The Chemical Brothers – ‘Exit Planet Dust’: Why It Mattered

Since day one, The Chemical Brothers have been making music for the messy masses. Find out how Exit Planet Dust etched Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons into the rave lexicon forevermore.

In 1995 The Chemical Brothers shafted their original (not to mention stolen) moniker, The Dust Brothers, and released their debut album under the title the world would come to know them as. Exit Planet Dust was named to shake off the old jacket, making way for the hedonistic, gnarly, and absolutely massive sounds that would capture Britain’s post-techno rave generation.

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons were never shy about their audience’s habits, they were ravers who spent their weekends sucking up dust, eating glue, and partaking in whatever other chemical delights they could find. What Exit Planet Dust would do was cater directly to that popular underground, handing them the twisted, overwhelming music their drugged-up hearts desired.

Speaking to the now-defunct dance mag Muzik in 1994, Simons said:

“…nobody from the dance world has come up with an album to reflect these times. Why is that? Why is it left to a group like Oasis to express the way that young people want to go out and get battered every weekend? That’s what The Chemical Brothers are about.”

Back in 1995, Britain had been bouncing to acid house and techno for a full decade, ecstasy was irrevocably intertwined with the dance music scene, and artists across the continent – from shoegazers The Jesus and Mary Chain to addled rockers like Primal Scream or The Stone Roses – were inspired by the mass bliss only raves could generate.

Where Brit-pop groups would borrow elements of acid house or techno for their own ambitions, The Chemical Brothers would distill the most highly-charged elements of the rave sound into a no-holds-barred attack on the senses. Torn-up TB-303 melodies, distorted guitar lines, and big beat breaks were what they chose; a combo made to move crowds and roll back eyeballs.

Exit Planet Dust is packed end-to-end with proto-versions of what would make the duo commercial juggernauts; heavily affected beats laid amongst vocal samples which not-so-subtly invited listeners to switch off and go wild. From the get-go The Chemical Brothers’ sense for rhythm, tension, and release were all too apparent, the basslines on Leave Home and In Dust We Trust remaining amongst their meatiest.

Not to mention Chemical Beats, the duo’s de facto title track which has remained a staple of their live sets to this day. Whether you saw the Brothers at Glastonbury in 1997, Fuji Rock in 2011 (the setting of their wild 2012 concert film Don’t Think), or in 2019 on their No Geography album tour, Chemical Beats was there to whip the crowd into shape.

The Chemical Brothers in 1997. Photo: Rex Features
The Chemical Brothers in 1997. Photo: Rex Features

Where the first half of Exit Planet Dust is balls-to-the-wall with Galvanise or Block Rockin’ Beats levels of energy, the latter half flirts with downtempo compositions and acid-fulled mind-benders. One Too Many Mornings showcases a more chilled-out side to Rowlands and Simmons, although the track still bleeds euphoria.

Playground For A Wedgeless Farm is pure lysergic weirdness, and Chico’s Groove has a bit of a Moon Safari-era AIR feel to it. This early versatility bled through in small parts, a willingness to bend which eventually became fully realised in heart-stopping tracks like Wide Open with Beck or straight-up wacky tunes like The Salmon Dance. 

Though they’d later become massively acclaimed, The Chemical Brothers never seemed like a band who sought recognition. Their quest was simple enough; make the world dance harder than it had ever danced before. They sought out crowds who were hungry for total surrender and served it to them on a silver platter.

At the heart of dance music lies a simple truth: every now and then, people just want to fucking lose it. Few groups understand this as well as The Chemical Brothers, and it all started on Exit Planet Dust.