I am a London-based Digital PR/Social Media/SEO Consultant, music producer/anorak, deep sea diver, avid cyclist, worldwide traveller and football-loving technology bod! This page functions as a kind of online scrapbook/resource featuring my favourite blog posts and news items as well as my own personal reviews and recommendations in the worlds of music, sport, travel and technology!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Underworld at The Roundhouse, London - Review

Mention the word Underworld to most people and they think one of three things:

1. Are you about to offer me stolen goods?
2. That's that dingy club in Camden full of smelly goths and metalheads innit?
3. Weren't they that dance band who wrote that 'Lager, Lager' tune as part of the Trainspotting soundtrack when I was in the height of my clubbing phase?

Indeed, the latter is true for most of my generation. But what most people don't seem to realise, is the amazing body of work and live success Underworld have achieved since they were first launched into the music spotlight following the success of 'Born Slippy'.

They actually became one of the most crucial electronic acts of the 1990s via an intriguing synthesis of old and new.

The trio's two-man frontline, vocalist Karl Hyde and guitarist Rick Smith, had been recording together since the early-'80s new wave explosion; after two unsuccessful albums released during the late '80s, the pair finally hit it big when they recruited a young DJ called Darren Emerson who hipped to the sound of techno and house. Traditional pop song forms were jettisoned in favor of Hyde's heavily treated vocals, barely there whispering, and surreal wordplay, stretched out over the urban breakbeat trance while Smith's cascade of guitar-shard effects provided a bluesy foil to the stark music. All in all, the decision to go pop was hardly a concession to the mainstream.

The first Underworld album by the trio, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, appeared in late 1993 to a flurry of critical acclaim; the trio then gained U.S. distribution for the album with TVT. Second Toughest in the Infants, the group's sophomore LP, updated their sound slightly and received more praise than the debut. Unlike the first, the LP also sold well, thanks in part to the non-album single "Born Slippy," featured on the soundtrack to the seminal film Trainspotting.

The roots of Underworld go back to the dawn of the 1980s. The group released Doot-Doot in 1983 and Get Us out of Here two years later, but later disintegrated. Hyde worked on guitar sessions for Debby Harry and Prince, then reunited with Smith in 1988 to form an industrial-funk band called Underworld. The pair earned an American contract with Sire and released their debut album, Underneath the Radar, in 1988. Change the Weather followed one year later, even though little attention had been paid to the first. By the end of the decade, Underworld had disappeared also.

As they had several years earlier, Hyde and Smith shed their skin yet again, recruiting hotshot DJ Darren Emerson and renaming themselves Lemon Interrupt. In 1992, the trio debuted with two singles, "Dirty"/"Minneapolis" and "Bigmouth"/"Eclipse," both released on Junior Boys Own Records. 1993's "Rez" and "MMM...Skyscraper I Love You" caused a minor sensation in the dance community. Instead of adding small elements of techno to a basically pop or rock formula (as many bands had attempted with varying success), Underworld treated techno as the dominant force. Their debut album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, was praised by many critics upon release later in 1993 and crossed over to the British pop charts. Darren Emerson, Hyde, Smith impressed many at their concert dates as well; the trio apparently relished playing live, touring Great Britain twice plus Japan, Europe, and the annual summer-festival circuit, where their Glastonbury appearance became the stuff of legend.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman was released in the U.S. in 1995 after being licensed to TVT Records. During the rest of the year, Underworld were relatively quiet, releasing only the single "Born Slippy." Finally, Second Toughest in the Infants appeared in early 1996 to much critical praise. The trio gained no small amount of commercial success later in the year when "Born Slippy" was featured on the soundtrack to Trainspotting, the controversial Scottish film that earned praise from critics all over the globe. Underworld also remained busy with Tomato -- their own graphic-design company responsible for commercials from such high-profile clients as Nike, Sony, Adidas, and Pepsi -- and remixing work for various top artists. Emerson continued to DJ on a regular basis, releasing mix albums for Mixmag! and Deconstruction. Though Underworld's 1999 LP Beaucoup Fish was initially a disappointment, critically and commercially, the band continued to tour the world. The live album Everything, Everything followed in 2000, after which Emerson left to continue his DJ career. A Hundred Days Off, Underworld's first LP as a duo since 1989, was released in mid-2002. One year later, the stopgap compilation 1992-2002 appeared.

By 2005, the duo had recorded new material for the soundtrack of the film Breaking and Entering. Their first "proper" full-length since 2002, Oblivion with Bells, appeared in 2007.

This weekend's gig at the Roundhouse was truly memorable for me in many ways - not because of the venue, the amazing live sound techniques and Abelton jams, all the classic tunes they played, the fantastic stage set they choreographed, Rick Hyde's silver suit and chicken dancing but the crowd who were probably one of the most energetic and up-for-it crowds I've ever seen at a gig - mainly early-30-something's who were there for a nostalgic time-travel journey back to those heady early-raving days. I also caught up with an old friend I hadn't seen in 10 years! Click the YouTube link below to see a mobile-phone video of the gig:


Long live Live Dance Music!

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