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.
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and secretly meeting other people that like toast, the moon has suddenly become a grill and every building on earth has been replaced by a perfectly smoking slice of Hovis.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
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