Thunder Thunder Lightning Ahead

This song seems perfectly placed to illustrate the flipside of this week’s heatwave and the truly spectacular lightning displays we’ve had, the rumbles of thunder and the sudden cracks directly overhead. Opening their 1994 album, dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld’s Dark And Long is a masterpiece of dub- techno, slowly building tension, ghostly backing vocals and Karl Hyde’s stream of consciousness/ overheard on the last train lyrics. The single came with various versions over the different formats. This one, remixed by JBO label boss Steve Hall, ins’t too different from the album mix.

Dark And Long Hall’s Mix

This one is a five minute ambient version, very pleasant, all bubbles, bleeps and whispers, and long drawn out synth sounds.

Dark And Long Most ‘Ospitable

I always thought the genius of Karl Hyde’s words was his ability to stitch together some very different ideas and lines. The opening lines ‘thunder thunder, lightning ahead/ now I kiss you dark and long’, repeated, set the song off in one direction and then he suddenly drops in this

“Me I’m just a waitress” she said
“I went and bought a new head” she said
“I look at you, I believe in you” she said
Screaming into the eye of the lens’
Later on we get a snatch of cockney, ‘what a laugh, you was done up there mate’, before the menace of ‘thunder thunder lightning ahead…’ comes back. A much under appreciated lyricist, especially in the setting of 90s dub- techno, made for dancing.

Isolation Mix Eight

An hour and five minutes of lockdown vibes and an attempt to lift the spirits and up the tempo a bit this week. This one is a global trawl of tunes taking in Dubwood Allstars and their splicing together of King Tubby, Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton, a classic 70s Lee Perry production from the Black Ark in Kingston, Jamaica, Moon Duo doing Black Sabbath in very laid back style, groove- based melodic noise from Scotland (Mogwai) and Norway (Mythologen), some funky 80s crossover dance pop from NYC, Natasha Khan and Toy as Sexwitch, Paris duo Acid Arab and South London’s Rude Audio, all on a Middle Eastern tip, and early 90s Balearic dub house majesty from Sheer Taft (Glasgow) and Underworld (Essex). Bank holiday weekend. Take it easy. Stay safe.

Dubwood Allstars: Under Dubwood

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Zap- Pow: Riverstone

Moon Duo: Planet Caravan

Mogwai: The Sun Smells Too Loud

Mythologen: Trust

Tom Tom Club: Wordy Rappinghood

Sexwitch: Ha Howa Ha Howa

Acid Arab: Club DZ

Rude Audio: Rumble On Arab Street

Sheer Taft: Cascades (Hypnotone Mix)

Underworld: M.E.

Random Selections From The Shelves

On Boxing Day night sitting in the room with all the records in it we played the game where someone pulls a record at random from the shelves and we play it. First to go was my daughter, who had already said she didn’t like what my brother- in- law were listening to when she came in- ‘it’s not music, it’s just noises’ (Richard Norris’ Abstractions Vol. 2). She was given the first go and pulled out St Etienne’s 1994 12″ single Pale Movie.

Pale Movie is off Tiger Bay, the sleeve with a tiger on both front and back. I photographed the tiger above at Port Lympne safari park in Kent a few years ago. I don’t think keeping tigers in cages is a good idea (apart from the obvious conservation arguments) but the tigers at Lympne had a lot of room and seeing one close up and hearing it roar was pretty exciting. I digress. We played the single version of Pale Movie from the choice of four mixes on the single. Pale Movie is classic mid- 90s St Etienne, equal parts Eurobeat, Spanish guitar and Sarah singing lyrics about a boy and girl (‘he is so dark and moody/she is the sunshine girl’). Pete, Bob and Sarah went to Nerja in Spain to shoot the video.

I went back to the 12″ afterwards to re- listen to the other three mixes, all of which were worth giving a spin. Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, the man who mixed the song (and Hug My Soul from Tiger Bay as well), did the Stentorian Dub, a straightforward but effective clubby remix- plenty to enjoy in it with its bleepy synths and chunky drums.

Pale Movie (Stentorian Dub)

The longest remix was ten minutes from Kris Needs in his Secret Knowledge guise. It starts with an extended intro which builds into the first of several peaks. The Secret Knowledge Trouser Assassin mix goes pretty trancey with pummelling drums and Sarah’s vocals dropped in along with the kitchen sink. Kris Needs was a master of this kind of thing in the mid 90s.

Pale Movie (Secret Knowledge Trouser Assassin Mix)

Finally a remix by Underworld (credited solely to Rick Smith), the Lemonentry Mix, one that clocks in at just over four minutes, very short for Underworld at the time. Rick worked on Tiger Bay too, mixing and programming Like A Motorway, Cool Kids Of Death and Urban Clearway. The Underworld remix of Cool Kids Of Death is one I’ll come back to when I do a follow up to the Underworld remixes post from a week or two ago. The Lemonentry Mix is a slowed down, dubby affair, darker and moodier than the rest, with Sara’s vocal intact.

Pale Movie (Lemonentry Mix)

Just to show how random the following selections from the shelves were my niece followed St Etienne with Gnod and a song from their Just Say No To The Psycho Right Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine album. We played the opening song, Bodies For Money, a glorious piece of feedback guitar led noise, every instrument recorded with the needle tipping into the red and Gnod raging against late period capitalism.

Mrs Swiss then pulled out a six track maxi- single The House Sound Of Chicago and as Gnod’s noise dissolved we had Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk’s 1986 song Love Can’t Turn Around, featuring the sublime vocals of Daryl Pandy, a song that was the first US house track to hit the UK charts. It still sounds huge, crashing pianos, 808s and 303s. Magical.

Love Can’t Turn Around

Fun for all the family as I’m sure you can see.

Never Get To Zion Without Jah Love

Bringing together several recent themes today I’m offering you some prime Underworld remixes from the mid 90s, a time when we could actually feel fairly optimistic about the world.

Underworld have been all over my stereo recently with the Drift Series 1 Sampler (posted at the weekend). In addition the 90s incarnation of Underworld (Hyde, Smith and Emerson) were at The Vinyl Villain fairy recently with their epic ten minute remix of Human Behaviour- a beat heavy, tribal techno delight, Bjork skipping into the night, called by the drums.

Dreadzone have made a career out of righteous dance- floor based sounds, dub, reggae, techno and progressive house mixed into a heady stew with some politics in there to shake it all up. In Zion Youth singer Earl 16 give the wrongdoers a simple message- heads up Tories…

‘You’ll never get to Zion without Jah love
Never reach that land you’re dreaming of
You must be good you must be careful
Live upright like you know you should…

…No evildoers will be there
No backstabbers will be there’

This remix is a ten minute long excursion- a looped keyboard part, Earl’s voice, some echoey, whooshing noises bouncing around and those trademark Underworld rhythms building up a head of steam. There’s a break down at eight minutes in and then it’s all back on the dub techno train to the fade.

Zion Youth (Underworld Mix)

I have pondered before about an Underworld remix album, a compilation of the cream of their 90s remixes, and am really surprised no one ever put one out, especially in the heyday of CDs when a double disc remix edition would have surely been a winner.

This one from 1993 would have made the cut, a thirteen minute rejigging of William Orbit’s Water From A Vine Leaf, a stomping chugger of the highest order. In among all the sonics there’s a magnificent piano riff that is worth the price of entry alone, a parping synth part, a nagging upper register synth riff that goes straight to the back of the brain, a snatch of Beth Orton’s vocal and a squiggly acid bassline that would cut straight through the dry ice- layers of sounds aimed at feet and the head.

Water From A Vine Leaf (Underwater Mix Part 1) 

Here’s the 1993 remix of Bjork, the 110 BPM version from the A-side of the 12″. On the flip was a faster one, the 125 BPM Dub, but to my mind this is the pick of the pair. The build up alone is longer (and better) than many songs. This sort of thing could pack a dance-floor tight in the early/mid 90s.

Human Behaviour (The Underworld Mix 110BPM)

This could run and run and I have posted some of these before- there are some heavy duty One Dove remixes, a pair of very techno Chemical Brothers bangers, a tasty remix of The Drum Club’s Sound System, a fifteen minute St Etienne remix, Orbital’s Lush and some outliers like Front 242 and Shakespeare’s Sister (neither of which it seems I own either digitally of physically).

From The Gutter To The Stars

In town yesterday among the hordes of Christmas shoppers and groups of young men in Christmas jumpers out for an all day session were a small but persistent group of Christians spreading goodwill and peace to all.

Underworld’s year long Drift project has seen them release a new song every Thursday starting in November 2018 and finishing last month. It seems to have reinvigorated them completely. They’ve released the entire thing, music and films, as a box set plus an easier to digest single CD/double vinyl album called Drift Series 1 Sampler. The fourteen songs that make up the sampler album are the best thing Underworld have done since whatever your last favourite Underworld album was. It is a brilliant, innovative and moving collection of songs that come together amazingly well, especially given the manner they were recorded in, on the hoof and freewheeling.

The song that closes the Drift Series 1 Sampler originally came out back in April and is an absolute beauty, a ten minute marriage of slight euphoria and melancholic regret. Custard Speedtalk opens with drums and there’s a synth part which is a bit Rez-y, capable of triggering all kinds of early 90s flashbacks and dewy eyed nostalgia before the bass buzzes its way in and the piano and happy sad keyboards take it up. At about two minutes forty someone says ‘this is good’ and a little later Karl starts singing, seemingly about a ex- lover who has gone but who he’s just seen somewhere with someone new and the pangs of regret that come with that. Strings and maybe a guitar come and go and the piano part becomes more insistent. Dreamy, layered music and a very internal vocal.

‘You don’t know what’s going on
But you’re not stupid
You refuse to change
You’re much more well rounded’

By the end it feels pretty uplifting, like you’ve been saved from something. God knows we could do with some of that right now.

The video is lovely as well, filmed from the windows of a train from night through to the early morning sun, rushing past railway stations, bridges, train yards, canals, cranes, office buildings, blocks of flats and allotments with other trains filmed in reflections, all in a sideways motion.

Monday’s Long Song

On 1st November 2018 Underworld decided to launch a year long project called Drift. They would create and publish music and film for a year, putting the results online every Thursday. fifty two episodes with no clear plan or destination, just the freedom of ‘let’s see what happens’ with the self imposed deadline to do it regularly and often. A bit like how I see blogging. Rick and Karl have just made the whole thing available digitally, a seven CD box set, a seventeen track Blu- Ray with the pick of the films and an eleven song sampler/best of. This one, Tree And Two Chairs, came out back in August, a thirteen minute glide with jazzy keyboards and a saxophone swirling around over a very Underworld rhythm, a sense of space and of floating.

Monday’s Long Song

Dark And Long is the still superb sounding dub-techno entry point to Underworld’s dubnobasswithmyheadman album. The 1994 single version of Dark And Long, across various formats, gave us a whole load of different versions including this one from the cd single- 215 Miles, a twenty minute excursion into synth pads and pulsing rhythms. Clear your diary and enjoy the ride.

215 Miles (Dark And Long)

Smoking On The Airplane

Iggy Pop and Underworld- I was unsure until I heard it. My initial reaction on reading about it was that the guest Iggy Pop vocal has become a cliche, his instantly recognisable voice a short cut to rock ‘n’ roll for others, some vicarious Stooginess. But this collaboration, a four track e.p. between Iggy and Underworld called Teatime Dub Encounters is great, recorded on the hoof in a hotel room between other projects. In this track, Bells And Circles, Iggy describes taking a gram of coke on an airplane in the 1970s while flying to New York, the loss of the stewardess’s phone number and resulting effects of the consumption, the loss of being able to smoke on aircraft and the state of liberal democracy. Rick Smith’s beats and techno rushes are as good as any he’s put together this decade and when Karl Hyde’s backing vocals come in it becomes extra exhilarating.

Nova, Nebulae, Aurora

Let’s start the week with something very long, hypnotic and uplifting. In 1992 this single by Lemon Interrupt (aka Underworld) came out on Junior Boys Own, Big Mouth on one side and Eclipse on the other. Eclipse is the pick of the two for me- thirteen minutes starting out with chugging beats, sweeping strings and a voice intoning ‘nova, nebulae, aurora’. As it unfolds the Underworld keyboard sound starts to phase in and it becomes progressively more acid, and progressively more absorbing. A bit like shooting through the Channel Tunnel but between planets. Thirteen minutes well spent.


Flow Like A River Of Bass Vibration

The Irwell again, above, photographed from the same bridge as yesterday but facing south rather than north.

River Of Bass is the opener to Side D of dubnobasswithmyheadman (or track 8 on cd), possibly the best album of the 1990s. River Of Bass glides into being, all fluid and loose with Karl’s vocals half whispered/half sung over the top, their most ambient track. Sub bass that entrances and mesmerises. Calming and reflective.

River Of Bass