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CHEMICAL BROTHERS - Birmingham AVLC - 30 November 1999.   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Electro Socialists....

The musician takes the stage. Surrounded by video screens, alone for the beginning of this encore, his hair backlit so he appears to have a massive halo, he tweaks feedback from his instrument as the crowd roars. Endlessly looping his sound, he raises his hands and the crowd screams back as he teases the crowd with excerpts from the hits. This isn't Bryan Adams. This isn't Guns N Roses. It's the Chemical Brothers. We're all brothers. We're all sisters. We can only achieve the one world brotherhood through Chemicals. We all need chemicals to enjoy this. We all need chemicals to feel united. Better living through Chemistry indeed.

What is this saying? What exactly is this? Stadium House ? Stadium Rave? What exactly do the crowd want? Not much by the sound of it : just give us some of those Big Beats and we'll go home exhausted. What is the nature of art? To reflect the mood of the times? To inform and comment upon the human condition?

If art does reflect the mood of the times, it seems as if this is in some ways, pure art, and at the same time, nothing but emptiness. The human condition, the Chemical Brothers are saying, is simple. We all want to escape frantically from the big bad world out there, and retreat into ourselves, the soft, warm comfortable rhythms of discos and self- congratulatory messages. Da brudders gonna work it out, indeed. People seem to be dancing with a desperation not seen since sixth form discos. Everyone seems to be trying to dance their way out of this world, dance their way back to the womb.

If only we spent this energy constructively, instead of passively. The united might and power of 4000 people is enough to transform some nations : instead everyone wants to get lost inside their own private world of Rhythm and Stealth. Given a platform of this magnitude, and instead of using the video screens and imagery constructively, the Chemical Brothers issue no more than a series of meaningless jump-cut random fractal imagery and a final message of Beatlesque banality : "Love Is All" indeed. Love your fellow neighbour, and everything will be OK. War, poverty, despair do not exist in chemical land. "I really thought love would save us all" - John Lennon said in the months before his death.

The only hint of any social awareness is the Hairy One's shirt reading "Socialism" but it is impossible to determine if this is the name of a club, or a mere statement of unity through rhythm as society. Or more accurately, the Socialism we need isn't Heavenly, it's Trotsky. Even attempts at art in video through pop, such as U2's literate Pop-Mart and Zoo TV tours, and Nine Inch Nails more graphic biologic machine message (the universe as one constant organism), appear works of great literature next to this messageless passport to rhythmic ecstasy.

It appears everyone here is one an E of some form : Entertainment, Escapism, Emptiness. So is this art? Probably not. There isn't a message at all that can be found, just pure populist entertainment devoid of all meaning. There isn't even any emotional connection - no lyrics, nothing to interact with or take away (unlike Underworld, who at least infuse their rhythms with surreal lyricism, or Moby, who spotwelds blues samples into his work to convey the emotional input) - it sounds like machines operating to a scientific formulae.

But the Chemical Brothers can't help but be pop stars, hands in the air waving, teasing crowds with snippets of hits, roars from the masses, and unadventurous recitals of the 'hits' that adhere to the classic pop structure implemented by Elvis and his ilk back in the 60's, and reiterated by Nirvana and the Pixies : Verse Chorus Verse, or Quiet, Loud, Quiet, Loud, End.

So Stadium House it is, without art, artistry or message, just a hypnotic rhythm that transfixes those in need of an escapist fix, and bores the rest. Unless of course, The Chemical Brothers message is a simple statement of the human condition at this stage in history : the denial of reality - that we all we want to dance our asses off and forget the real world exists. Oh yeah, I forgot, they rocked.

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