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Savant Music Review:

Underworld Live; Everything, Everything
1998-99 / Color / 16:9 / Dolby Stereo 2.0 & Dolby Surround 5.1
Starring Darren Emerson, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith
Creative Editor Jono Griffith
Content direction and Art/Video art by Tomato
Filmed by Wowow/Smash TV (Japan), NPS TV/VPRO/VARA (Holland), PSL (Belgium), BBC (England) and Windmill Lane Pictures (Ireland)
Produced and Conceived by Rick Smith, Tomato

Reviewed by Lee Broughton of the UK

Note: This is a Region 2 PAL release. Region 1 NTSC content may be different.

The Underworld story began in 1983 when CBS Records employed a high profile, but cryptic, advertising campaign to launch a newly signed band. It transpired that their projected 'next big thing' didn't have a name as such. This new British band were in fact represented by a hieroglyphic squiggle symbol, the correct phonetic pronunciation of said squiggle being a kind of throaty retching sound. The obvious confusion that this caused soon prompted CBS to request a proper spelling for the symbol and that spelling was....Freur.

Freur (Karl Hyde, Rick Smith, Alfie Thomas, John Warwicker & Bryn Burrows) were an arrestingly clothed, and interesting sounding, synth pop/rock group with arty leanings. But the hauntingly sublime title track of their 1983 debut album, Doot Doot, proved to be their only chart success. It went to number one in Italy, was a modest turntable hit in America and entered the lower regions of the top 75 in the UK. When the Doot Doot album and further singles failed to make any real commercial headway, CBS scaled down their promotional efforts and restricted the release of the group's second album, Get Us Out Of Here (1985), to carefully selected sales regions in mainland Europe. The group soon found themselves without a record deal.

So, they changed their name to Underworld, John Warwicker took on general design and presentation duties and Baz Allen was drafted in on bass guitar. Their new sound was a little funkier but the quirky electronics were still present. A contract with Sire Records resulted in the title track of their 'debut' album, Underneath The Radar (1988), going to number 1 in Australia and a degree of success in the USA. By the time of their follow up album, Change The Weather (1989), drummer Bryn Burrows had jumped ship and was replaced by Geoff Dugmore and Pascal Consoli. The line-up expanded even further for rave live reviews but commercial concerns resulted in the deal with Sire coming to an end and the group splitting up.

Rick Smith (keyboard player/programmer) returned to the UK and linked up with Darren Emerson, a young club DJ. The pair became sought after 'remix' artists, providing authentic Dance/club remixes of songs by a variety of acts. After completing session work at Prince's Paisley Park studios, Karl Hyde (vocals/guitar) finally returned to England, met up with Smith and Emerson and Underworld Mk 2 came into being.

The trio received good reviews for their groundbreaking 'debut' album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1993). Hyde and Smith's established approach to electronics and song writing, combined with Emerson's Dance/club sensibilities, had produced something a little different: a sub Dance/Techno/Rock fusion that could be appreciated both at home and at the local all night rave. Hyde's vocals (which veer from an occasional sub-Captain Beefheart style growl to mock Cockney and native Midlander-ese) and guitar playing, along with the band's ability to switch between lilting, introspective synthscapes and full-on Techno piledrivers, helped them to stand out from the crowd. Further plaudits were received for their followup album, Secondtoughestintheinfants (1996), and the subsequent appearance of several of their songs on popular film soundtracks further raised their public profile.

So the DVD, Underworld Live: Everything, Everything, finds the trio at the peak of their powers, promoting their third album, Beaucoup Fish (1998), on their 1998/99 world tour.

For an Underworld live performance, Smith and Emerson have the individual components of each track that they intend to 'perform' at their disposal on stage: every synth and drum pattern, Hyde's guitar, backing vocals etc are all at their fingertips in the form of individual samples, tape loops and sequencer programmes. Via a giant mixing desk, the pair are able to mix these singular components into a 'live' presentation. To which Karl Hyde adds his live lead vocals and occasional guitar parts. During longer, instrumental sections, Hyde is content to simply perform eccentric aerobic dance workouts. Sometimes he slips behind the mixing desk and sways in unison with Emerson and Smith: this might well be a kind of Hank Marvin & the Shadows style group dance routine for the new Millennium, but this approach to live performance probably cuts no ice with the average Rock 'n Roll purist. Well, to spice things up, as well as having an impressive light show, the group perform in front of five giant video screens. In a throwback to the projections used by the great psychedelic groups, these screens primarily show avant-garde/modern art style videos, produced by the Tomato art and advertising collective (of which the band, and John Warwicker, are members). Add to this the fairly innovative way that various directors, at different locations around the world, have shot footage of the tour and you're on your way to a slightly different and entertaining live document. Close-ups, medium shots, long shots, held shots, blurred shots, grainy shots, hand held shots, shaky shots, much multiple image layering, rapid editing, jump cuts, slow motion sequences, super imposed effects etc are all used to good effect. In places the live footage is briefly replaced, alternately by clips of the footage originally produced for use on the giant video screens, footage taken directly from Underworld's promotional television videos and other, seemingly incongruous, strange bits and pieces of film, which all combine, sometimes in an almost stroboscopic amalgam, to hold the viewer's attention for the 90 minute duration.

If that doesn't appeal, you can always switch to the DVD's alternate video track: 90 minutes worth of Tomato-produced visuals (termed 'video art') designed to accompany the live performance soundtrack. Taking in some of the footage already seen projected during the live performance, this is essentially 90 minutes of avant-garde/modern art visual experiments: a pot-pourri of hand held cameras exploring strange objects in close-up, jumpy film, scratchy film, overexposed film, electronic bleeps given visual form, wild computer generated graphics, spinning cubes, snatches of lyrics and profound statements and slogans presented in obscure typefaces etc. Seriously artistic or silly and pretentious? As with anything of this nature, each individual must make their own assessment.

The sound is excellent, with both Dolby Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Surround 5.1 mixes available for selection. Other extras include five minutes of outtakes and two additional, audio only, live songs. There's also the option to rearrange the running order of the songs, allowing the viewer to effectively programme their own concert and 'select a song' chapter headings. The disc also has DVD ROM capabilities (untested by this reviewer) which reportedly produce an 'interactive text and music installation', allowing a degree of 'vision mixing' as well as providing special Internet links which lead to constantly updated Web pages that hold further live footage and pertinent information. An 8 page booklet contains only technical credits.

Obviously, if your not partial to band's music, this DVD will be of little use to you. But music lovers in general should applaud the quality and content bench-mark set by this particular release.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Underworld Live; Everything, Everything rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Animated menus, 8 page booklet, alternate video track, video outtakes, two bonus (audio only) songs, 'program your own concert' facility, song chapters & various interactive DVD-ROM features
Packaging: Clear plastic/perspex case, like an elongated CD case (?)
Reviewed: February 1, 2001

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Underworld Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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