"The Chemical Brothers' capacity to unite a crowd in joyous communion remains peerless": Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons shake London's Royal Albert Hall to its storied foundations

The penultimate night of this year's Teenage Cancer Trust fundraising gigs delivers ecstasy via block rockin' beats

Chemical Brothers
(Image: © ANNA KURTH/AFP via Getty Images)

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

When everyone from Dua Lipa to Yungblud to Olivia Rodrigo to Joey Valence & Brae is talking up the influence of '90s music on their most recent work, it's jarring to realise that the distance between Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day breaking into the mainstream and 2024, is actually greater than the gap between Beatle-mania and 'The Year That Punk Broke'. In terms of cultural influence, the '90s is very much having 'a moment', and while that has led to much nostalgic discourse about the life-changing impact of alt. rock, Britpop and and nu-metal, one of the most vital musical movements of the decade has been rather overlooked and marginalised.

The 18 months between January '94 and July '95 saw the release of four hugely important electronica albums - Underworld's Dubnobasswithmyheadman, The Prodigy's Music For The Jilted Generation, Orbital's Snivilisation and The Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust - each the work of men who'd grown up on punk rock and Two-Tone ska and translated that same energy, anti-authoritarian attitude and independent DIY spirit into new forms of game-changing outsider art. Thirty years on, it goes without saying that these cornerstones of the UK dance music scene are no longer at the genre's cutting edge, but at the penultimate gig of the final week of Teenage Cancer Trust shows curated by The Who's Roger Daltrey, The Chemical Brothers offer a powerful reminder of just how thrillingly impactful their music remains. 

It's fair to say that the majority of tonight's audience are old enough to have seen Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons back when they were DJ-ing at the Heavenly Sunday Social as The Dust Brothers, but the duo's set tonight is no lazy nostalgia trip, with almost half the setlist drawing from their two most recent releases, 2019's No Geography and 2023's For That Beautiful Feeling. And while it's safe to say that there aren't a lot of Mitsubishis or Doves being necked in the posh boxes ringing the stage in this most stately of venues, no-one in the 5,000+ sell-out crowd is still seated by the time the teeth-rattlingly loud euphoric rush of Go kicks in at 9pm. The two hours of music which follow, augmented by lasers, strobes, searchlights and spectacular animation, are a trip in the purest sense.

Amid the masterfully curated undulations of the set, the pairing of Hey Boy Hey Girl and Eve Of Destruction represents an obvious early highlight, the latter tune augmented with fabulously retro Ultraman-style visuals. Following the dreamy psychedelia of Swoon and Star Guitar, the insistent pulse of Got To Keep On is ferociously funky, and the stalls ring out with shrieks of pure exultation when the adorable robots flanking the stage get their clunky groove on during Chemical Beats. As we enter the home straight, Galvanize, C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L and Block Rockin' Beats push energy levels firmly into the red, patrons in the stalls by now dancing in the aisles to the amusement/bemusement of the venue's ever-polite uniformed ushers.

Setting the seal on a triumphant first UK show of the year, No Geography and The Darkness That You Fear are dazzlingly hypnotic, before the OG heads are rewarded with the transcendent, transportative majesty of The Private Psychedelic Reel, the epic closing track of 1997's Dig Your Own Hole, complete with biblical stained glass visuals. They've come a long way from spinning vinyl in the basement of The Albany pub 30 years ago, but The Chemical Brothers' capacity to unite a crowd in joyous communion remains peerless, and a delightfully immersive experience. 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.