IT MUST be nice to feel wanted. Posh Spice, or at least one of her people, lays it on thick about how she’s always loved your work and how she thinks you could make beautiful music together. But for Basement Jaxx, the diffident dance superstars, this was a case of: "Don’t call us... "
Felix Buxton, one half of the duo behind the hits ‘Rendez-Vu’, ‘Romeo’ and ‘Where’s Your Head At’, agrees the collaboration would have been a challenge for them. "Posh would be hoping to get herself some cool and we’d be desperately trying to make her sound good," he says. "But I just don’t think she can sing very well. If we were to do something like that we’d be slagged off for being part of the big machine. But the records we make, we like to think they’ve got some artistic merit."
Ah, the old art versus commerce dilemma. But artists have to eat, so presumably Basement Jaxx are a bit more enthusiastic about their new album, their forthcoming tour and the house scene which anointed them as the Hawaiian-shirted hosts of the best, most mad-for-it, most "Is that really John Paul Young’s ‘Love Is In The Air’ they’re playing?" party in town. Well, up to a point.
They are very pleased with Kish Kash, their third album, but expected a critical backlash for its star turns and darker sound. "We thought we’d get a kicking," says Buxton, "but it’s gone down well, even in Germany, which didn’t get us before. In Germany they love for forever, so we’re probably made for life now - us and David Hasselhof."
The tour? Surely they’re looking forward to getting up on stage with the traditional Jaxx cast of scantily-clad thousands and pretending to be rock stars? "Well, I think if we were a proper band we’d enjoy performing more," says Simon Radcliffe, who is even more shy and retiring. "Our show is pre-programmed and after the first few dates it’s the same old thing, night after night - touring is very non-creative."
It is 9.30 in the morning but the double act are not selling themselves very well. The truth is they never have. The moment their now semi-mythical Rooty nights in Brixton, south London, became overrun by scenesters, they closed the club down. And when promoters were throwing really silly amounts at DJs for just one night’s work, they rejected all offers for their services. "We could have got 10,000 a gig," says Buxton, "and maybe we should have cashed in because that didn’t last. But I’m glad we didn’t because that way we’ve stayed sane."
In a "Whither British dance music?" essay for the Daily Telegraph recently, Buxton had a go at those who took the loot, including Judge Jules, Pete Tong and Seb Fontaine. "It just became old guys playing to young kids in huge clubs," he wrote.
The ever-evolving nature of dance music - "The first time I heard house, I thought it was like computers going wrong" - was what got Buxton involved in the first place. But the scene quickly stagnated, he wrote, because DJs played quick, slick and predictable sets and stopped taking risks.
Kish Kash takes risks. If dance music in Britain is wobbly on its feet, if not yet passed out in a corner, Buxton and Radcliffe try to slap it around the face with their most rumbustious record yet. They chuck Arabic and Cossack riffs and countless other musical flavours at the sweat-soaked walls in the hope that some of them will stick. And, on a guest list of vocalists that includes Mercury Music Award winner Dizzee Rascal and punk godmother Siouxie Soux, they also find room for one of Justin Timberlake’s old boy-band mates.
The presence of *NSync knicker-wetter JC Chasez on the track ‘Plug It In’ has moved some critics to suggest that Basement Jaxx could yet become Britain’s answer to The Neptunes - the studio sorcerers who broadened Justin’s appeal beyond teenyboppers to big sisters who would know what to do with a Trouser Snake once they got it home. Buxton - who advances this theory still further by taking the Pharrell Williams frontman role on a couple of tracks - admits that initially they didn’t think the collaboration with JC would work. "We thought he would be just another puppet who wanted to sound cool so he could be liked by tastemakers.
"But he was very humble and understood the irony of taking on a song about the masquerade of celebrity because it could have been written about him. And what’s more, he’s got a great voice." Altogether, then, a more rewarding experience than Janet Jackson. "She told us she loved our stuff," recalls Buxton, "but she thought we were Zero 7. We wished her every success in hooking up with a British dance duo eventually and said, ‘Cheerio, Celine.’"
Basement Jaxx insist they cannot take their cool quotient seriously. Not while Radcliffe has a grandfather in his 90s who likes their music to the extent of logging their achievements in a journal. "He came to one of our gigs, in an old-style theatre where the noise made the balcony shake," says Radcliffe.
Possibly even more in touch with the house scene is Buxton’s father, a retired vicar now in his 50s. "He still attends to his flock by inviting these rap-loving teenagers round for games of cards," says Buxton. "We were going to call this album Rhapsody but he thought that was too square. Actually, he said, ‘It would be okay if it was a rap record about sodomy, but it’s not.’"
Buxton is grateful for his church background. Growing up in a vicarage he came to understand the differences - and more crucially the similarities - between people across society. Then, when he started going to raves, the mix of cultures in clubs made perfect sense to him.
Young, idealistic and loved-up he might have been, but Buxton used to think dance music could change the world. He’s not sure he still holds true to that belief, but he likes making records - and, with some pundits arguing dance has painted itself into a corner, he’s keen to prove them wrong.
Nevertheless, the feeling persists that Basement Jaxx comprise two intelligent 30-somethings with degrees and decks who are just passing through. It’s a view that Radcliffe does not demur. "I can see Felix going on to do something else, definitely. Probably design or something. I think dance music will eventually stop developing and it will become like the blues and exist in a static form."
Alternatively, maybe two 16-year-old whizzes from a sink estate will come along and completely reinvent those wheels of steel. "If they did and we got booted out, that would be just fine."
• Basement Jaxx play Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange (0131-443 0404), December 7, doors open 7.30pm