Contemporary act-plus-orchestra shows aren’t a new phenomenon in rock, with arena-size bands churning out orchestral projects since the 80’s; an attempt at legitimising corporate rock, re-selling already existing albums and making mums proud.
With dance music reaching maturity, EDM acts and DJs are beginning to jump on the bandwagon as their audiences age and new album cycles grow tiresome. Some more enterprising artists (and labels – looking at you Ministry of Sound) have found new ways to present their old catalogue, replacing the nostalgia of the club days with the nostalgia of a full symphony orchestra; letting their fans don a frock and still be home by midnight for the babysitter.
As it may be in the zeitgeist of this year, Basement Jaxx are already old hat, having debuted shows with the Dutch Metropole Orkest in 2011. Where other acts have simply added an orchestra to an existing set up, Basement Jaxx have reverse engineered the concept to great effect. Walking on stage dressed just as the orchestra, you suddenly realise there’s no DJ gear, synths or laptops in sight. They take their seats – Simon with the string section and Felix with percussion – this isn’t Basement Jaxx with an orchestra. It’s Basement Jaxx in an orchestra.
Things immediately get interesting right from the opening note where the songs are virtually unrecognisable. “Red Alert” is given a cinematic Bond theme feel, while “Raindrops”’ harp treatment sounds like a fragile music box. “Bingo Bango” comes off like the opening to a broadway musical before “Hey U” brings the tempo up a notch. The crescendo being a baroque banger version of “Where’s Your Head At?” with harpsichord and a children’s choir.
The addition of dancers and a variety of vocalists – from a four-piece chamber choir to a number of revolving singers (including the Jaxx’ longtime regulars Lisa Kekaula, Sharlene Hector and Vula Malinga) – keeps the whole show grounded along with a number of pieces made especially for the show.
Yodels and Mozart-esque vignettes dovetail between the hits, and the addition of Indigenous musician William Barton – who plays didgeridoo and at one point sings a song in language – takes the show completely out of nostalgia and into a full-blown orchestral club cabaret.
Don’t get it twisted; there was plenty of time to dance. But in Gladys’ NSW this is a good clean night out at the Opera House. Mum would be proud.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Basement Jaxx Vs TMO Australia tour concludes in Brisbane this Thursday at QPAC. For more information and tickets head HERE
The reviewer attended the Sunday Evening performance at Sydney Opera House on April 14th