For a while in the mid-90s it seemed Underworld were everywhere. Blending that “melodic techno / trance” thing I was on about last week, with a pop sensibility. Rick Smith, Karl Hyde, and at the time DJ Darren Emerson – who used to blow our minds at venues such as Club UK, scratching techno tunes together. The three of them remixing Bjork, William Orbit and Shakespeare`s Sister into seminal dance floor moments. Creating balearic crossovers – Big Mouth, Eclipse – under the pseudonym, Lemon Interrupt. Sending Simply Red out into space – making Thrill Me a Cafe Del Mar staple. Remixing Mental Generation`s tribute to Ibiza`s sunset spot into an epic Dave Gilmour-esque blues. Contributing to Jose Padilla`s chill-out compilations. Rising to stadium-filing success so overground that it bought posh houses for everyone involved. Put kids through school.
To me, Appleshine, from the new Drift Series 1 Sampler, is still this “trance”. But I’m sure trance means something very different to most people these days. Hyde`s melancholy vocals differentiating the track from simply a hypnotic stomp. Like Born Slippy, without the lager.
Border Country is the pulsating minimalism of Jeff Mills` Purpose Maker. Nights getting lost at Steve Bicknell`s appropriately titled Brixton soirees. Rattling metallic like a shinkansen shooting down a steel tunnel. Locked in. All aboard the Oblivion Express. We used to toast proceedings with a shout of “Surrender To The Void”* and in a way all the self-medication and dancing was a form of mediation. A short cut to transcendence. Emptying your head, escaping from thought. I mean I hardly ever go out dancing now, but when the beat here pauses for a spilt second, then kicks back in, I can still remember the rush.
I don`t think Karl ever set himself up as some modern day shaman. More a conduit into the unconscious. Using cut-up conversations, phrases stolen from strangers. Scribbled, jotted in note books like a beat poet. Taking his cues from (William S.) Burroughs and (Brion) Gysin. Searching for (hidden) meaning in everyday parlance / chatter / nonsense. Translating terrace chants. He tapped into an amphetamine-driven zeitgeist. His voice like that one in your head. A touch of psychosis, paranoia, balancing the festival abandon and euphoria. His lyrics and delivery the equivalent of being all back at someone’s – once the club had finished – listening to multiple overheard rants / verbal riffs. The buzz of human traffic. Your brain trying to make sense of too much information. Exhausted, trying not to crash following the overload. Psychoactive rather than psychedelic. Danny give me a downer, I’m gonna capsize.
Custard Speedtalk is funky, like a slightly sad, finally sober, reprise of Rez. Man, we used to play that tune over everything. Amateur disc jockeys practicing in a basement on Almedia Street, N1. High on anything we could get out hands on. Segueing its gravitational arches from a prized pink promo copy. Here it`s transformed into a serenade for yesterday’s love in hindsight.
“I think it`s in your genes… I know I wish I was.”
Plus there`s always been something of Syd Barratt`s twisted acid nursery rhymes in Underworld`s word play. Exemplified on “Drift” by STAR (Rebel Tech). Whose dizzying syllable associations – chasing through a list of actors, artists, authors, sportsmen and women, celebrities and fictional figures – comes on like Cockney rhyming slang crossed with Quantum Jump`s Lone Ranger.
Standout for me, though, is the ambient Brilliant Yes That Would Be. That guitar crying for six minutes straight. Sometimes screaming, bending atonal, abrasive. Reminding me a little of Jan Garbreck`s horn. Channelling something tribal, something ancient. From when prayers were offered to nature, to all things, rather than monotheistic gods. When music and song sought to mimic the elements. The duo fashioning a fresh lament for Mother Earth.
*We actually nicked this “catchphrase” from The Chemical Brothers, Tom and Ed.
The full hit of Underworld`s Drift Series 1 was conceived as, and is, a kind of multimedia diary. Begun on November 1st 2018, and released exactly a year later. Audio / visual. Music, and film. Collaborations with Tomato’s Simon Taylor, Australian improv-trance band The Necks, techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty and members of Black Country, New Road). The complete package is a box-set, containing 7 CDs, 1 Blu-ray disc, and an 80 page book – featuring interviews, photos and poems. You can purchase both the box and the sampler edition directly from the band.