When the iconic U.K. duo was first nominated 23 year ago, the awards didn’t even have an electronic music category. It was in 1997 when the groundbreaking duo’s pummeling “Block Rockin’ Beats” was nominated for best rock instrumental performance, delivering the act — Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons — out of the U.K. electronic underground and into the industry glitz of the Grammys. When they were called as winners, the guys were drinking at a bar across the street from the ceremony.
No bother, as The Chemical Brothers have had myriad opportunities to make it up, with their 14 Grammy nominations and five additional awards — for their single “Galvanize” and album Push the Button in 2006 (the year after best dance/electronic dance album was introduced), their LP We Are the Night in 2008 and today’s two wins.
The 2019 release of the now Grammy-winning No Geography came in conjunction with the 20-year anniversary of their classic 1999 LP Surrender, an occasion that saw a massive box set re-release of the album featuring original art, a collection of Secret Psychedelic Mixes, a DVD of restored promo videos and film of their legendary Glastonbury 2000 performance, for which an estimate 250,000 fans assembled.
Calling from his studio in Sussex a few days ahead of the awards, Rowlands says one of the strongest memories of this performance is the moments of pre-show panic when some of the equipment didn’t seem to be working. But after that, he says, sharing the moment with what’s still estimated to be the biggest crowd in Glastonbury history was pure ecstacy.
The duo didn’t travel to Los Angeles for the 2020 Grammys, as they’re currently at work on a new production for the next leg of their tour, which sees them touching down in Colombia, Mexico and across Europe. Here, Rowlands talks about the human connection inherent in electronic music and the duo’s first Grammy experience
I was intrigued by something you recently said in The Guardian, about the connection available in the world of raving and electronic music.
Getting out and getting involved and being with other people and experiencing something at the same time, is, I think, such a force for good. We need it. Humans need it. We need shared experience. Music is a kind of real direct injection of that — an instant emotion changer kind of thing. I think the popularity of the live scene and festivals and all those things kind of prove that — despite all the competing worlds offered by technology — that people still really value that idea of being with other people and having a common experience.
One of the things that I really love about music to begin with was going to those early raves. The music was amazing and intoxicating, but also the feeling of doing this thing in these huge fields with 10,000 people. It felt like a different way of approaching life, really.
It opened a lot of doors for people.
Yeah, and it [created] societal change, especially in our country. People who would’ve beaten you up in town on a Friday night were no longer doing that. [Laughs.]
When you look at the collection of Grammy nominees for best electronic album this year, what do you think it says about the current state of electronic music?
It’s a mix of things. You’ve got the real modern wunderkinds of the world. They’re all quite melodic-y. It’s always weird thinking about what it represents — I don’t know, beyond the records people are being moved by this year.
Tell me about one of your strongest Grammy night memories.
I remember we were at the ’97 awards — Puff Daddy had that track with Sting, “I’ll Be Missing You.” We were there, and it was in New York that year, and we were kind of unsure how the Grammys worked. We got there really early and were like, “Right, we’re in our seats; we’re ready to roll.” Then we became aware that maybe this was going to go on a bit longer than we might have thought, so we thought we’d just maybe sneak across to the bar across the road and we went to the pub across the road and we actually missed our award. [Laughs.]
We came back and someone like L.A. Reid, someone we considered a real proper amazing music mogul guy producer guy, was like, “You missed your award.” And we were like, “Ah, okay.” Our organization wasn’t really strong at that point. And then later I remember later on in that evening, Puff Daddy doing the “Missing You” track and Sting rising out of the ground before us with that big choir. It was surreal. It was somewhere we had not really expected ourselves to land in 1997. It as a thrill. We met loads of interesting people and there were amazing afterparties. It was like stepping into a different world that we hadn’t experienced before.
You mentioned that you’re working on a new show for the next leg of the tour. What differences can we expect?
At the moment we’re working on set lists. We’re nine albums in now, so it’s quite tricky working out what songs we actually want to play. We’re working with our same guys Adam Smith and Mark Lyall, who we work with on the visuals. We’ve done filming for new pieces and are getting into rehearsals and all that kind of stuff, so it’s working out a new approach and hopefully a new dimension for people to enjoy.
Any chance you’ll bring the show back to the States?
We’d like to. We’re always available. Well, not always, but we had such a positive experience after a long time of not playing our own shows in America. We were both really touched. It was great, so we’d love to come back.
Stay tuned for Billboard.com’s complete coverage of the 2020 Grammys, including our live Grammys pre-show that begins on Sunday (Jan. 26) at 5:30PM ET.