Dig Your Own Hole
The Chemical Brothers
Block Rockin' Beats, Indeed
Electronica is easily lampooned as the revenge of the nerds, knob-twiddling obsessives who spend hours in the studio getting just the right oomph out of the kick drum. That characterization applies to Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, better known as the Chemical Brothers. The duo's albums offer exceptionally crisp renderings of instruments both real and imagined. Drums are rendered with dental-drill precision, each tick locating a different raw nerve. Guitars stab with serial-killer menace. The bass thuds like Satan's dungeon door slamming shut.
These (and other) sounds prove crucial to the dance floor–rattling adventures of Dig Your Own Hole, which integrates the pulse of hardcore techno with elements of hip-hop and rock, then blows the whole crazy collage up larger-than-life. The first example of "arena electronica," it's an involving swirl of sound, with terse back-beats exploding into dizzying outbreaks of cacophony. The opening roar, "Block Rockin' Beats," centers on a hip-hop sample (from rapper Schoolly D); in the Chems' conception, the hook provides the only relief from a raw and abrasive attack. The pulse itself is so savagely serrated it's impossible to tell whether it started out as something "hip-hop" or "big beat" (the tag some gave to the Chemicals' approach) or really any discrete style. It's coalesced into one densely packed multihued roar.
From there, the duo engages in intensely creative era-mangling: "Electrobank" is a mutant soul revue that got lost in some faraway galaxy. This groove has the vibrant throttling intensity of a live band, and is punctuated by what sounds like a horn section. (Listen closely, because it's really a bit of turntable wizardry.) Even the overt attempt at pop crossover is daring: "Setting Sun," which features vocals by Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher, exists in a languid dream state, its lovely melody accentuated by oozing, subterranean instrumental embellishments. Dig Your Own Hole was released in 1997, alongside similarly spirited works like the Prodigy's Fat of the Land and Daft Punk's Homework. Of those three bold, new-horizons-in-dance-music titles, Dig is the most thrilling. And the one that best transcends its moment.
Released: 1997, Astralwerks
Key Tracks: "Block Rockin' Beats," "Electrobank," "Setting Sun"
Catalog Choice: Exit Planet Dust; Come with Us
Next Stop: The Prodigy: The Fat of the Land
After That: Daft Punk: Homework
Book Pages: 159–160