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Date: 1994-02-18 Event: Venue:Leicester University City: Leicester Country: UK
Track Order
Track Name
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Additional Gig Notes: Melody Maker, February 26, 1994
Underworld / The Drum Club
Megadog, Leicester University

DOGMEN GO OFF

As Underworld's boy wonder, DJ Darren Emerson, is beginning to wind down his remorseless solo set, something happens. It's only a little thing. Singer Karl Hyde wanders across the stage to place his guitar on its stand. While he's there, he decides to stay for a little private, unobtrusive dance. In the days when Rock was king, such a thing would've been unthinkable - Hyde would've been saving himself for the bin entrance.

This is strangely touching. Why? Because most of us will go through 1994 feeling alienated, or at least detached, from the forces which shape our daily lives. Here, there's no mystification, no advice we can't use, no information to cloud our minds. We don't need it. If you want a single explanation for the popularity of this music, of this scene, here you have it. Unwittingly, Hyde is making a political statement. We shall thus forgive him for having been so terrible in Freur.

Are we talking complete wank? Well, yeah, of course, but standing here in the dark, strafed by blinding lasers, breathing in the heavy atmosphere and trying desperately to prevent big globs of condensation from landing with a disgusting plop in our beer, it means something. Which just goes to show that Megadog works as well here as it does at its home in London. After a few hours' sweating on the dancefloor, man, the whole world looks crusty.

The Drum Club are a revelation. In the past - to these ears, anyway - they've always seemed to get by with the absolute minimum, to grab rather than reach, to fizz rather than sparkle.

On the strength of tonight's show, this appears to have changed. The set is new, being largely composed of material from the forthcoming LP, and where tunes once writhed in frustrated agony before dissipating like so much aural dust, where rhythms tripped over each other in their eagerness to please, they now have a poise and grace that sustains them through this hour-long set and leaves the sweating crowd calling for more. The Drum Club have come of age.

A question. How has one band found itself the repository of so many people's hopes and dreams? How has one band managed to find a place on so many different agendas - and without apparently trying? It's not Underworld's fusion of electro soundscapes with overt lyricism. Meat Beat Manifesto have been doing that for years (and "Tongue" from "Dubnobass…" does bring Meat Beat to mind). Come to that, Cabaret Voltaire were doing it fully 10 years ago (their "Sensoria" wouldn't have sounded out of place on an Underworld LP). It must either be that they do it better or that they've found themselves in the right place at the right time. Which is it?

We're here to find out. As Hyde and Smith join Emerson onstage, there's a sense of anticipation you don't often experience in a club environment. See, what makes "Dubnobass…" special - as in unique - is the delicious introspection of Karl Hyde's words, which taunt each beat like articulate jackals, leading them into corners where they appear as silhouettes, spectral and alluring. How are the band going to carry this live? The chance is there to create something completely different.

Disappointingly, in the end Underworld evade the issue. They go back to basics. Sure, the harder tunes from the album - "Spoonman", "Tongue" and the single, "Rez", exhilarate with their elliptical basslines, quaking rhythms and elegant, highly-evolved melodic sensibilities. This is good techno. Very good. But it's not of a different order to what The Drum Club, Orbital or Spooky ritually achieve.

Where is the unsettling truth of "Dirty Epic", the strung-out menace of "Dark And Long", the organic subtlety of "Surfboy", or the wide-eyed eloquence of "Mmm … Skyscraper I Love You" (probably the best song title since Love's "Maybe The People Would Be Between The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale", incidentally)? Hyde, who bounces about engagingly onstage, rarely ventures toward the mic, and, when he does, his contributions are attenuated, crowded out by the technical mayhem around him. At points, I wonder if the critics purported to have reviewed the live show have actually been re-reviewing the album.

And we love the album. We're here, ready to be stretched, ready to have our preconceptions about dance music pulled apart and played with, ready to be hauled through the badlands skirting round the edges of "Dubnobass…",

Underworld could take us there, but tonight, they've chosen not to. Perhaps they don't trust us enough.

They should.

ANDREW SMITH