Camden Roundhouse, London
24th March 2016
Last weekend Underworld were on the London leg of a tour to promote acclaimed new album Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future. Paul Grace was there to see them deliver a stadium sized show in Camden’s intimate Roundhouse.
Going to see art-rock-techno heavyweights Underworld perform is a bit like visiting an old friend who you haven’t seen in a long time: it’s exciting and comforting in equal measures, and you just know you’re going to have a great night.
The warm up DJ is building the atmosphere nicely as I arrive and there’s already a heady mood of excitement as the room fills with dry ice. The floor is literally heaving as a smiley Karl Hyde & Rick Smith take to the stage for the first of their 2 sell out shows at the Roundhouse.
Smith these days looks perhaps more like an accountant than techno raver in grown up attire and specs while Hyde, clearly the more Peter Pan of the 2, is a visual reminder of 90’s punk-rave culture with his bleached blond hair and stripy jumper.
Underworld kick off with the new album’s opening track, “I Exhale” and the booming 4/4 beats and sweeping chords engulf the room. Hyde’s vocal rap chatter offers urban anecdotes and lyrical instructions while Smith tinkers away at the keyboards like a professor working fastidiously on his next formula. They may be in their 50’s now but their energy is both relentless and infectious – when Hyde’s not singing he’s bouncing around the stage like a kid rushing on a sugar hit.
A staccato bass-line indicates the start of “Dark & Long (Dark Train)” and sends the crowd (myself included!) into a frenzy, and peaking during its anthemic breakdown when every arm in the room reaches for the ceiling.
It’s full on sensory overload with a production as big as their sound. Multi-angle live feeds of the duo are projected onto a super-wide screen at the rear of the stage and spliced over the titles of the tracks they are performing. Sporadic shafts of light cut across the Roundhouse void creating a stadium rock atmosphere but with a classy air of sophistication rather than cheese.
Then halfway through a banging “King Of Snake” the house lights suddenly come on. I initially think its part of the show and that they’re trying to create an old school rave vibe (hey it kinda works!) but a couple of minutes later the music is cut. We’re all told that the Roundhouse is to be immediately evacuated due to a security alert so everyone reluctantly leaves and stands outside in the rain while the issue is sorted. It transpires it’s a false fire alert so 10 minutes later we file back in. As Underworld are getting ready to start up again I speak to a clubber who enthusiastically informs me that he was at the Royal Albert Hall Hacienda Classical show last night which was “amazing but this is f**king mind-blowing!”.
And without further ado Underworld reignite the rave machine and get back to it. “Low Burn” is progressive and dreamy while “Rowla” is an intense flashback to the hedonistic techno parties of yesteryear.
A riotous “Rez” and “Cowgirl” bring the main set to a close and despite now running quite late due to the security alert, Underworld return with “Born Slippy” as the encore. A predicable track to finish with perhaps but why the hell not when it’s the song that was the soundtrack to pretty much everyone’s late 1990’s.
To say the boys smashed it tonight would be an understatement. They owned the Roundhouse with a fantastic performance and a celebration of their historical and ongoing contribution to dance music. Welcome back old friends!
You can find Underworld online here: www.underworldlive.com.