Pop Un­der­world

Vil­lage Un­der­ground, Lon­don

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Mark Beau­mont

Those dirty numb an­gel boys and mega mega white things who are here on a nos­tal­gic trip to the church of lager are wel­comed by Karl Hyde with arms spread wide. The fer­rety Un­der­world singer knows full well that Born Slippy .NUXX

– the throw­away 1995 B-side that ac­ci­den­tally made them dank dance su­per­stars – de­fined the nar­cotic break­down of the 90s as dis­tinctly as Park­life en­cap­su­lated its wink­ing Brit­pop high; a fever­ish al­co­holic’s di­ary en­try pound­ing over the clos­ing scenes of Trainspot­ting.

So he presents the track’s iconic space echo to the throng at this lowkey club show (Un­der­world’s last Lon­don gig was at Alexan­dra Palace in 2017) like so much rave manna, wor­ship­ping the hook with the trancey pose of a synth-sum­mon­ing shaman. But only at the end of the night, well into the early hours, once Un­der­world have proved them­selves more piv­otal elec­tronic al­chemists than the one-hit ponies be­hind Ren­ton’s theme.

They ar­rive at mid­night, in­aus­pi­ciously, shuf­fling on stage flash­ing peace signs. Rick Smith, in charge of the mu­sic, could be the Rev Richard Coles on dress-down Sun­day, Hyde a club­land Michael Sheen. They soon shake off the dis­com­fi­ture of the six­tysome­thing raver, though. As the noir-ish beats of 2016’s Low Burn can­ter, then gal­lop and burst out into the kind of oceanic disco that Aqua­man might DJ, Hyde be­comes a shame­less show stealer, with no move too wild or out­moded: the Madonna vogue, the Marc Al­mond shimmy, the Jacko crotch grab, the Tra­volta fin­ger-sweep. It’s a won­der he never goes full Gang­nam.

Spin­ning stream-of-con­scious­ness tales of love, lust and Rom­ford squalor, his mono­tone ghost-in-the-ma­chine vo­cals act as a per­cus­sive in­stru­ment, an ex­tra rhythm min­gled and man­gled within Smith’s com­pul­sive ur­ban trib­al­ism.

Good job, too – when he tries a spot of proper singing over the lo­co­mo­tive Juanita, Howard Jones’s lawyers could de­mand an in­junc­tion. Yet it’s Juanita’s hints of Depeche Mode gui­tar, and Dirty Epic’s homage to New Or­der, that high­light Un­der­world’s long-stand­ing role as cul­tural reimag­in­ers. Later, the punk­tronic Pearl’s Girl is a spaced­out cousin of Firestarter.

If tonight’s ca­reer-span­ning set is de­signed to show­case such in­spired rewirings, it also proves Un­der­world still have the tools. The gig marks the re­lease of Drift – Episode 1, a col­lec­tion of tracks they’ve been putting out weekly as part of a year-long project com­bin­ing mu­sic, film and writ­ing. Tonight’s cuts may still be rooted in rave cul­ture, but they boast a breadth and at­tack lack­ing in con­tem­po­rary lap­top elec­tron­ica.

Another Si­lent Way is a crazed junglist skip­ping song that sound­tracked a film they made about UK drift rac­ing; if Dex­ter’s Chalk sound­tracks any­thing, it should be Squid­nado.

Best of all Bor­der Coun­try, an un­re­leased col­lab­o­ra­tion with the pro­ducer Ø [Phase], creeps in as a mum­bled mun­dan­ity then, two min­utes in, kicks the en­tire venue hard in the gut. It all makes for an in­tense, pulse-pump­ing blast of a night, cul­mi­nat­ing in the ice­cream van eu­pho­ria of Rez and the lager­tar­i­ans united in praise of Born Slippy .NUXX’s sil­very tale of lip­stick boys hunt­ing babes and babes and babes – dance mu­sic’s most an­gelic so­lil­o­quy. And, like Un­der­world, still mega.

Born Slippy de­fined the nar­cotic break­down of the 90s as dis­tinctly as Park­life cap­tured its Brit­pop high

Pulse-pump­ing eu­pho­ria … Un­der­world

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