Underworld | Pop review

Forum, London

Looking around the crowd who've sold out the Forum, there's no getting around the fact that these days, Underworld attract an audience of a certain age. In the mid-90s, the people here were boggle-eyed ravers in their teens and 20s, and Underworld were at their commercial zenith, authors of two impossibly futuristic albums and, in the inescapable Born Slippy, perhaps the single least radio-friendly piece of music ever to make No 2 in the charts. That, however, was 15 years ago: tonight, it's clearly a red-letter day for London's babysitters.

You can't fault their enthusiasm, but the aging ex-raver is an easy figure to mock. It would be easier still if all Underworld had to offer was memories. But nothing could be further from the truth. The stage set-up seems little different from 10 years ago – the diminutive, kinetic figure of Karl Hyde weaving about the stage, Rick Smith and Darren Price marooned behind banks of synthesisers and laptops – but musically, you're struck by the sense of a band still in constant motion. They wait until the end of the set before doling out the hits. Before that, they stick largely to new stuff, mostly drawn from recent album Barking. For anyone familiar with the Underworld of dubnobasswithmyheadman and Second Toughest in the Infants, with their dense screeds of impenetrable lyrics and tangential sonic approach to the dancefloor, the poppiness comes as something of a surprise: even the drum'n'bass clatter of Skribble arrives bearing a euphoric melody.

The crowd go as bananas for the new stuff as the old. A cynic might say, well they would, wouldn't they? Nothing sharpens the desire to enjoy yourself on a Thursday night quite like the knowledge that all the weekend has to offer is a visit to a soft-play centre and Strictly Come Dancing. But as the songs ebb and flow into each other and Hyde bobs and weaves, cynicism is tough to maintain: it seems more likely the aging ex-ravers know something their younger counterparts don't.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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