Apr 18, 2024

Underworld bring light in at Aviva Studios / Factory International

Thirty years after the release of their classic album Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld very much bassed with our head man with two spectacular shows at the weekend. 

The venue was Aviva Studios at Factory International, a triangle-decked super venue on the banks of the River Irwell in Manchester. With the seating pulled out, its main gig space has all of the warehouse vibes you'd hope for an old rave band.

Not that the audience was old. I was expecting to be surrounded by a creaking crowd of ancient clubbers, throwing our zimmer frames up in the air like we just didn't care. But it was surprisingly youthful: a testament to a band that has retained its relevance through Danny Boyle soundtracks, opening Olympic ceremonies and a bunch of fancy National Theatre gubbins.

Their lengthy discography was laid out in big fat bass spasms, from the early Dubnobass stompers to the Aphexian oversharing of 2019's massive Drift series. For the old stuff, Dirty Epic lived up to its name, and King of Snake was as poisonous as ever. Their new stuff was well represented: denver luna sounded beautiful live, and the Detroit-dappled Fen Violet seemed laser-targeted for a Manchester rave.

Karl Hyde chose to remain static in the first half, before going full Tasmanian Devil in the second section of the show. Every smiling mouth-beam of that guy is the personification of the refrain from Two Months Off: "you bring light in, you bring light in...". Oh and Rick Smith was there too. Poor Rick. Bogged down with controlling all of that electronic gear while his wayward disco brother goes ham left right and centre. I hope Rick comes off stage at the end and has a little boogie to himself, as a treat.

Shout out to my gig buddy Ros, who came to the gig as a fan of their soundtrack work and went away a bona-fide Underworld club veteran. We have now nicknamed ourselves the Strawberry Jam Girls, after an Underworld lyric. Big up to the lone guy in the "Dark Train" top who seemed lost in a special kind of bliss. And doff of the hat to White T-Shirt Guy next to me who was well up for hugs and yippees.

Here are those two sets in full. Yes, two sets. There was an interval, like we were at a Gilbert and Sullivan opera or something. Below that is a video of Two Months Off, which sees Underworld doused in sunshine, and captures perfectly the insane dynamics after the four-minute mark.

Low Burn  |  Nylon Strung  |  Trim  |  Dirty Epic  |  Soniamode (Aditya Game Version)  |  Kittens  |  Mmm... Skyscraper, I Love You  |  Juanita 2022  |  Tin There

Jumbo  |  denver luna  |  S T A R  |  Pearl's Girl  |  Dark & Long (Dark Train)  |  Two Months Off  |  Rez / Cowgirl  |  and the colour red  |  Border Country  |  Fen Violet  |  King of Snake  |  Born Slippy NUXX

Further Fats: Mmm Underworld, the world loves you (2012)

Apr 16, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Babylon Zoo comes along and ruins everything

The competition to discover the ultimate 1990s number one single continues. There have been numerous episodes of this series so far, and there are plenty more to come. 206 number one singles to judge in all: one for every bone in the human body.

Let's take a look at the latest collection of bones-- er, I mean, number one singles.

The contenders

Babylon Zoo: Spaceman  |  Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On  |  Cliff Richard: Saviour's Day  |  Jason Donovan: Any Dream Will Do  |  Mariah Carey: Without You  |  Melanie B featuring Missy Elliott: I Want You Back  |  Olive: You're Not Alone  |  The Prodigy: Breathe  |  Shaggy: Oh Carolina  |  Usher: You Make Me Wanna..

Giving me a haddock

Splice the mainbrace, whatever that is. Let's get rid of my least favourite songs from this batch.

Celine Dion's Titanic warble made me wish I was clinging onto a door in the icy waters of the Atlantic ocean. Pop me in a dingy and plug my ears with haddock: anything to avoid Dion's watery cheese. I have similar feelings about Mariah Carey's Without You, although I have fewer nautical metaphors for that one.

I'm not sure what's more wholesome: Cliff Richard's seasonal tribute to Jesus H Christ, or Jason Donovan's eulogy to a dreamy bible bloke in a gaudy anorak. Either way, the result is the same. Both of these saintly songs make me want to commit acts so heinous, I'd be destined straight for hell. Jumping the queue at Gregg's, popping paper in the bottle bin, still referring to X posts as tweets, that sort of thing.

Beep beep

"How can you beep beep with no keys?" mused Missy Elliott on Melanie B's I Want You Back. Deep philosophy for a track so light on melody. At least Usher's offering had a memorable melody, despite its dubious subject matter of fancying your girlfriend's best mate. Come on, Ush, mate, keep it in your trousers, at least until the end of this blog post.

Oh Carolina was a cover of an old ska hit that Shaggy used to sing rude words to^ when he was a kid. I remember its repetition being a bit annoying when it came out, although it introduced us to a genuine pop superstar. Still... not as annoying as THAT moment when we all realised that, instead of being a falsetto space jam, Babylon Zoo's chart-topper was a miserable dirge that felt like it had been scraped from the netherwheres of someone's grungey underpants. The record label sent me the Babylon Zoo album. It was all awful.

This leaves us with two top tier tracks. Firstly, it's Olive with a track co-written by a bloke from Nightmares On Wax and some fella from Simply Red. Singer Ruth-Ann Boyle went on to feature on several albums by techno-monks Enigma. Best of all, this remains a rare example of a drum 'n' bass track topping the UK charts, and it deserves to go through to this competition's final on that basis alone.

Aaaaargh. Sorry. Just having a Babylon Zoo flashback.

Meanwhile, the Prodigy's Breathe cemented their reputation as one of the biggest break-through dance acts of the decade. A second number one single for them, smashing into the top spot after just one week of record sales. It's probably the coolest track to sample a Thin Lizzy drum beat. Of course this goes through to the final. 

Aaaaaaaaargh! Seriously, I think I have BabZoo reflux. Someone call a vet.

More of the Ultimate 90s numbaaaaaaaargh one