Underworld: Dubnobasswithmyheadman Live – A Reflection

Art & Culture

The main thing that made Underworld' third (or Underworld Mk II’s debut) album, the seminal “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” is its inclusivity. There was something for all, the influences of dub, techno, trance, rock, house, ambient run through the album’s nine tracks, the tracks of which have melted into so many sub-genres of electronic music that have cropped up since. Rock acts performing and electronic acts was a new thing back then, now everyone’s at it, it started here.


This gig, put on to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album is a cause for celebration and that's exactly what the audience do, throughout. The venue, not familiar with furious arm jacking and hard 125 bpm techno-pop manage the audience just right. Being a seated venue, the expectation was one of stressed out officious staff trying to get Double Drop Dave to sit down to “Rez”, this simply just wasn't going to happen, the audience made it clear from the outset that the seat was just there to put their jacket on. Credit to the staff, if this was upstairs at The Brixton Academy or The O2 it'd be totally different and the dancing in the aisles would certainly not be on. 

The stage set up is minimal, Rick Smith surrounded by banks of machinery whilst Karl Hyde is stood by a lyric sheet holder and a couple of guitars. Behind them a large black screen which, using the same typography as on the “dubnobass” cover spits out gobbledegook phrases behind them.

The screen works really well as it provides a blank canvas for Hyde’s stream of cut and pasted phrases. During a ferocious “Spoonman”, the repeated phrase of “Into the blood” is splashed multiple times over the screen as red lights hits the fog of dry ice, it’s a masterful moment and highlight. There’s no let up during the gig, apart from the ambient /acoustic number “Tongue” which sets off a mass exodus to the bar so the beers are in before they kick into “Cowgirl”. That track, alongside “Rez” are, of course, the moment that the audience’s collective shit is lost. Seriously, there’s literally nobody sat down in the entire venue throughout, aside from the predictable I Phone bores uploading multiple pictures to Twitter and experiencing the gig through their screens, while boasting to friends online, bring back 1994.

The tracks aren't dissimilar to the album versions, just the beats are punchier, more robust and although the venue’s sound is a fraction of the volume at a regular Underworld gig, it suits the complexity of the material perfectly. They follow the album set with a bunch of tracks from the era, the aforementioned “Rez”, the harmonica wailing “Big Mouth” (recorded as Lemon Interrupt),  and a triumphant run through “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” can't stop a band pushing 60 making the audience theirs in every possible way. The fact they blew the equipment towards the end, and how Smith cued up the “Dark Train” version of “Dark And Long” at the beginning of the set only adds a rough edge to their endless charm, a triumph.

And what's great about the celebration is that 2016 sees the 20th anniversary of “Second Toughest In The Infants”, an album just as good. But tonight is all about “Dubnobasswithmyheadman”, they tour the album next year, you'd be a fool to miss out.


Photos by Victor Frankowski