UNDERWORLD dubnobasswithmyheadman20 London Royal Festival 11 October 2014
I've not seen a show like this in... I don't know how long. An Underworld show isn't just a band playing, and some people dancing. It's much more than that. It's a celebration.
It's an escape. It's where we are who we really want to be.
It's an old school techno gig with screaming and whistles and non stop dancing and estactic release : inside a stuffy all seated classical concert hall. Like they were live 15 and 20 years ago, the only difference being now,we're a bit older and gig ends sooner. Not at 2am, but 10.45pm. But it feels as good.
We're free. Free of money and worry and bullshit. Humans being. Humans doing. Humans... dancing.
People, free of the ground, free of the world, just people, being. Humans. And all of us if we're honest, we like to get off. Whatever we like to lose ourselves in, we like to there. Nobody would choose a world of buses and cleaning toilets if they had the power not to. This is mankind, us, not divided, not in factions, all together, all in the moment.
An Underworld gig is a moment of joy. Permission to forget the rest of the world. And, unlike a film, an Underworld show is an emotional, instictive experience. There's concepts, ideas, words, but it's not an intellectual experience, but a gut one.
Really, there are no words for the moment 6 minutes and 8 seconds into “Cowgirl” where everything drops out, the lights explode, Karl Hyde sings “an eraser of love!”, and half the halls whoops, hollers, and cheers,before the beat drops, the lights go insane and chase each other around the ceiling, a huge circular light wheel ascends from behind a curtain, projections surround you, and everything goes bonkers. It's like watching the music equivalent of Evil Kenvil jump the grand canyon, in the Batmobile, whilst high fiving James Bond on a jetpack.
Whilst the chap next to me plays air keyboards and gets the notes perfect, I think.
A staid, stuffy, all seated, 1950's classical concert hall, you would expect a repressed crowd. When I saw Kraftwerk here 10 years ago, almost everyone was sat down. Here, before the msuic even starts, 90% of the venue is standing, and within the first minute, most of them are.. dancing, singing, living.
As a one-off show – their first London one in over three years, and one of an average of three a year – they premiere, for the first time, in full and in order, dubnobasswithmyheadman. There's a lot of songs here I haven't seen live ever, and many I suspect they may never have played : certainly “Minnaepolis”, “Tongue”, “river of bass” and “Bigmouth” are very rare grooves live, and I haven't seen them. It's been at least 15 years since I saw “Spoonman” and “Surfboy”. In a live arena some of these songs simply do not work with a crowd that want to celebrate every drumbeat and heartbeat : 'Tongue' – a slow five minute guitar ballad sandwiched between a quadruple punch of “Dark and Long”, “Mmmmm Skyscraper”, “Surfboy” and “Spoonman”and then followed up by “Dirty Epic” and “Cowgirl” - that is a five minute break in an hour of nonstop classic electronic genius – sucks the air out of the room and the crowd uses it as an obligatory opportunity to check Facebook, Tweet, and instagram about the moment.
It allows me to forget the gang in front of us, who wander off for half an hour for a pint, before spending most of the rest of the night filming themselves with their camera phones and lights on. Really, no one gives a fuck, and the night is passing you by. When one of them gets on the tiny ledge and dances in a way that means most people can only see his fat jiggling arse instead of the brainmelting lightshow, I want him to fall off. Uncharitable, but you know, you don't have to be a dick to have a great night.
15 years. Oh, what a long time. On a technical level, the show is more precise and controlled than they used to be, no long one three hour long smorgasboard of beats and sounds that just fell from one song to another to another, but now a carefully constructed set of individual songs , with Rick Smith taking centre stage for instrumentals “Surfboy” and “Rez” where the room goes batshit bugnuts for a single 55 year old Welshman, a bunch of lights, and a bank of synths. Rick is often the unnnoticed genius of the band, constructing these intricate and powerful, 10 minute epics that – if nothing else – are perfect examples of drama, layering, tension and release.(Also, given that the show is a nostalgia show reflecting the bands 1991-1995 output, it's played as a duo with the exception of the occasional appearance by Darren Price largely between songs removing slips of paper and booting machines – easily 90% of the show the sound comes solely from Rick and Karl).
Sure, I've seen other bands, former contemporaries, and they have fallen by the wayside. They may have been liked, but they were not loved. Even something like “M.e.”, which is played once in a blue moon, sounds glorious. At pretty much every point, my main thought is why dont they play this more?
With one eye on the time, the live recital of the album ends at 9.47 : there's another hour to go. And boy, do we get it good. “Rez” is beyond. Then there's a rare live performance of the stomping “Minnaepolis”, with lashings of freestyle guitar riffola, which as the song builds to a climax theres-
-a powercut. Karl Hyde mimes that the band will be back, and in six minutes, there's “Dark Train”. Even the balcony is dancing, swaying, hands in the air. The night ends a rare harmonica-led jam through “Bigmouth”. It's 10.35.
What? The night is over, already? It can't be two and a half hours since the lights dimmed, and we had “Thing In A Book” as the venue slowly got darker, the lights slowly got brighter. The volume louder. It's not 20 years already is it? It can't be. Not 20 years since I sat in my bedroom with a Playstation and icecream and racing games, or 20 years since I danced my legs off in basements coming home as the sun woke up? Nah. Can't be. Can't be that long. On the outside I may be older, or balder, or bigger, but inside my head, I still have the same things I always did, the same sense of a quest – the same desire to be a change for good in the world – to make it better even in some small way.
Some bands. It may just be two people, and a bank of computers, and some screens and some lights, but it's not just that. Music isn't just noise. Films aren't just light. Books aren't just words. This is much much more than just that. It's not just an opportunity to dance a bit to the lagerlager song. Though that comes now, with a quick, and not-on-the-setlist discussion on stage, “Born Slippy” just raises the goddamn roof. And this isn't just music. This isn't just an escape This is a way of thinking. This is who we are. This is who we are, when we are who we want to be. Not just fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, or workers. Makers of memories. The people who, with each moment, make a little history. We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.
Thing In A Book –
Dark & Long –
Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You –
Dirty Epic –
River Of Bass –
Dark Train -
Born Slippy -