This friday will mark the 20th anniversary of the seminal Chemical Brothers album 'Dig Your Own Hole'. Not only was it a landmark in the pair's own career, delivering their only number 1 singles to date in the form of 'Setting Sun' and 'Block Rockin' Beats', but also setting a benchmark that would change the shape of the UK's place in international dance music forever.
While the British electronic music scene already had a healthy relationship with their own fanbase with acts like Prodigy, Leftfield, Massive Attack and others producing quality material, it was 'Dig Your Own Hole' that would forever change the dynamics of its commercial intentions. For the last few years, the UK was in the midst of the Britpop revolution. Guitar bands were the hottest thing on the planet at this point, and while new acts like The Spice Girls were already well on the way to becoming the next big thing in British music, the rise of The Chemical Brothers started a chain reaction that would envelop the rest of the decade.
Before 'Dig Your Own Hole' the dance music community was extremely segregated, as it still sometimes remains today. Every electronic artist had their own niche to squeeze into, whether it be house, techno, big beat or anything else. And while the Chemicals first album 'Exit Planet Dust' was very much considered a big beat records, their follow-up refused to fit itself into a box. When you first listen to 'Dig Your Own Hole', the wealth of variety you are exposed to seems completely unprecedented. While their big beat sound still remains, their ability to mix up the contemporary sounds of the day with wild eccentricity was simply awe inspiring. It soon became clear that the idea of an electronic artist following a simple train of execution was about to be smashed and further more, enter the mainstream.
The Prodigy released 'The Fat Of The Land' some months later, capitalising on the country's new felt affection for loud and exciting electronic music. But it would take a few months more before the eccentricity of The Chemical Brothers trickled down through to their contemporaries. It wasn't long as 1998 welcomed the return of Fatboy Slim in a way we had never seen. The producer's second album 'You've Come A Long Way, Baby' was an international goldmine of hits. And just like the Chems, Fatboy Slim had also graduated from big beat roots to deliver a diverse and exciting new release. Eventually the decade would be rounded off by the arrival of other acts such as Basement Jaxx and Propellerheads, as well as the pair's third album 'Surrender'. But to really understand the affect that this record had on the industry, we must fast forward to today.
It may be a quick jump in the timeline, but looking back over what the 21st century provided in terms of long-standing electronic music is the best way to understand its impact. Obviously we have to mention dubstep. While its roots lay mainly in the 90s, it wasn't until the turn of the century that we saw it in its full glory. But dubstep is of course not an original idea. With homages to dub, garage, techno and electro heard throughout its sound, this genre was only made possible if producers hung up their pretences about boxed genres and took on a more eclectic approach. This deliberate direction of intentions is straight out of The Chemical Brothers playbook. It is only by ripping up the manual of preconceptions that new ideas are formed, and dubstep is certainly the most recent example of that.
It is likely that we will never see an album like 'Dig Your Own Hole' ever again, mainly because its legacy has already become the norm amongst many electronic artists. The idea of muddling genres and sneaking pieces of eclectic influences throughout music is exactly what most artists do nowadays. It has become part of the roads to a successful and long-lasting career, but without the talent and bravery of The Chemical Brothers nearly two decades ago, we may well have seen a very different musical world play out for us.