Having set the template with their debut Exit Planet Dust two years previously, The Chemical Brothers sophomore long player, Dig Your Own Hole, which was released 25 years ago today (7 April 1997), saw Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons really hit their stride.
From the album’s opening bass riff (on Block Rocking Beats) to its lysergically-enhanced closing track, the 63-minute long album captured the hedonistic abandon of the mid-Britpop era. In its review of the album, back in 1997, NME depicted the somewhat lairy atmosphere in which the album was released.
“Saturday night, then. Death or glory. Spray-on testosterone. Old-skool trainers with steel toecaps. Amphetamine sulphate and anabolic steroid cocktails. The Terminator breakdancing on the video. Outfits accessorised with strap-on bazookas. Lager lager lager and, indeed, shouting.“
As for the album itself? As reviewer John Mulvey put it, “The world of ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ […] is – bruised, pissed, moody, stubborn, phenomenally cocksure. A trashing of all dance music’s spiritual, pacifying potential.”
Even some of Dig Your Own Hole‘s lesser celebrated tracks, such as the sub-bass powered It Doesn’t Matter, remain a core part of the Brothers’ live set to this day.
As Rolling Stone described it at the time, on It Doesn’t Matter, “Rowlands and Simons walk a perilously thin line between hypnotic and numbing, cranking up a Studio 54-style disco beat and freezing it in place with Kraftwerk-ian rigidity. At one point, the track drops down to nothing more than the rhythm, some bass hum and burbling electronics that sound like a coffee maker going postal.”
The album even has time for moments of post-club reflection, on the pensive Where Do I Begin, featuring Beth Orton (which escalates back to mayhem quite quickly), while if you’re looking for the 90s equivalent of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, it’s hard to find anything more fitting than The Private Psychedelic Reel – in fact, the title is reportedly taken from a Japanese bootleg of the Fab Four.
In June 1997, two months after the album came out, the duo spoke to US magazine Spin – with Rowlands aged just 26 at the time, and Simons aged 27, the duo were somewhat humble about their success to date.
“Maybe it’s ’cause we’re a bit socially inadequate,” said Simons. “We used to go out all the time and just sit in the bar, wearing normal clothes.“
“People thought we were drug dealers,” added Rowlands.
Understandably, given the album’s paean to the glory days of acid house, the duo wax lyrical in the interview about the formative years of dance music, with Simons recalling his college years in Manchester at the crest of the wave.
“The whole thing about acid house was equality. It wasn’t how you were dressed; it was first in the queue, first in,” he explained. “It wasn’t an exclusive thing at the start. Acid house, and Ecstasy, was about the removal of any type of cliques from the club. At the time we were going there were maybe a thousand people there, and that was a thousand people on Ecstasy.
“You don’t see that happening anymore—it was just a complete frenzy of flailing limbs and sweaty faces. I felt totally comfortable. Just people tracing out, wearing big tent T-shirts, sexless.”
Dig Your Own Hole also came out a few months on from the release of Setting Sun; the video of which was as much of a ‘f**k you’ to the establishment as the inner sleeve for The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation. It featured Noel Gallagher on vocals, which led to the duo play a supporting role at Oasis’ legendary Knebworth concerts, albeit in the middle of the day.
“And in the end, people liked it,” Simons told Spin. “The record went up the charts the next day. We’ve never been arrogant enough to sit back and just send out these missives. We’ve got out and played them for people.”
It may have hit a quarter century, but The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole still holds up as one of dance music’s bona fide masterpieces. It’s an intoxicating blend of sonic terrorism and ‘hands in the air’ nostalgia – a time capsule of a period long gone and an early chapter in what would become a glorious legacy.
And it still slaps. 🙂
PS: To mark the occasion, the Chems have unveiled a previously demo unreleased version of Elektrobank, promising more to come. Find out more via their Facebook page, info below. We can’t wait!