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Date: 1994-02-09 Event: Venue:ZAP Club City: Brighton Country: UK
Track Order
Track Name
Notes
1
2
3
4
with Dark and Long Lyrics
5
Additional Gig Notes: Hit Me With Your Rhythm, Styx

New Musical Express, 26 February 1994

UNDERWORLD
BRIGHTON ZAP CLUB


THERE'S A chill wind blowing along the deserted esplanade in Brighton. The fish 'n' chip shops, souvenir stands and miniature railway are all boarded up, and even the pier is glowing and blinking like a tiny fairground, the real nightlife has stayed underground, doing the same sweaty business it does every other night of the year,

This is Underworld's domain: a post-midnight show in the sort of subterranean venue bands usually grow out of, not into. But then, there's nothing usual about anything this lot do; as they readily admit, they're making up the rules as they go along.

"It's a shame we're up on a stage here," says singer/guitarist Karl Hyde, sipping his customary pre-show lemonade in a pub tucked behind the pristine seafront hotels. "I'd rather be shoved away in a corner somewhere ....

"We don't want to be pop stars. But I remember The Clash saying that, and they lived to regret it."

So far, their debut album, 'Dubnobasswithmyheadman', has gone Top 20. This doesn't make them the sort of people who can't nip down to Waitrose any more without being mobbed by a pack of screaming truant schoolgirls, but it's the sort of success that often gets bands acting like they are. Karl, however, would much rather talk about the recent form of the Romford Raiders ice hockey team.

The other two band members are similarly unimpressed with their new-found notoriety. "I was in a club the other day," says DJ Darren Emerson in a tone of genuine surprise, "and someone asked me, 'Can I take a photo of you?'" - at which point Darren apparently told him, in no uncertain terms, to leave him alone.

Everything has changed for Underworld in the last six months, and it's going to carry on changing. A collaboration with pure-techno pioneers Orbital is on the cards and, most interesting of all, the original ambient prankster, Brian Eno, has been on the phone to see if they'd be interested in sharing some studio time. They're still wary of being second-guessed, whether it be by the media, the music industry or even the growing legion of fans.

"We don't want to be roped into any sort of movement," cautions Karl, "and as much as it's fun to do things like Megadog, we all really like playing dance clubs, because that's basically where we come from. Plus, people there are obviously prejudiced towards dance music - and if it's not making them dance, it isn't good enough. That's a really good test for us."

It's a test they don't have much trouble passing at the Zap. With Emerson warming up for their set with a sequence of seamless, hard-edged techno, there's an excess of that semi-desperate sense of excitement which boils up when people are expecting a gig to turn into an event. So, by the time the ambient intro to 'Skyscraper' eddies into the mix, Karl spits out a heavily-echoed 'I love you...' and the beat drops down from the ceiling, there couldn't be more pent-up anticipation if Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty and the massed Ancients of Mu Mu had just entered the building.

The other obvious sign that something special s happening tonight is the number of cameras about. Not just the usual popping flashbulbs either: there are people wandering on and off stage with all manner of audio-visual devices, from old wind-up Super 8s to pocket-sized video recorders. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of their action.

The music, meanwhile, goes haywire. Glimpsed from the side of the stage, Rick Smith alternates between tweaking a mixing desk that looks like the control panel at Cape Canaveral and making fine adjustments on a computer screen filled with cryptic codes and presets; Darren Emerson breaks off from mixing back and forth between mystery white labels to juggle drum breaks; and Karl stands with his head thrown back and legs splayed in archetypal rock beast pose. Trying to guess where each individual sound is coming from is as impossible as it is pointless - and, judging by the surprised grins on their faces, Underworld don't always know exactly what's going on either.

Bits of tracks are recognisable - the blazing drum and bass attack of 'Spikee' merges with 'Surfboy', some of the lyrics from "Dark and Long" turn up on 'Spoonman', and 'Rez' blurs into a shuddering mass of techno beats and splintered sound-effects. It's as if they've taken them all apart and are fitting the pieces back together right there in front of you, trusting to your ears and their judgement that the whole thing doesn't fizzle into a short-circuit.

Karl pushes the whole experiment to the limit when he decides he's had enough of just spinning around, lost somewhere between reality and what's coming through his headphone. Picking up his beloved Letraset-encrusted guitar, he starts smashing it against the floor. It's an explosion of energy that surprises the assembled initiates as much as it would all those doubters who see live electronics as an excuse to disappear behind a rack of upgraded hi-fi equipment and billowing plumes of smoke. And when he picks up a miniature keyboard, places it on the floor and begins doing a little jig around it, you can just see people asking themselves, "Symbolism, cynicism, or what?"

It takes some time for him to come back down to earth. After leaving a crowd that would happily watch them until daybreak, Rick and Darren crack open a Heineken, grin from ear to ear and slap each other on the back. Karl, however, is on the verge of tears; the neck of his guitar broke during his Paul Simonon impersonation. Cradling the wounded instrument, he just sits in a chair repeating softly, "I don't know what comes over me ..."

It's doubtful anyone else does, either. But whatever kind of strange inspiration fires him (and Underworld) to the creative heights they scale when they pace the stage, it should be carefully nurtured. Unlike the guitar, it's irreplaceable.

Rupert Howe