giving a fresh perspective to the live shows.
“It’s been a fun thing to try. Adam brings a different element in that he’s controlling some of the lights and visual elements from the stage, which is something we talked about when we started playing gigs,” he says. “And it’s quite interesting that the person next to me can have a little interplay between what’s going on with the visual and what I’m doing on the decks. It’s good, it’s different, which is great. It changes things up, makes you work differently.”
Most importantly, though, for him is the mix that comes with being able to play two decades of tracks on these current dates. “It’s also an interesting thing how sometimes in the set we’ve been playing 'Chemical Beats’ next to 'Sometimes I Feel So Deserted,’ a song we wrote a long time ago on our EP in 1994, and we’re mixing it around with this song we just finished to go on the album,” he says. “So I like that these two things can fit together. It just feels natural; it’s one of those interesting things where we’re taking all this music that we made and kind of working out how it can meet when we play a concert tonight, in July 2015. It’s exciting having all this music to draw from.”
There is one recurring theme that comes from any Chemical Brothers work, whether it’s in the live show, a collaboration, or on one of their own tracks. And Rowlands says it’s a very easy question for them to decide if something works for the Chemical Brothers.
“Everything we do is governed by a real simple test, whether we like it or not… Every decision we’ve made with our band is whether we think the thing is good, 'Will this be an album that we’d like to listen to ourselves?’”