Underworld
dubnobasswithmyheadman



Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Thirty thousand feet above the earth, it’s a beautiful thing...

The story of Underworld is for all intents and purposes the story of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith. Hyde met Smith in the late 1970s while the latter was in college studying electronics and co-opted him as a synthesizer player for local Cardiff-based post-punk/new wave band The Screen Gemz. The affair would be relatively short-lived though, with the two moving on to form Freur in 1982, a synthpop/new wave band whose 1983 single “Doot-Doot” achieved moderate success. Following the release of two studio albums the group disbanded in 1986, and reformed as Underworld, named after the horror film that Freur had scored. The late 80s saw another two studio albums under this name and lineup, continuing in a similar vein to their previous band, albeit a bit more dance-oriented and funk-influenced.

In 1989, the group experienced dissatisfaction with their musical careers following a tour in North America supporting Eurythmics. Between a creative rut and financial issues, a break was in order. Hyde would remain in the United States, while Smith would return to the UK and develop a growing interest in the burgeoning clubbing scene. After relocating to Romford, Essex and setting up a home production studio geared specifically towards electronic music, he met a young up-and-coming local DJ in Darren Emerson, who helped him delve deeper into the dance and club styles emerging at the time. Hyde’s return to the UK saw the reforming of Underworld with the co-option of Emerson who would serve as its third pillar between 1991 and 2001. The trio would tackle the creative endeavour once more, with a fresh perspective and a fresh sound, releasing a number of remixes as Steppin’ Razor and a couple of original singles under the moniker Lemon Interupt, experimenting and iterating on the formula that would eventually give birth to Dubnobasswithmyheadman in 1994. Success and acclaim would follow thereafter, including a lucrative partnership with film director Danny Boyle and even the 2012 London Summer Olympics, not to mention influencing countless producers and even video game composers.

The point of this preamble was not merely to serve as a history lesson of sorts for the curious; it is important to understand and contextualise that Hyde and Smith were not doe-eyed youths eager to take on the club scene, they were veteran musicians from an older generation, who’d been active in the post-punk-derived UK scene, and this would inform their breakthrough material. For starters, despite unabashedly being a dance album, Dubnobass is extremely varied and refreshing. You would be hard pressed to peg it into a singular subgenre of electronic; one can argue it’s Trance as much as it is (Progressive) House and as much as it is Techno. Tongue and River of Bass are moody ambient pieces making use of guitar, while spacy closer M.E. would not sound out of place on a record by The Chemical Brothers.

One of the album’s most unique features is its prominent use of vocals. While it’s far from unusual for electronic dance music to feature either sampled vocals or session singers, here we have the producers themselves stepping up to the task, with Hyde taking the lead and Smith backing him up. This gives the album a more personal and intimate feel, making it more accessible even for listeners who might otherwise find club music cold or inexpressive. Moreover, their delivery is just as varied as the rest of the music: hypnotic during Dark & Long and Spoonman, passionate during the climaxes of Mm… Skyscraper and Dirty Epic, vaguely brooding on River of Bass, comforting on M.E. and mostly ethereal throughout. Hyde also provides the lyrics - a surreal stream of consciousness flowing from sensual to moody to bizarre in order to fit the music - mostly written during his stay in the US, and reportedly inspired by Charles Bukowski as well as Lou Reed’s New York.

Smith and Hyde have noted in various interviews over the years that they grew up with quite the eclectic musical selection, from expected influences such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, to Can, Neu!, Soft Machine, Faust, Talk Talk and even Hawkwind. While most of them are not overtly evident in Underworld’s sound, some parallels can certainly be drawn in terms of composition. Especially obvious is the penchant for longer tracks, that build upon a relatively simple core and hypnotise the listener while continuously adding layer upon layer on top. It’s repetitive enough to be suited to the dance floor, but at the same time each track subtly evolves and develops naturally, entrancing listeners in a way not unlike the German music of the 70s. With care and fine attention to detail you have basslines, synths, vocals and even the occasional guitar coming and going at just the right times, while tracks such as Mm… Skyscraper and especially Surfboy display a notable complexity in percussion compared to most electronic music. Also notable is the atmosphere and sparseness on Tongue which perhaps bear some resemblance to early British post-rock.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman is not only ahead of its time in many ways, but it’s so obviously brimming with passion, creativity, skill, ambition and a broad range of influences. It’s so varied, yet so consistent in quality. It straddles the line between various different styles, shifting gears effortlessly between moods, and somehow remains a cohesive monolith of fantastic electronic music that can appeal to those looking for something more stimulating just as well as it appeals to club-goers and just as well as it appeals to more casual non-dancing listeners. A timeless, peerless record yet to be surpassed, having shown the world everything, everything that electronic dance music can be and should aspire to be.



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user ratings (271)
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

at long last...



shoutout to ghandhilion for helping speed up the research process



small note: i didnt bring up emerson much in the review because he's not a credited writer on most of the tracks and, with all due respect, my personal takeaway from the research ive done is that he was more of a catalyst to introducing the duo to club music, than much of a driving force in his own right. that seems supported by the fact that theyve done alright without him for another couple decades and counting so...

Digging: Slauter Xstroyes - Free the Beast

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

also, the lemon interupt single dirty/minneapolis is kind of a demo for this album in some ways



both of them are worth trying tho imo

Sinternet
October 12th 2020


23423 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

excellent review park bro album rules face



also one of those albums were the massive super deluxe version is well worth it, some awesome bsides and remixes there



funny i saw this actually just as i was listening to nylon strung off barbara barbara, also a huge tune

Digging: Shygirl - ALIAS

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i actually never got around to that one

Sinternet
October 12th 2020


23423 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

if you like their more synthpop-oriented stuff i'd really recommend, its an absolutely beautiful record

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

the early stuff? i dont mind it but its not exactly very exciting



that said i plan on going through their entire discog again soon so barbara's on the table



their lemon interupt stuff needs more ratings, as does born slippy

ian b
October 12th 2020


973 Comments


dont know if i'd dig necessarily, but you sold me on it anyways!

Shadowmire
October 12th 2020


6491 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

amazin' review!

record is really good, check it!

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

ty :]

MiloRuggles
Contributing Reviewer
October 12th 2020


896 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

He's actually gone and done it! Good shit park. You were the only person for the job as far as I'm concerned, and you've nailed it.

Album should be heard many times by anybody with an interest in electronic. Such good shit

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

cheers milo :]

Evok
October 12th 2020


8286 Comments


Sweeeet review!!!

Digging: Ninze and Okaxy - Blurry Mind

trilo
October 12th 2020


3546 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

ohhh yeuessssssss

Digging: Torrential Downpour - TwentyTwentyTwenty

JustJoe.
October 12th 2020


9948 Comments


nice work park

TheSpaceMan
October 12th 2020


13043 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nice, this needed a review

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
October 12th 2020


3515 Comments


Very nice park. Will listen today.

brainmelter
October 12th 2020


7188 Comments


wow this didn’t have a review? poz

Digging: Plague Rider - Rhizome

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

cheers everyone :]

Trifolium
October 12th 2020


19983 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Ooooooooooooh my hero!!!!!!! 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖😍



My fave album, and to me the biggest one that wasn't reviewed yet. Thanks so much park!

parksungjoon
October 12th 2020


23045 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yea its a good album



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