Underworld

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

So this is how techno titans respond to comments that they aren't the sound of the future any more, then? With irresistible levels of earth-moving stealth, tumult and love. When Underworld's fourth studio album, A Hundred Days Off, emerged last year, some critics argued that their best years were behind them; as were, for their fans, those nights when it seemed as though nothing mattered but the white-light, white-heat opening chords of "Born Slippy", steaming into hazy view.

But there's no squaring that with the band who seduce and lay waste to the stately surrounds of Somerset House on one of the hottest days since I don't know when. Across two hours, Underworld juggle layer on layer of part-improvised, always intricately crafted sound; and, with the irrepressible singer, Karl Hyde, working his beat like babbling dynamite on legs, they elevate them to levels of near-indecently dynamic propulsion.

They start off modestly, Hyde and his partner Rick Smith fiddling intently with their banks of electronics. As soon as they give each other that here-we-go hug, though, the beats kick in, and, boy, are they off. The first 25 minutes work four-ish songs into one undulating wall of sound - it's prog techno at full force, building and bubbling, before peaking with glorious remixes of the definitive techno classics "Cowgirl" and "Rez". Good to note, too, that the summery sounds from AHDO pull their weight live, with the blissed-out "Mo Move" and "Two Months Off" making even old sun-bothered London feel positively Balearic for a while.

Thirty minutes in, it's clear that Underworld have it all at their fingertips. This is intelligent music, sure, from the densely scuttling beats of the explosive, far-from-feline "Kittens", to the smoother textures of the sensual "Dirty Epic". But there's warmth and humanity in the wiring, too, and between band and audience. And it doesn't feel wholly chemical, either - when Hyde bellows: "Thanks for giving us a great homecoming!" in his best Essex-boy burr, the adoration is clearly mutual.

As for "Born Slippy", it is simply too potent a song to feel like I Love 1995 nostalgia. It pulls positively lewd levels of justifiable love from the audience, as Hyde's stream-of-consciousness, coming-up, coming-down poetry drives it from euphoria to despair and back in a genuinely moving moment of band/crowd synergy. How do you follow that? Well, a searingly sexy double whammy of "Push Upstairs" and "Moaner", from the 1999 album Beaucoup Fish, give it the best shot imaginable, the intensity of heat and power pouring from the stage making for a dance-till-you-drop climax. This, a band on less-than-peak form? If that's the case, I'll eat my sweaty T-shirt. Stupendous, really.

Comments