After five albums, we know what to expect from a Chemical Brothers record. And Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons know how best to make them. "We've very much found our way of working," says Tom. "And that's having our own studio and experimenting for months and months, then collaborating with people when we have something that excites us. We still get a lot of enjoyment out of going into the studio. We still see it as a wondrous place where something magical can happen."
It's the collaborations that often get the attention, and from Noel Gallagher, Bernard Sumner and Bobby Gillespie to Schooly D, k-os and Q-Tip, they've always been chosen not for their celebrity but because their voice, words or attitude will add what the tracks require. But it's the months of experimentation beforehand that creates the basis of each new record, and has kept the sound fresh.
"The pursuit of sound - that should be the crest on the pocket of the Chemical Brothers," laughs Tom. "We're always buying lots of strange synthesizers and processing things. It's painstaking sometimes, trying different ideas, just trying to find that different sound that makes your ears perk up. You can go for weeks without hearing anything that does that, but when you do hear it, you know."
But first, the history. Tom Rowlands grew up in Henley-on-Thames, Ed Simons in Herne Hill, South London. They met in Manchester, where they both studied medieval history at university and modern dance music at the Hacienda. It was a thrilling time to be in the city, a time when the foundations laid by bands like New Order had built a thriving indie scene that mingled with the euphoric energy of acid house to make Madchester. This new musical space where the wires of electronic pop, loose-limbed rock and club beats became tangled and fused felt like home to Tom and Ed, and indeed it's where they've stayed ever since, constantly weaving new inspirations, fresh sounds into the mix.
The duo began to DJ together in 1992, in the backroom of a Manchester pub. It probably made sense, after the heady years of the illegal Blackburn raves, to call themselves The 237 Turbo Nutters. But when they pressed up white labels of their first club tune 'Song To The Siren' at the end of '92, they decided The Dust Brothers sounded rather better. Remixes followed, as eventually did a threat of legal action from the original Dust Brothers, the US producers of the Beastie Boys. So when their debut album was released in 1995, they became The Chemical Brothers.
In the meantime, the duo moved to London and in 1994 became resident DJs at the Heavenly Social, another ecstatic space where the usual rules were put aside and house, hip hop, rock and reggae rubbed along beautifully with any other music with an attitude. Like the Hacienda, this was a club where lives were changed, friendships were forged, where bands were formed and plans laid - some of them so good that they were even carried through when the comedown had subsided.
When the Chemical Brothers' ground-breaking debut album 'Exit Planet Dust' came out in 1995, it fused samples, synths and dance beats with hip hop breaks and real songs with real vocalists like The Charlatans' Tim Burgess. It was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and their spectacular live shows soon proved that they were able to hold a crowd in stadium or festival just as well as they had on the dancefloor.
"I just feel it's a blessing to be able to do something which gets people out of their homes and experiencing something together," says Ed. "When you play live and see a sea of people with their hands in their air, smiling, that's what I feel most proud of: making music that is loud and powerful enough to bring people together."
What else is there to say? Well plenty, it seems. Five albums, three Grammies (the most recent for 'Galvanize', which was also Radio One's most played track in 2005), countless hit singles and some nine million album sales later, the Chemical fusion still sparkles. Most of the groups who were once considered their peers have long since fallen away, but Tom and Ed are still here, still pushing the boundaries because the friendship the band was built on remains strong, as does their passion for music.
"We're always making it like it was our last record, or our first record," says Ed. "We're so desperate for people to hear the album and enjoy it as an experience, a journey. To make an emotional impact. We push each other on, and that's the base of the friendship."
On 'We Are The Night', we get Canadian beat poet bill bissett reading his 1967 poem 'an ode to d. a. levy' over a devastating psychedelic dance groove; Fatlip of early 90s West Coast rappers The Pharcyde explaining the life cycle of the salmon over a drunken beat in the quirkiest Chemical offering to date; fine collaborations with US singer-songwriter Willy Mason and up-and-coming Londoner Ali Love; the kind of innovative, dancefloor-destroying beats the Brothers have long been famed for; and two of the best songs they have ever produced with the Klaxons collaboration 'All Rights Reversed' and 'The Pills Won't Help You Now' - a bleakly beautiful closer to the album, recorded with Tim Smith from Texas band Midlake.
"We don't choose the hottest band when we're looking for collaborators," explains Ed. "We search deep for something that's going to sound right on a particular piece of music, or just for an artist we really love and want to work with. And that helps us stay fresh, the fact that you can take it somewhere else. It's like a new instrument. Lyrically, I think the album is really strong. It's moved away from some of the constraints of dance music. We're electronic artists, but Tom and I love classic song-writing: The Beatles, The Smiths, Bob Dylan. So we're not afraid of a song, we don't feel the need to bury it."
The track with Klaxons particularly sees a wheel turn full circle. This so-called 'new rave' group were regulars on the dancefloor of the Heavenly Social, and Tom and Ed loved the intensity of their live shows, sensing kindred spirits. Sandwiching their studio time with the Chemicals between a gig in Bologna and another in Paris, Klaxons had listened to the instrumental Tom and Ed laid down, bought in some ideas recorded on a mobile phone and somehow 'All Rights Reversed' was finished in a day.
So this is album number six. New sounds, strong songs, twisted melodies, changing emotions and devastating beats - something that's just like the Chemical Brothers yet quite unlike anything you've heard from them or anyone else before. As I said at the start, you know what to expect of a Chemical Brothers album by now. Something that's totally unexpected.