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The Chemical Brothers

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Manchester,England
Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-20

The Chemical Brothers are a British electronic music duo comprising Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons. Originating in Manchester in 1991, along with The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method, and fellow acts, they were pioneers at bringing the big beat genre to the forefront of pop culture.

Though electronic music has long been a staple commodity to overseas fans, its beat-heavy cadences and sometimes sans-guitar sound had yet to make inroads on U.S. charts--until 1996 with the arrival of the Chemical Brothers. The northern England duo, onetime club DJs and old pals of Oasis, sliced through the modern rock genre with "Setting Sun," a heady track full of noise and thunder-- and wicked guitar--released late in the year. Its surprising success made the Chemical Brothers partly responsible for an alternative press frenzy predicting "electronica," as they termed it, as the next grunge. Even Duran Duran's Simon LeBon professed to worship them--he approached the Chemical Brothers, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, at the Brit Awards, the U.K. equivalent of the Grammys, and "was out of his mind," Simons told Spin's Eric Weisbard. "He was singing us his new song, and saying he wanted a remix. He said `Setting Sun' was the best thing he'd heard in the 1990s. Me and Tom were at a loss for words. We started mumbling about `Rio' and `Ordinary World.'"

Not surprisingly, given their appreciation of Duran Duran, the Chemical Brothers describe themselves as "nice middle-class kids," as Rowlands confessed in Spin. He grew up in Henley-on-Thames, just outside London, and at the age of 17 formed a band called Ariel, which had one 1990 release. Simons grew up in London; the two met in 1989 at Manchester University where both were history majors. "Ed had a very nonmusical background, in the strict sense" Rowlands told Spin's Weisbard, "but he had been to a lot of the clubs and raves that I had been to. We knew the same records." Typical of Britons of their generation, they had been devotees of groups like the Smiths and the Specials in their formative years, but such musical tastes evolved into harder-edged sounds from the likes of Renegade Soundwave, among others. The pair began to DJ together at clubs in Manchester, an industrial city in northern England and home to a thriving music scene.

It was their discovery of the Public Enemy record It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back that arrested Rowlands and Simons and propelled them into a different aural direction. Their DJ work evolved into remixing samples and other found noise, with the addition of synthesizers and drum machines, and they officially formed as the Dust Brothers in 1994. They released the single "Songs to the Siren," recorded in 1992 at Rowlands's home, and two subsequent EPs before signing with Virgin Records U.K. When Virgin's U.S. branch Astralwerks pointed out that there was already a Dust Brothers in the States--a producer-duo best known for their work with the Beastie Boys and Beck who were less than thrilled by the usurpers--they renamed themselves the Chemical Brothers.

"You know sometimes you listen to a riff on a record and it gives you an image of some sleazy guy playing guitar?," Simons posited to Rolling Stone's Lorraine Ali. "Well, that's just how I want our music to work." That sound came out with their 1995 U.S. debut on Astralwerks/Caroline Exit Planet Dust, a record laden with samples, electronic noise, synthesizer cuts, backward-spun tape loops, and guitars all fused together with manic drum-machine beats. With virtually no promotion nor radio presence, the record sold over 100,000 in the States--a respectable showing and around half its sales in England. Village Voice reviewer James Hannaham compared their musical genius to Beethoven, and praised the infusion of elements. "The Brothers ... don't seem to know how not to manipulate a sound that gets vacuumed into their sampler," Hannaham wrote. The critic singled out the track "Life Is Sweet," through which the Brothers, he noted, "demonstrate their mastery by taking a busy signal, making it sound like it came from a 50-foot telephone, and building an excellent pop song."

During 1996, the Brothers worked on a new release and made an appearance at the Organic '96 fest in California with Orb, Orbital, and Underworld; they also did remixes for Oasis and Manic Street Preachers. Late in the year they released the single "Setting Sun," which charted immediately and was thrown into the heavily-promoted MTV Buzz Bin. The song's dizzying beats were pulled back and forth over the "creepy, disembodied vocals"--as Rolling Stone's Al Weisel put it--of Oasis's Noel Gallagher. "We wanted to get the strange, disorienting effect of psychedelia and fuse that with a heavy club sound," Rowlands explained to Weisel.

Though the "Setting Sun" single sold 30,000 copies Stateside in just a few weeks, oddly it netted a cooler reception in the U.K., where it was deemed a bit too abrasive for radio; one well-known DJ even removed it mid-spin. As Simons told Billboard writer Julie Taraska, there were differences between English and American fans. "People hold us in a certain amount of affection in England," he reflected, "while people who actually write about us treat us like a heavy metal band. Critics in the U.K. can't be bothered, because our music cuts across boundaries. In America, critics seem more interested in the music, and we get some sort of critical appraisal. So it's good that we have these two different things."

That critical assessment turned to serious hype by early 1997. Music-industry watchers were predicting the imminent explosion of electronic music exemplified by the Chemical Brothers as well as two other overseas acts, Prodigy and Underworld, and it was a trend also mirrored in new releases from U2 and the Smashing Pumpkins. "With record sales stagnant and the alternative-rock wave of the last half-dozen years perceived to be ebbing, the U.S. music industry is desperate for a new movement to boost business," wrote Steve Hochman in Rolling Stone. The Brothers' response? "It's annoying when people say, `This is the future,'" Rowlands told Ali in Rolling Stone, and asserted that dance and rock genres can pleasantly co-exist; the hype was unjustified. "People are just getting excited, obsessed with trying to see what's next. They don't want to be left behind."

"Setting Sun" was included on the full-length release Dig Your Own Hole, which debuted in April and charted in the Top 20 soon afterward. A Rolling Stone review warned readers the first track "will fry you alive," and the entirety of the record "burns the whole rock vs. techno argument into a fine, white ash." That first track was "Block Rockin' Beats," which sampled rapper Schoolly D's rousing "Back with another one of those block-rockin' beats!" line from his 1989 song "Gucci Again." Vocalist Beth Orton, an earlier collaborator with the Brothers, revisited for "Where Do I Begin?" New York's Mercury Rev contributed to "The Private Psychedelic Reel," a song reflecting the Chemical Brothers' fanaticism for the more experimental late sixties forays of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. "Reel" takes its name from a Japanese bootleg recording of unreleased Beatles music, "tracks that they recorded specifically for themselves to take acid to," they told Spin's Weisbard.

Aside from commercial success, the Brothers' second LP landed them on numerous magazine covers and feature articles that delivered unswerving critical approval. "All but unique in electronica, nearly every track on Dig Your Own Hole achieves a separate identity, wrote Spin's Weisbard. "The album has an order and a flow." In the New York Times, Neil Strauss called the Brothers one of the most credible co-optings of black music by a white act: "Instead of trying to rap, the Chemical Brothers take hip-hop beats and sampling techniques and add the studio experimentation of 60's psychedelia and the sonic layering of England's pre-techno acid- house music," wrote Strauss. "It's not pretty music we make; it's quite rough and abrasive," Simons remarked in an attempt to explain their sound to Entertainment Weekly. "In that way, it is kind of dance music for rock fans. If you buy one of our records, it doesn't mean you have to go and burn all your Offspring CDS."

Despite their enthronement as late-nineties new rock gods, Simons and Rowlands remain mellow and even a bit geeky. As Spin's Weisbard noted, they've even evoked comparisons with MTV animated cretins Beavis and Butthead. "Maybe it's `cause we're a bit socially inadequate. We used to go out all the time and just sit in the bar, wearing normal clothes," Simons told Weisbard, to which Rowlands added, "People thought we were drug dealers." Nevertheless, the year 1997 would bring them world tour dates and summer festival gigs in Europe, and certainly, skyrocketing record sales. The New York Times's Strauss, reviewing a live Chemical Brothers performance for the paper in the spring of 1997, wrote that on that night one certain bellwether of the impact electronic music had made into mainstream "alternative" culture was in evidence: the existence of a mosh pit at the show--a sure sign, Strauss pointed out, that "people who are unlikely either to understand or respect a band" were now paying fans.

The third album, Surrender, was released in June 1999. It featured vocals from Noel Gallagher, Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue, and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. As "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" had suggested, the album was more house-oriented than the previous two. On one of the album's stand out tracks, "Out of Control", New Order's Bernard Sumner supported by Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie provided vocals. It reached No. 1 in the UK album charts, and was widely praised in the print media. The Michel Gondry-directed music video for "Let Forever Be", which utilized ground-breaking video and film effects in its depiction of a young woman's nightmares, also received a lot of attention.

The Chemical Brothers finished work on another album, Come with Us, in October 2001. It featured collaborations with Richard Ashcroft of The Verve ("The Test"), and long-time collaborator Beth Orton ("The State We're In"). The album was released in January 2002, preceded by a single, "Star Guitar", a melodic Balearic beat number, with a promotional video by Michel Gondry that featured passing scenery synchronized to the beat viewed through a train window. What would be the second track on the album, "It Began in Afrika", was released 10 September 2001 to be circulated around the clubbing scene where it was a popular hit.

The Song My Elastic Eye from the Come with Us album was played in the 2004 movie The Butterfly Effect starring Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart.

In September 2004, The Chemical Brothers released the seventh "Electronic Battle Weapon". "Electronic Battle Weapon 7" was being released as a one-sided promo-only 12", containing "Acid Children". A marked departure from the Chemical Brothers' previous musical endeavours, it featured a screeching 303 bassline and a distinctive vocal sample; a pitch-altered vocal sample proclaiming "You Are All My Children Now!", which is lifted from the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. It was coupled with the projection of a sinister clown mouthing these same words at their live gigs.

Two weeks after the announcement regarding Hanna, rumors began circulating that The Chemical Brothers had recorded part of the score for the movie Black Swan, after a post in Ed Simon's Twitter account. A second post on the Chemical Brothers' own Twitter account seemed to confirm this. On 22 November 2010, a Black Swan music video was released along with the movie trailer. This featured a different version of the track "Don't Think" and announced that the movie would feature new music from The Chemical Brothers, along with a handful of other artists. The next day, the names of the eight tracks not composed by Clint Mansell – Black Swan's main composer – were released, listing The Chemical Brothers as contributing three new songs for the movie.

On 29 November, an exclusive video was posted on RollingStone.com, containing more footage of the alternate version of "Don't Think". Mansell's work was released the next day. No announcement has been made yet on whether the original tracks not by Mansell would be given a release or not.

Studio albums:
-Exit Planet Dust (1995)
-Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
-Surrender (1999)
-Come with Us (2002)
-Push the Button (2005)
-We Are the Night (2007)
-Further (2010)
-Cat in the Walk (2012)


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