Review Summary: A pity that they have already used the title Everything Everything because that would be very fitting here.
30 years is a long time in music. This is even more true for the electronic music scene, which is shapeshifting at breakneck speed, introducing new genres left and right. The fact that Underworld have remained relevant from their very first steps in techno with 1993’s classic dubnobasswithmyheadman
right up to now is nothing short of incredible. One could even argue that they are more vital and energetic in 2019 than ever before. Their recent DRIFT project shows clearly why.
The idea was clear from the get go. Underworld would spend a year releasing music for free on a weekly basis. This meant that every Thursday, a track with accompanying video would be made available as a free download on their website and through streaming services like YouTube and Spotify. It wasn’t the first time they opted to release music for free digitally, they did this as early as 2005-06 with their Riverrun project. However, they never did it on this scale. After one year of DRIFT, from November 1st 2018 to September 12th 2019, they released a whopping 38 tracks, divided in 5 Episodes. According to the band, this meant that by the end of DRIFT Series 1, ‘’more new music and film will have been released […] in its one-year duration than in the last fifteen years.‘’
This ridiculous output rate could have easily meant that the world would be engulfed by a massive wave of mediocre Underworld ditties that would end up as forgettable as their synth-pop soaked first two records. Everyone Everyone would shrug their shoulders and put on Rez/Cowgirl to wash away the disappointment. Amazingly enough, this didn’t happen. DRIFT enabled the band to do whatever they felt like, without thinking about pacing, album length, commercial performance, and other barriers inherent to a normal release schedule. Through DRIFT, Karl and Rick could flex their 60-odd year old creative muscles and show what Underworld could stand for in 2018-19.
They ‘’… set off with no map, no fixed destination and a simple mantra, Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust
’’. Throughout the project’s 4 hours, 59 minutes and 53 seconds worth of material we get to see Underworld go everywhere. Of course we still get Rick’s clear ear for introspective moods and perfect techno beats, and Karl’s stream of consciousness lyrics and iconic vocal delivery are omnipresent. However, they haven’t gone for something as openly clubby as Mile Bush Pride (Ep. 5) since Dinosaur Adventure 3D dropped 17 years ago. Only a few tracks later the jazzy backbeat of Three And Two Chairs (Ep. 5) with its comforting atmosphere forms a jarring contrast. They even give us a Miles Davis
inspired moment by means of the applicably titled A Very Silent Way (Ep. 1). Everything truly is possible here.
Many of the project’s most successful moments come from collaborations. These include different artists, for instance with Australian jazz trance group The Necks
(Appleshine Continuum, Ep. 2), clocking in at over 45 minutes of groovy, organic techno with a jazzy rhythm and freeform organ soloing. This sounds crazy, but it is a project highlight for sure. Japanese noise-rocker Ichirou Agata of Melt-Banana
fame and Lewis and Georgia from Black Country, New Road
add their mournful saxophone notes, alien guitar musings and violin playing to the mix to great effect (Altitude Dub, Ep. 4). Techno mastermind Ø (Phase)
is featured on two DRIFT tracks, a Born Slippy-eat your heart out stomper (Give Me The Room, Ep. 5) and a deep, dark and intense midnight anthem (Border Country, Ep. 4).
Is all of it good? No, of course not. The pressure of the project’s weekly release schedule can be felt every now and then, by means of an idea that, although cool, wasn’t fully fleshed out (Hundred Weight Hammer, Ep. 4) or a track that didn’t quite work (Doris, Ep. 4). However, these disappointing entries are few and far between. The project has been so successful that Rick and Karl decided to extend it for another year. What we now have is an outstanding achievement of two electronic music veterans in their 60s pushing out brilliant tracks at a rate that would even impress King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Let DRIFT Series 2 commence!
A QUICK NOTE ON THE DIFFERENT VERSIONS:
DRIFT Series 1 is physically released in its entirety, spread out over a whopping 7 CD box set, a Blu-ray and an eighty page full colour book. A DRIFT Series 1 Sample edition is also released, reducing the total length of 5 hours to just under an hour of highlights. Our Beloved Sput shows the sampler edition under LPs (this version), and the 7 CD Box set as compilation, but one could argue it’s the other way around. Since this review discusses the project in general, it is applicable to both versions.