Jul 31, 2012

Mmm Underworld, the world loves you

The Olympic opening ceremony bandwagon has not only bolted, it has sprouted jet engines and shot off to the dark side of the moon. But I have to talk about it for one reason and one reason alone. 

Lemon Interupt.

This was a little-known house music act that shared a label with Terry Farley and Ashley Beedle in the early 1990s. The playful repeating harmonica on Big Mouth was a style later appropriated by the likes of The Grid and, yeesh, the Rednex.

More importantly, they were better known as Underworld, whose music lent so much energy to the rising chimneys and flaming flutes of Friday night's telly.

Underworld expressed the 90's fractured postmodernism better than Zoo TV or grunge, with Edward Lear-style blethering spilling out of their music and, through Tomato, their design aesthetic.

Their third album dubnobasswithmyheadman gave us the bold epics Mmm Skyscraper I Love You, with its visions of Elvis, fat Jesus and whipped cream, and Dark & Long which you heard in the opening ceremony. Yes, I said third album. Their first two were synth pop efforts for Sire and are for purists only.

By the time they were shouting "lager, lager" - actually not one of their strongest tracks - many dance-heads could claim Underworld as part of their musical DNA. As part of their emotional DNA. We had the MTV-baiting slo-mo of Push Upstairs, their immense anthem Rez, and soundtracks for Anthony Minghella, Danny Boyle and the Royal National Theatre.

Given all this history, when I tuned into BBC iPlayer with "I AM CYNICAL" already written in vinegar on my computer screen, I wasn't quite expecting the Underworld feast that followed. Always Loved A Film, Moon In Water, Dirty Epic, Crocodile... even their immense pieces And I Will Kiss and Caliban's Dream nicked bits from other Underworld tracks. That lead to the flame being lit with a synth line ripped from Two Months Off.

It was unbelievable. Let's say your favourite food is toast, but no-one else knows about toast so it feels like your little secret. You know that by applying heat to bread, it goes brown and crunchy, but you want everyone else just to carry on enjoying their floppy, disappointing room-temperature Tesco's finest loaves. Then after 20 years of loving toast and secretly meeting other people that like toast, the moon has suddenly become a grill and every building on earth has been replaced by a perfectly smoking slice of Hovis. The population is amazed as they dance through the streets with giant butter knives shouting "toast! toast! toast! we like it the most! most! most!". Children skip through fountains of crispy crumbs before scuttling off to dark alleyways to sniff marmalade. Toast is the thing. Uneaten sandwiches spill out of overflowing bins, landfill sites double in height with slices of gravy-soaked bread, and although the white / brown / wholemeal / Mighty White war breaks out in the Middle East, the future is toast. The world is enjoying your little secret.

I agree that the Olympic opening ceremony was a worthless diatribe of propaganda for evil things like the NHS, multiculturalism, pop music, lesbians, industry, sheep and people dancing in top hats. How can we not hate all of those things? But everyone who watched it got a lesson in Underworld. And, for that matter, their collaborator High Contrast.

In 40 years time, one of the surviving members of Underworld, all wrinkles and no reputation, will be dragged on stage at royal jubilees and sports ceremonies to perform out-of-tune versions of fading classics. While the other one narrates Thomas the Tank Engine. Meanwhile, I dedicate this 650th blog post to one of my favourite bands come good. 650 is the rate at which Underworld resonate. It's measured in herts or gammas or--


Oh very funny. We've got the Rednex for the closing ceremony, right?

Further Fats: Chosen Words - U is for Underworld

Jul 27, 2012

Hounds Of Hulme: T_CHN_L_GY preview

They say music journalists are failed musicians, which suggests releasing an album may not be not such a good idea.

Then again, 50 'Thirty One Pounds And Eighty Six Pence At Current Exchange Rates' Cent said "I love you like a fat kid loves cake" which suggests to me all music journalists are failed cakes and I should go ahead and stick an album in the oven anyway.

On Friday August 3, the Hounds Of Hulme will release T_CHN_L_GY, which is months of me fiddling about with a very limited range of recording gear with an imaginary horse at my side. (See the list of band members on the site.) What's more, it will be utterly free to download or stream.

Here, dear reader, is a quick guide to what's on it. Hey, it's what the NME would do.

1 Strung Out - a bunch of psychotic people spiral aimlessly over music you may recognise from my 50 Shades Of Grey parody A Facial Sonata.

2 Reverse The Line - a steady builder of techno scrumminess with slightly sinister overtones.

3 FM Drop - an acid house tribute to old radio frequencies.

4 Don't Ask Me - sample-drenched old-school retro work-out.

5 Decade - de-tuned rave attack with choppy synths and a bleepy lead.

6 Acid Minors - a sweet acid-pop track with a deliberately formulaic pop structure.

7 Unsure - lyrics break apart over busy house music while Blurry Squirrel's harmonica meets a mysterious vocalist called Johnny Mobius

8 Hurtlovedandlost - a "diode-distressing" remix of No Ceremony's Hurtlove.

9 Rise of the Dead Robots - a seven-minute paeon to the machines, a 4/4 juggernaut (or at least, a well-serviced transit van).

10 Voiceinstruktion - short and sweet techno pop imploring you for a rewind. No retro stone is unturned.

11 Siren - simple arpeggios. Don't forget to take some cocktail-stick cheese and pineapple on your way out.

Jul 26, 2012

Tick tick tick tick bleep

Electronic is out today. That means it's time to rattle the windows of WHSmith until they let you slither across their floor to drool on their magazines.

The above photo shows my column header in all its papery glory. The inset photograph on the right, with the tick, shows the magazine in the largest WHSmith in Manchester. The other photo, with the cross, shows the magazine my local newsagent mistakenly ordered in. It's about circuitry.

Please buy the magazine about circuitry. I feel awfully bad they've bought it in. Two copies and all. I would spend my money but the last time I connected a circuit board, Pluto downgraded from being a planet. If I tried again, the moon could become a pebble and all the werewolves will die.

Oh and you should buy Electronic mag too, I suppose. Heh. I was having a leaf through today and it's so refreshing to have a magazine that seems to be aimed at me and my bleepy world, from Kraftwerk to Carl Craig, from A Guy Called Gerald to Underworld. Other dance music magazines seem so caught up in club culture, they can be a bit like having Zane Lowe implants in your brain.

I mean, Electronic even has a general section called 'Scanner' which sent a slightly irrelevant frisson of Spore-related nostalgia up my spine tubes. Seriously, if your newsagent hasn't got this magazine in, ask them for it.

Last month an author. This week a columnist. Next week, I release an album. Tick, tick, tick - and only the occasional cross.

Further Fats: Hounds Of Hulme website

Jul 10, 2012

Fat Roland Bangs On... as an Electronic columnist

Music was invented in 1942 when Aphex Twin made didgeridoos out of energy and all the other musicians looked blank as they continued hitting rocks with sticks.

Since then, Yazz got to number one and therefore created an inherent song title irony at the highest position in the charts, Men At Work invented the Village People, and Leonard Cohen won the X Factor.

This is the kind of keen music knowledge that has won me a new gig: I am now a columnist.

'Columnist' sounds like a put-down for people who worship pillars, but for those people too modern to appreciate opinion pieces beyond Kim Kardashian telling Twitter that she's watching herself on telly, a columnist is someone who puts words in a publication for people to read. Like Melanie Phillips or Matthew Parris or Marjorie Proops or anyone with the initials MP.

The magazine twisted enough to publish my rants is the all-new Electronic, a publication for bleepy music fans by the kings of print Future Publishing. The first edition (buy it here) puts Underworld, Human League and the whole of Detroit techno under the spotlight... and it also has my column, called Fat Roland Bangs On.

I am so excited about this, I am dribbling from every orifice. I've bought Future publications for years - in fact, I'm tapping these very keys just yards from dozens of back issues of Future Music. Which may be handy for mopping if my excitement gets too much. Electronic is less techy: no dull gear reviews, just lots of passion about great bands.

What am I banging on about in my debut Bangs On? You'll have to buy the mag when it comes out on July 20. Like the Facebook page for more. Those with a keen eye may spot my trails of wordsludge elsewhere in the magazine... but I'll leave you to figure that out for yourself.

Here's to issue one of Electronic! Bleeps away!

Further Fats: Best electronica of 2011