UNDERWORLD, dubnobasswithmyheadman super deluxe box set edition
Where were you whilst we were getting high?
Where were you? “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” is a classic. Lets get that out of the way. It's 75 minutes of cutting edge electronic music from the early 90's, made at the edge of possibility, and you not only can you dance your ass off to it, its chock full of great songs, intricate and fascinating lyrics and textures, and is the band before they became that lagerlagerband, and it still stands up now as a great record stripped from the decade of release. This exhaustive 5CD box set is not the complete picture, but with two and a half hours of rare mixes and b-sides, and a further two and a half hours of unreleased songs, early versions, and studio jams, this really is one of the best, and most lovingly prepared, reissue packages I have seen. The two and a half hours of b-sides and mixes, many only on long deleted vinyl, are – if you haven't heard them, essential, classic Underworld, long, fabulous instrumental epics sometimes up to twenty minutes long, huge, epic tunes. Whilst the sequencing sounds like a random compilation and not a cohesive album experience, it's still absolutely required listening.
On the other hand, it is fascinating to hear the songs evolve. The Underworld devout – of which I am undoubtedly one – devoured the numerous CD's, 12”s and compilation releases at the time, and the band were fiercely prolific, with every single backed with a barrage of new material and self-made alternate mixes that often bore no resemblance to the released original. In the depths of this exhaustive, 5CD, 6 and a half hour long release, you'll find some glaring omissions, and some stunning revelations.
The fourth CD contains early versions of the album sessions, and there are some songs on here - “Concord”, “Birdstar”, “Organs” - equal of anything on the main record. Yes. That good. They simply were songs that, in what seems like a surplus of creativity, the band let go by the wayside. It is unexpected and reassuring to suddenly hear a great song that could only have been made then, and knowing this isn't some trashily passed rubbish old track, but a genuine lost classic. Alongside this comes some early takes upon “Cowgirl”, “Dark + Long”, “Spoonman”, which show that the band constantly built upon the bones of other songs, with “Cowgirlc69” being a different version of “Birdstar” with riffs that later became another track, and “Dark + Long v1” drenched in the riffs and particles that later turned into “Spoon Deep”. It sort of explains some of the omissions and missing, fully finished songs, but it doesn't. At over £50 you really do want everything. Everything everything. And not to have to go searching for old CD singles -
Over 2 CD singles and 3 12” singles, for example, “Dark + Long” offered a total of 2 hours of 'remixes', and an hour or so of those is not on this Superdeluxeset. The 'remixes' were no such thing, but thinly veiled new material built upon discarded earlier iterations of the songs. Some of these 'remixes' – such as the luxury of 20 minute epic “215 Miles”, are not here, and more is the pity, for these missing tracks are essential to knowledge of early Underworld. “Why Why Why”, “Spoon Deep”, “Dark Hard”, “215 Miles”, “Second Hand” are all absent. “Bigmouth” is present, but not in the original 12” glory, but in a rehearsal room live take from the fifth CD which is an unrestrained jam-in-the-studio kerfuffle.
There's also some other, unexplainable edits – as there is plenty of space left on the discs – with both “Spikee” and “Dark Train” having 30 seconds removed from them, and an additional hour of material released recently on Soundcloud which is easily as good as anything else on here that could have easily – with a little thought – provided a definitive and exhaustive warts-and-all 7 CD set of material from the era, when music flooded out of this band in one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments of unrestrained creativity. It's incomplete due to the above omissions, but it's still five CD's and seven hours of peerless and classic electronic music from the golden age of techno.
“Dubnobasswithmyheadman” is an amazing, lifechanging record – a snapshot of two years in the life of a band evolving beyond the constraints they gave themselves, lost in technology and the possibilities of music, exploring, and making music that even now sounds so far into the future, I doubt that the day will ever come. Still ahead of the here and now, even 20 years after release.