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March 28, 2008 / Brittany Hendrick

You bring light inyou bring light inyou bring light in/fantastic fan\rocking rocking, floating

Tonight marks the most momentously monumental night that’s been in the making for the past 12 years of my life.

One of my top 5 favorite bands, Underworld, is performing in Atlanta tonight.

The band has never played Atlanta before.  Not the techno incarnation of the band, anyway.  My excitement is barely containable.

I have John Peel– not Trainspotting— to thank for introducing me to Underworld.  When I was in high school, WRAS, when the station also was good, used to air some syndicated John Peel program.  I think it came on Friday afternoons and re-aired Saturday mornings.  I believe it was only 30 minutes long– not long enough.  Peel packed in a lot of great music, yet I remember very little of it (Pan*sonic, Lattimore, ???).  But Underworld stuck, and was the only group I took with me from those syndicated programs.


Underworld was played on more than one show, so I can’t remember exactly which song I heard first.  I am 99% sure it was “Rowla,” off the album Second Toughest in the Infants.  I can hear the song over radio airwaves vs. CD, crescendos, decrescendos, arpeggios… I can hear Peel saying the song title… If it wasn’t that, it was “Pearl’s Girl.”  I wish I could find playlists.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because whichever song I heard, I immediately bought the CD that partly scored my final year of high school well into the summer that followed.

But Underworld wasn’t always the techno band that we know and love, though.  They sounded NOTHING LIKE what they are today.  See, Underworld used to suck.  Everyone knows it.  This was before they recruited “the kid…”

As they say, Underworld MK 1, was the core Karl Hyde and Rick Smith.  A typical, cheesy, poppy ’80s band that put out two crap-ass albums called Underneath the Radar and Change the Weather.  Before that, they were known as Freur, equally cheesy but managed a minor hit song called “Doot Doot.”  Oh, it is embarrassingly terrible stuff, all of it.  It’s unlistenable.

You know how it’s kind of neat to delve into some of your favorite bands’ genealogy and discover the music that came before, so you can hear the progression of what came after, so you can hear elements that bubbled early and surfaced later.  Yeah, you can’t do that with Underworld.

Do not– I repeat– DO NOT buy Underneath the Radar or Change the Weather.  Hyde and Smith would personally tell you the same thing, I’m sure.  If you’re brave, search for old Underworld and Freur videos on YouTube.  But don’t do it if you value your life.

Someone re-energized Underworld, though.  A young DJ, “the kid,” Darren Emerson.  Underworld MK 2 was born in one word: Dubnobasswithmyheadman.  This was Underworld’s future.  This worked.


Sadly, Emerson left the band after Beaucoup Fish. He went on to be a solo superstar DJ, Ibiza, Global Underground, stuff like that. Underworld continued as a duo.  Their first release as a techno band, without Emerson, 100 Days Off, was much more subdued, dirgey, sad.  The best I can describe it is “mournful.”  Underworld’s latest album, Oblivion With Bells, is even more depressing.

Emerson’s loss can be felt in the music; it’s evident.  While the album is not horrible by any means, I can hear the absence of Emerson’s input and influence.  The skeletons/beats foundations of the songs are different from those on which he worked.  The “mentalness” of some songs on 100 Days Off never fully reach their climax; they get close, but there isn’t anything like “Moaner” or “King of Snake”  or “Pearl’s Girl.”  Nothing that makes me want to go out of my mind.  Nothing that makes me feel like the guy in that Maxell T.V. commercial (if you remember it).  Maybe Hyde and Smith needed Emerson?  Or maybe they just missed him dearly.


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