British dance music is undergoing something of a renaissance, especially when you consider many of the broadsheets declared it a dying breed several years back. Many of the big names of the 1990s continue to push their music forwards, with even Leftfield and Orbital returning to the live environment.
Underworld, you’ll have noticed, have never been away. For sure their form has dipped with the best of them, but as a live act they have always been an irresistible proposition – and this show at the Forum found them to be in extremely rude health.
New album Barking, their eighth, is one of the principal reasons behind their return to former glories. Despite being panned by some diehard fans, who it seems will never accept the band again until Darren Emerson returns, it is a record brimming with invention, not just from Underworld but from several of their peers.
It is also shot through with a Balearic climate, meaning that tracks such as 1 Bird, written with Dubfire, work well as the Forum bathes in a warm glow. The singles Scribble and Always Loved A Film work well too, with the seemingly ageless Karl Hyde exhorting the front rows of dancers to greater feats of athleticism, himself bouncing across the stage as if fired from a catapult.
Despite the charms of the new record, however, it is inevitably the established classics that bring the house down. The timeless Dark & Long delivers the first prolonged shot of goose bumps, the lights throbbing softly with the full bodied synth chords, before cutting straight into a joyous Two Months Off, with what sounds like a peal of church bells falling from somewhere near the roof.
Rez/Cowgirl and Born Slippy are both immense pieces of work, Hyde silhouetted for the first in front of a giant screen as he bellows “I’M INVISIBLE!”, while King Of Snake should perhaps be renamed King Of Smoke’, the accompanying cloud from the machine enough to do justice to an active Icelandic volcano. Pearl’s Girl and Moaner wrap things up, once again showing the Underworld talent for stretching their material to seemingly timeless dimensions, the driving kick drum running for ten, maybe twelve minutes before those wonderfully spacious chords impose themselves again.
With a dazzling light show, more of that smoke and a baying audience, this is an emphatically successful homecoming, the Forum pulsating to the Essex duo’s very special brand of dance music. On this evidence, at the tender age of 53, Karl Hyde and his gang are still having it. Large.
Underworld played: Downpipe, Always Loved A Film, Dark & Long, Two Months Off, Scribble, Bird1, Rez/Cowgirl, Between Stars, Diamond Jigsaw, King Of Snake, Born Slippy/Nuxx, Pearls Girl, Moaner