The big beat goes on

De­spite claim­ing the duo would split be­fore he was 30, Ed Si­mons is still an en­thu­si­as­tic Chem­i­cal Brother af­ter all these years

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY ÉAMON SWEENEY

Chem­i­cal Brother Ed Si­mons

Afre­quently re­cy­cled quote about the 1960s claims that if you re­mem­ber the 1990s, then you weren’t re­ally there. For any­one who par­tied in the sec­ond half of that decade, the hit-laden back cat­a­logue of The Chem­i­cal Brothers evokes a mul­ti­tude of mem­o­ries.

“When we play stuff from the ’90s, you can re­ally feel that not only are peo­ple en­joy­ing the song, but peo­ple are taken back to that time in their lives when that piece of mu­sic was very im­por­tant to them,” says Ed Si­mons, who along­side his part­ner in psy­che­delic big beat and elec­tron­ica, Tom Row­lands, has de­liv­ered six No 1 al­bums and 13 top 20 sin­gles.

Back in the roar­ing 1990s, Si­mons said he had no in­ter­est what­so­ever in still be­ing a Chem­i­cal Brother af­ter the age of 30. “That quote has come back to haunt me,” he chuck­les. “It seems like our mu­sic still con­nects. If peo­ple en­joy what we do, we keep com­ing back un­til no one comes. I think I was 23 when I said that. We had ab­so­lutely no idea what be­ing in The Chem­i­cal Brothers for the long haul would be like, or that we’d still be en­joy­ing it. In the last few years, we’ve re­ally en­joyed a new lease of Chem­i­cal re­ac­tion: Ed Si­mons and Tom Row­lands, aka the Chem­i­cal Brothers. life. The live show has been so good and so pow­er­ful that we greatly en­joy putting it on. In early 2000s, it wasn’t as en­joy­able as it is now. To­day, we greatly value what we do.”

In terms of their own fu­ture, The Chem­i­cal Brothers cer­tainly aren’t done yet, even though Si­mons ac­knowl­edges they’re el­der states­men now. “We won’t be go­ing for ever, so we’re prob­a­bly nearer the end than the be­gin­ning,” he says. “Our friend­ship has been main­tained, which is re­ally im­por­tant. That’s the crux of it, re­ally: we are friends and make mu­sic. Sounds a bit trite, but it’s true. Yes­ter­day, we had a sense of com­ing to­wards the end of the long cre­ative process that is mak­ing an al­bum and an­other good body of work. It does’t feel like, ‘Oh, this again’. We feel blessed.”

Work on their ninth stu­dio al­bum, and the fol­low-up to Born in the Echoes in 2015, is com­ing along very nicely. “We’re get­ting there and just reached the stage of mix­ing the fi­nal tracks and think­ing about the run­ning or­der,”

Si­mons re­ports. “We’ve been DJing four or five of the tracks over the last year, be­cause we al­ways like to have things to play that we’ve made, so Free Your­self and Mad As Hell be­came our new elec­tronic bat­tle weapons. We’re re­ally ex­cited be­cause we’ve played a lot of it live at fes­ti­vals over the sum­mer. We’ll have the usual an­guish about the track list or­der and so on, but we’re look­ing for­ward to peo­ple fi­nally hear­ing it, even though so many peo­ple lis­ten to mu­sic on shuf­fle these days.”

The Chem­i­cal Brothers were al­ways pri­mar­ily an al­bums act op­er­at­ing in a 12-inch sin­gles cul­ture. “It’s al­ways been like that,” Si­mons says. “We’ve al­ways wanted to get things right and do jus­tice to the work we’ve done. Al­bums might not be how a lot of peo­ple lis­ten to mu­sic any more, but they mean a lot to us. On the first three al­bums, we felt there was a very def­i­nite lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from be­gin­ning to end. It’s like putting to­gether an en­joy­able puzzle. We’ll do things like throw track ti­tles on cards on the floor and see what comes out. That mightn’t work so well, we’d try some­thing else. We’d end­lessly re­jig the tracks on iTunes and see where we’d end up.”

The al­bums of their im­pe­rial phase in the 1990s, Exit Planet Dust (1995), Dig Your Own

Hole (1997) and Sur­ren­der (1999), fea­tured a host of voices from the era: Beth Or­ton, Tim Burgess, Noel Gallagher and Hope San­doval, to name but a few. Si­mons doesn’t hes­i­tate in nam­ing a favourite.

“Bernard Sum­ner from New Or­der, be­cause he is such a funny man and so in­ter­est­ing, pas­sion­ate and charm­ing,” Si­mons says. “Mu­si­cally, it was a re­ally close col­lab­o­ra­tion. All the peo­ple we’ve worked with have re­ally in­vested in what we’ve done to­gether. On our new al­bum, we work with a Nor­we­gian girl called Aurora, who is in­cred­i­bly tal­ented. A friend­ship emerged with Bernard and he is a very avun­cu­lar pres­ence in our lives. We did Out of Con­trol with him and sub­se­quently pro­duced a track for the Twenty

Four Hour Party Peo­ple film. We’re huge New Or­der fans and we still trawl YouTube at our age to watch old in­ter­views or New Or­der play­ing strange back­wa­ter venues in the US. We’re New Or­der ob­ses­sives, so to be in the stu­dio with Bernard Sum­ner and him to be such a good bloke is very special for us.”


Their ini­tial meet­ing was mem­o­rable. “We lived in the base­ment of a house in Manch­ester that was his­tor­i­cally an af­ter-hours party venue,” Si­mons re­veals.

“The peo­ple who lived there in the ’80s had a big sound sys­tem. One evening we were all sit­ting around watch­ing Blind Date or some­thing and we heard a knock on the door. We opened the door and it was Bernard Sum­ner. He asked if there was a party on, which there wasn’t but we in­vited him in to watch Blind Date or what­ever it was. He called us a bunch of Wurzels, which is a not-so-af­fec­tion­ate term for out-of-town stu­dents, and off he trot­ted. I’m glad that wasn’t our last meet­ing with the great man. I sin­gle Bernard out be­cause of what they mean to us, but peo­ple like Beth Or­ton also be­came such good friends, and work­ing with Q-Tip and Jonathan Don­ahue from Mer­cury Rev was such an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We have a very col­lab­o­ra­tive and open at­ti­tude.”

The Chem­i­cal Brothers were born in Lon­don, but mu­si­cally bred in Manch­ester, where the duo met as stu­dents. “Manch­ester gave both of us a to­tally dif­fer­ent mind­set,” Si­mons adds. “It was also where we came of age. We went out to see bands all the time, which was a cheap night out be­cause you could pay a cou­ple of quid on the door of the Ha­cienda. There was some­thing on ev­ery night of the week and it was a very free­ing time. As soon as I walk off the train at Manch­ester Pic­cadilly, I feel that spirit and at­mos­phere. Peo­ple want to en­joy them­selves in what­ever way they can, if they can.”

Si­mons and Row­lands re­turn to Ire­land this bank hol­i­day weekend for their first Dublin head­liner in more than 10 years. “We did our very first over­seas show in Ire­land,” Si­mons re­calls. “It was only our fourth or fifth gig in a mar­quee at a stu­dent ball. We played with Johnny Moy a lot and DJed in the base­ment of U2’s ho­tel. Some­one put up a bill for Féile ’95 on so­cial me­dia re­cently and asked if it was the best-line up ever. The Stone Roses, The Prodigy, The Orb, Mas­sive At­tack, Blur, Un­der­world and so many oth­ers all played. We were there for the whole weekend, be­cause in those days, that’s what you did. It’s all a bit dif­fer­ent now.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is how The Chem­i­cal Brothers get psyched be­fore a show. “We al­ways play mu­sic loudly in the dress­ing room,” Ed says. “We tend to choose some­thing with a tinge of melan­choly that you can dance to, so Bizarre Love Tri­an­gle by New Or­der of­ten fea­tures. Mu­sic is the main rit­ual, but we usu­ally have a lit­tle hug. Just to make it clear to the other per­son that we’re there for each other.”

■ The Chem­i­cal Brothers play 3Arena, Dublin, on Mon­day

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