Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons began working as The Chemical Brothers 26 years ago in Manchester, UK. The project would go on to define the big beat sound of UK dance in the 90s and far beyond, conquering North America with the first wave of late 90s electronica. This summer, they return with a highly-anticipated new album, Born In the Echoes, expected to feature collabs with St. Vincent and Beck as well as previous partners in song Q-Tip and Ali Love. In their two decade-plus career, the Chems have made some of the most iconic, charming, and/or wacky collaborations in the history of dance. When the likes of Flaming Lips, Miguel, and Spank Rock don't even make the list, you know there is a wealth of options. Definitively, here are the best Chemical Brothers collaborations.
15. Klaxons - "All Rights Reversed"
Remember nu-rave? It's the thing that happens in Britain every few years when a new generation of kids take drugs for the first time. It was also dance music's most exciting sub-genre for a moment, immortalized in all its layered-vocal glory by its young leaders, (pre-Keira Knightley) Klaxons, and OG ravers The Chemical Brothers on their 2007 single "All Rights Reversed."
14. Hope Sandoval - "Asleep From Day"
Mazzy Star remains one of the greatest one-hit-wonders of the late 20th Century. The group's frontwoman, Hope Sandoval, got a warm sonic embrace by guitar-heavy-era Chems on 1999's "Asleep From Day" and it's a beautiful, if a little sleepy, slice of electronica.
13. k-os - "Get Yourself High"
Nominated for the Best Dance Recording Grammy, 2003's "Get Yourself High" is the Bros' collaboration with Canadian rapper k-os and a happy communion between hip-hop and dance music. In addition to offering sound life advice in the title, the video's visually enhanced appropriation of the martial arts film 2 Champions of Shaolin resulted in a cross-cultural mishmash of early 00s optimism.
12. Kele Okereke - "Believe"
In 2005, The Chemical Brothers teamed up with Kele Okereke of the then-white-hot Bloc Party on the warped and wonky "Believe." Atop the garbled synths and a typically Bros big beat edge, Okereke brought his quintessential dance-punk attitude and the tune caught on to the developing energy in the space between rock and dance. The Dom and Nic-directed video, was a big budget machine-monster epic.
11. Willy Mason - "Battle Scars," "No Path to Follow"
One of those American artists who got more love from the Brits than his fellow Yanks, Willy Mason was wisely handpicked for two tracks on We Are The Night—ethereal album opener "No Path to Follow" and "Battle Scars"—contributing to the album's success and big Grammy win for Best Electronic Dance Album in 2008.
10. Schoolly D - "Block Rockin' Beats"
Although not exactly a collaboration, pioneering Philly gangsta rapper Schoolly D's tune "Gucci Again" was sampled by the Bros on their iconic "Block Rockin Beats," etching the phrase "back with another one of those…" into rave history in one of the most memorable big beat crossover tunes ever.
9. Richard Ashcroft - "The Test"
Considered a late-breakbeat classic, "The Test," featuring The Verve's frontman Richard Ashcroft, closed to the DJ duo's internationally chart-topping 2002 album, Come With Us. Playing on both artists' connection to the frequent trope of British fascination with eastern rhythms and melodies, the track is a lengthy exploration that might mimic the experience of enjoying psychedelics in a DJ's recording studio.
8. Bernard Sumner - "Out of Control"
At over seven minutes, the original version of The Chemical's pre-millennial tune "Out of Control," performed with New Order frontman Bernard Sumner, one of the original pre-rave-era 24 Hour Party People. The track is one of the duo's lengthiest collaborations but i's also one of the most enduring, still providing the soundtrack to film trailers and late night bro-downs.
7. Ali Love - "Do it Again"
News that Ali Love would appear on the forthcoming Born in the Echoes was well-received by those who recall his palpably frenetic contribution to "Do It Again." Love now sings with both Hot Natured and Infinity Ink, but at the time, this was the track that introduced the world to his tenor, and created a dancefloor classic in the process. .
6. Fatlip - "The Salmon Dance"
For those who thought Tom and Ed were all beats and no laughs, enter 2007's "The Salmon Dance" featuring the lyrical mastery of The Pharcyde's Fatlip. It's fun, it's goofy, and it gave Astralwerks an opportunity to send fish-themed promo gear at the time of the tune's single release.
5. Tim Burgess - "The Boxer," "Life is Sweet"
Before Richard Ashcroft and Noel Gallagher became the go-to Britpop lads for the Chems, Tim Burgess of the Charlatans UK played the part of band singer in front of the two DJs. While 1995's "Life Is Sweet" might not be an obvious classic, when Burgess returned on "The Boxer" a decade later, he nailed it. His falsetto coo of "I'm a hustler" is more earnest than it ought to have a right to be but it's the ideal complement to the muscular beats of the Bros.
4. Noel Gallagher - "Let Forever Be," "Setting Sun"
Both Gallagher's Oasis and the Chemical Brothers are two acts known for flirting with psychedelia, but both 1996's "Setting Sun" and 1999's "Let Forever Be" found two of the UK's most celebrated acts of the 90s coming together in a colorful dance/rock salmagundi that is yet to be replicated. It is perhaps only the Chems who can give Gallagher's ego enough room to soar, as it does (along with his unique vocal) on both of these genre-defining records.
3. Beth Orton - "Alive Alone," Where Do I Begin," "The State We're In"
While she went on to a successful career as a nouveau-folk singer who sometimes flirted with electronica, Beth Orton's fragile, soulful croon first entered our ears by way of big beat. On three occasions, Orton guested with the Chems, including on "Where Do I Begin" from their breakout album Dig Your Own Hole, each time fusing the legacy of British folk and rave to warm and soothing effect.
2. Q-Tip - "Galvanize," "Go"
Guest rappers on a dance track can go one of two ways. There's no denying that Q-Tip's contributions to "Galvanize" and new single "Go" are the pinnacle of rap/dance greatness. It works because each artist plays to their respective strengths: the Chems don't front like they make hip-hop and Q-Tip doesn't act like he's at a rave.
With its distorted string sample and stutter beat backdrop, "Galvanize" in particular has rightly become a staple from TV commercials to sporting events since it first dropped a decade ago. Though it's far more subtle, "Go" is poised to endure too thanks to that radical and elusive combo of artistic skill and authenticity.
1. Michel Gondry - "Let Forever Be," "Star Guitar," "Go"
Few artists have had such a notable and fruitful relationship with a music video director as the Chemical Brothers have had with Michel Gondry. Known for his in-camera visual effects and the playful way he engages visuals with sounds, the Oscar-winning Gondry has helmed three videos for the Brothers, putting them in the elite company of Björk, Daft Punk, and the White Stripes as regular beneficiaries of Gondry's one-of-a-kind filmic touch.
In the 90s and 00s especially, videos for electronic music were not automatically good and they were rarely artful. With Gondry behind the camera, the Chemical Brothers have elevated their aesthetic beyond many of their peers and lent the often arts-and-craftsy Gondry some club-cred to the core. If anyone was going to be the third Chemical Brother, it would undoubtedly be Gondry. Here's to more collabs between them.