Big party in the hills

Un­der­world gets a Bowl crowd on its feet.

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - RAN­DALL ROBERTS POP MU­SIC CRITIC ran­dall. roberts@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ liledit

Is there such a thing as a glow stick fairy?

At the Hol­ly­wood Bowl on Sun­day night, while Bri­tish elec­tronic dance band Un­der­world was pump­ing through “Cow­girl,” its hyp­notic rhythm track, hun­dreds of straw­sized sticks f lew up from var­i­ous pock­ets in the crowd like neon candy from pa­rade f loats, soar­ing through the air via ran­dom Tin­ker­bells or — less po­et­i­cally — a bunch of ravers on a mis­sion to spread pos­i­tive vibes.

As the mag­netic vo­cal­ist Karl Hyde, lithe and with charis­matic energy, danced in tight- tor­soed ma­neu­vers like a cor­nered king cobra, the glow sticks landed in the hands of the thou­sands. Within mo­ments, the Hol­ly­wood Bowl was shim­mer­ing with pri­mary col­ors and fur­ther pro­pelled into bliss­ful dance.

On a rev­e­la­tory night of giddy re­lease, Un­der­world turned the Bowl into a mas­sive party, fo­cus­ing mostly on tracks from its 1994 rave- rock break­through, “Dub­nobass­with­my­head­man.”

One of the most inf lu­en­tial elec­tronic dance groups, Un­der­world is hardly a house­hold name. The group is best known for “Born Slippy,” the rau­cous track that mixed Chicago house and Bri­tish rock and was fea­tured in Danny Boyle’s 1996 f ilm “Trainspot­ting.” On that song ( in fact, the track is orig­i­nally a B- side remix called “Born Slippy. NUXX”) and oth­ers, the group har­nessed the wild energy of drug- fu­eled rave cul­ture to craft lose- your­self- in- rhythm works that in a live set­ting ex­tended for seven to eight min­utes.

The work that Hyde, pro­ducer Rick Smith and key­boardist- mixer Dar­ren Price de­liv­ered on Sun­day night, the f irst in KCRW’s an­nual World Fes­ti­val se­ries of Bowl per­for­mances, was an of­ten over­whelm­ing mix of repet­i­tive sound, fran­tic strobe and dense fog that should have been pref­aced with a seizure warn­ing.

The group played no bal­lads and didn’t re­quire Hol­ly­wood Bowl Or­ches­tra strings or, for that mat­ter, any acous­tic in­stru­ments. Rather, while Hyde bobbed amid strobe and fog and lyri­cally ex­plored bliss, ad­dic­tion and var­i­ous en­tan­gle­ments in songs in­clud­ing “Spoon­man,” “Scrib­ble” and “Mmm … Sky­scraper I Love You,” Smith worked knobs and but- tons be­hind a high- tech mix­ing board that sug­gested he was ma­neu­ver­ing the Star­ship En­ter­prise. Light beams swirled in­side the Bowl’s band shell, at var­i­ous times deep red, vel­vety pur­ple and white- hot white.

In­side a Bowl spin­ning in con­stant mo­tion, the sen­sory over­load was mag­ni­fied by a re­lent­less­ness, an “Au­to­bahn”- like drive that fa­vored cruise- con­trol loops that as­cended and de­scended, rolled and swirled, with­out much re­gard for stan­dard pop vari­a­tion. Tracks like the epic in­stru­men­tal “Rez” con­tained dense tex­tures as thick as a jun­gle but had no need for bridges and easy hooks.

Elec­tronic dance mu­sic has been bump­ing for decades now, and it’s easy to take for granted the tones that are within its DNA. But the var­i­ous squelches, stat­icky washes, bassheavy break­downs and com­pli­cated beats didn’t ar­rive in a vac­uum.

That tem­plate was laid out, in part, by Un­der­world and its peers dur­ing rave cul­ture’s first- wave peak in Eng­land in the late ’ 80s and early ’ 90s.

Pow­ered by faster com­puter pro­ces­sors and newly so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware, pro­duc­ers not only ex­plored sound set­tings but started pro­gram­ming their own weird tones. Re­fined through trial and er­ror via DJs work­ing twin turnta­bles, these fresh tones emit­ted shock energy and seemed to evolve by the month.

A lot of the lesser acts are long for­got­ten, but Un­der­world has con­tin­ued to evolve and re­mained busy.

Sun­day was de­voted to a mo­ment in the mid- 1990s when Un­der­world and oth­ers started work­ing with singers, or­ga­niz­ing elab­o­rate stage shows and tweak­ing the sounds at huge out­door raves that helped def ine Bri­tish dance mu­sic. The group hasn’t lost any of that energy, and de­liv­ered as it was in its nat­u­ral habi­tat — un­der the stars, lost in its own uni­verse — it still felt vi­tal.

As LCD Soundsys­tem did with its mirac­u­lous per­for­mance in 2010, Un­der­world re­in­forced the truth that the Bowl can be a pow­er­ful driver of bass tones and can pro­pel dance par­ties way up to the top to the hill.

Be­fore Un­der­world, the new­breed Bri­tish soul band Jun­gle of­fered a solid if overly smooth set of disco- ac­cented tracks. A KCRW- FM ( 89.9) fa­vorite, the seven play­ers drew in­spi­ra­tion from a rich history of Bri­tish funk and soul, es­pe­cially the acid jazz and trip- hop scenes of the 1990s. Though hardly rev­o­lu­tion­ary, the group nonethe­less was easy enough on the ears as it per­formed tracks from its 2014 self- ti­tled de­but al­bum.

But the group lacked a cer­tain some­thing, as if it too was await­ing the show­er­ing of glow sticks.

Pho­tog r aphs by Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

UN­DER­WORLD pro­ducer Rick Smith mans a mix­ing board at Sun­day’s Hol­ly­wood Bowl per­for­mance.

AU­DI­ENCE mem­bers are al­ready up and danc­ing dur­ing the open­ing set by Jun­gle. The bill launched KCRW’s an­nual World Fes­ti­val.

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