If listeners crave real evidence of the UK’s special relationships with other countries, they could start with The Chemical Brothers’ second album, critically acclaimed international smash Dig Your Own Hole.
Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands were already a major hit in dance music circles by the time the album came out, on April 7, 1997; they’d been collaborating with indie rockers for years, and had started to crack the mainstream album market with their debut, Exit Planet Dust. However, Dig Your Own Hole represents the zenith of their big beat take on the all-conquering Britpop.
In this alternative universe, building on the first album’s Tim Burgess collaboration, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher was suddenly busting moves under the strobelights, escaping his personal demons in lager-soaked trackies and sneakers, while regular collaborator Beth Orton was back to melt all over the more blissed-out moments. Like an oil wheel patter, the “60s into 90s” updated pop psychedelia vibe spread out from there.
The Chems had their roots in blazing dance music, so they still sounded freshest of all on the classic, punishing opener and single, “Block Rockin’ Beats,” which smoothed their formula slightly for the benefit of the masses, but kept all the raw bass, the breakbeats, and the flickers of scratching. The title track then upped the BPMs convincingly, before “Elektrobank” blasted the doors off their hinges. An early harbinger of the electro revival, which only reached full momentum in the new millennium, “Elektrobank” featured the voice of Kool Herc in a nod to hip-hop’s earliest days, and was so propulsive that it nearly juddered itself into pieces, before slurring into a brain-bashing arc of psychedelia.
This signalled the direction for much of the rest of the set, segueing, in traditional Chems fashion, into the mind-expanding glitches of “Piku.” Then the older Gallagher brother loomed over the skyline, heralding the album’s lead single, “Setting Sun.” The Chems had him freefalling into deep water, before he emerged transformed by – and slathered in – electronic trickery. It was a clear update of The Beatles’ late 60s psychedelic period, yet made the group’s own by the undeniable power of their mountain-destroying guitars and lashing beats. Who needed the 60s now?
Orton graced the more pastoral, gently pulsating psych piece “Where Do I Begin,” which almost had a touch of 80s indie-pop to it, before the beats crashed in once more. The indie-psych crossover theme was, however, most notable of all on album closer “The Private Psychedelic Reel,” a nine-minute single which featured reverb-soaked clarinet input from hazy American psych-rockers Mercury Rev.
Dig Your Own Hole built on the duo’s debut, and set the tone for the rest of their career to date. Time and again, The Chemical Brothers have produced collections which start out from dance music’s sometimes forbidding fortress, and yet offer variety, depth, and inspired guest spots, both from established acts and glittering new arrivals.
If you’ve never had the pleasure, then you really need to start digging.
Dig Your Own Hole can be bought here.