40 Years of Underworld – The Innerspace Collection

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a tremendous fan of the electronic duo Underworld.

At age 15, their album Dubnobasswithmyheadman was my very first exposure to the world beyond Top 40 radio pop, and its award-winning typographical packaging created by the band’s critically acclaimed Tomato design collective directly inspired my pursuit of a design degree and an 18-year career in the field.

Checking my latest stats, my Underworld collection now comprises 77 physical releases and artifacts, memorabilia, subway posters, books, prints, magazine articles, DVDs, VHS tapes, etc, as well as over 600 digital albums, EPs, mixes, concerts, and other materials – over 8100 tracks including concert videos. With new material being released every week, they’re showing no sign of slowing down, and they continue to expand my scope of musical appreciation with each new release.

Here is the physical portion of my collection to date. (For scale, the green print at the center is a subway poster from the UK measuring five feet in height.)

Underworld Physical Collection Complete 02-22-2020

Below is an itemized inventory of the physical collection. The 8100-track digital library is too large to post here but is itemized in the Innerspace Labs Workbook previously published in this journal.

Artist Title Format
Screen Gemz Teenage Teenage b/w I Just Can’t Stand Cars 7″ single (sleeve reproduction) 7″, Single
Freur Matters Of The Heart 7″
Freur Get Us Out Of Here LP, Album
Freur Look In The Back For Answers 12″
Freur Doot Doot CD
Freur Doot-Doot 7″, Pic
Freur Doot-Doot 12″
Freur Doot-Doot 12″
Freur Runaway (Dun Difrunt) 12″
Freur Doot-Doot LP, Album
Underworld Going Overground Melody Maker Magazine January 22, 1994 Magazine
Underworld Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future LP, Album
Underworld Spikee / Dogman Go Woof 12″, Single
Underworld Beaucoup Fish 2xLP, Album
Underworld A Hundred Days Off 2xLP, Album
Underworld A Hundred Days Off 2xLP, Album
Underworld Born Slippy 12″, Single
Underworld Dark & Long 12″, RE
Underworld Two Months Off 12″
Underworld Second Toughest In The Infants 2xLP, Album
Underworld Rez / Cowgirl 12″
Underworld Stand Up 12″, Maxi
Underworld Glory! Glory! 12″, Single
Underworld Underneath The Radar Cassette
Underworld Underneath The Radar 7″, Single
Underworld Change The Weather LP, Album
Underworld Long Slow Slippy / Eventually But 12″, Ltd, S/Edition
Underworld Barking 2xLP, Album
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman 5CD Box Set
Underworld Underneath The Radar LP, Album
Underworld Underneath The Radar LP, Album
Underworld Cowgirl / Rez 12″, Ltd, Whi
Underworld Pearl’s Girl 12″
Underworld Jumbo 12″, Single
Darren Emerson Global Underground 020: Singapore 2CD
Darren Emerson & Tim Deluxe Underwater, Episode 1 2CD
Underworld Videos 1993-97 Footwear Repairs By Craftsmen At Competitive Prices VHS
Underworld tomato: onyx pearls DVD
Underworld Underworld Live – Everything Everything DVD
Underworld Barking (Super Deluxe Edition 2CD+DVD+book+autographed print) 2CD+DVD Box Set
Underworld 1992-2002 2CD
Underworld Born Slippy CD
Underworld Change the Weather CD
Underworld Dinosaur Adventure 3D (US) CD
Underworld Dinosaur Adventure 3D (JAPAN) CD
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman CD
Underworld A Hundred Days Off CD
Underworld King of Snake CD
Underworld Pearl’s Girl CD
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants CD
Underworld Underneath the Radar CD
Underworld Underworld Singles Box Set 3CD Box Set
Underworld Limited Edition Barking Art Print (Hand numbered #64/650) Art Print
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman A2 sized Promo Poster Poster
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman Concert Tour Memorabilia Keyring Keyring
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman T-Shirt (unofficial) T-Shirt
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman Coffee Mug (unofficial) Coffee Mug
Underworld Dubnoboasswithmyheadman Custom Chromebook Skin and Keyboard Inlay Laptop Skin (Custom)
Underworld Everything Everything 150cm x 100cm UK Subway Poster Poster
Underworld Underworld Press Photo Photo
Underworld Rowla/Juanita 12″
Underworld Oblivion With Bells 2xLP, Album
Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman 2LP, Album
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants Remastered Super Deluxe Edition 4CD Box Set
Underworld Beaucoup Fish Remastered Super Deluxe Edition 4CD Box Set
Underworld and Iggy Pop Teatime Dub Encounters LP, EP, Limited Edition, Clear
Underworld Drift Series 1 7CD+Blu-Ray DVD Box Set
Tomato mmm.. skyscraper i love you: A Typographical Journal of New York Art Book
Tomato Process: A Tomato Project Art Book
Eno • Hyde Someday World 2xLP, Album, S/Edition
Eno • Hyde Someday World 2xLP, Album, S/Edition
Eno • Hyde High Life 2xLP, Album
Eno • Hyde Someday World 12″ x 12″ Art Print Art Print
Eno • Hyde Brian Eno and Karl Hyde with Flowers in Vase Against White Background Postcard Postcard
Eno • Hyde Brian Eno and Karl Hyde on Stage Before a Concert Postcard
Karl Hyde Edgeland 2xLP, Album, 180
Karl Hyde Personal Live Photograph Photograph

Supplemental Note:

Following the acquisition of the final four Underworld multi-disc super-deluxe box sets for my archival project, I found that my collection had outgrown its space in my record room and I wanted a storage solution which would blend seamlessly with my vintage decor. I took careful measurements and trekked to my city’s antique mall and found a large antique wooden crate the exact dimensions (to the very inch!) that I was hoping to find.

It’s a perfect vintage solution to house my collection of nearly eighty Underworld releases! The sturdy wooden crate features weathered stamping for 120lbs of (Ben) Franklin brand sugar. Here it is in my home, fitted appropriately beneath a framed promotional print of my favorite album by the duo.

Ben Franklin Wooden Crate with Underworld Collection Inside 02-22-2020

Underworld – DRIFT Series 1 Box Set

Closing out the year at Innerspace Labs with a monstrously mammoth undertaking by my favorite electronic duo, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld with the newly-issued DRIFT Series 1 Box Set – the 600th addition to my Underworld release library!

From Wikipedia:

DRIFT is the ongoing music-and-video experiment by the British electronic music group Underworld, launched on 1 November 2018 with consecutive tracks and music videos being released online, on a weekly basis. Individual new tracks are being made available through the band’s official website, as time-limited free downloads, along with accompanying videos published on YouTube — followed by collective “episodes” released as digital EPs on music streaming platforms. 

It’s Underworld’s second digital distribution project, after the 2005–2006 series Riverrun, which stand and some of my favorite deep cuts from these veterans of progressive house music. 

Released on Smith Hyde Productions via Caroline International, DRIFT Series 1 (Boxset Edition) contains seven CDs comprising all 52 of the weekly-issued tracks from the project. The set also includes a Blu-ray DVD with the 30 videos produced for Series 1 as well as an 80-page book. The box set has nearly 2 hours of content that wasn’t issued during the weekly digital releases.

UnderworldLive.com provides a captivating summary of the project: 

What is DRIFT?

• It’s precisely one year inside the minds of Underworld.

• It’s a journey that began on 1st November 2018 when Underworld released the track Another Silent Way and set off with no map, no fixed destination and a simple mantra (“Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ practice; we’ll do this until we’re dust.”) ‘Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s aim was to create and publish music and film episodically for 52 weeks and see where the journey took them. Within a few weeks, the experiment found its own path, prompting the electronic pioneers to react to previous releases and create new works accordingly. Over time, the duo’s innate curiosity opened up a unique space in which they could experiment, learn and explore new frontiers – together and with others (including Tomato’s Simon Taylor, Australian improv-trance band The Necks, techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, economics writer Aditya Chakrabortty and members of Black Country, New Road). During the 52 weeks, five self-contained episodes were released (respectively in November, January, March, May and August) – collectively, they formed DRIFT Series 1.

• It’s a unique and expansive audio/visual document of that open and constantly evolving recording process – seven discs of immersive and exploratory music that dive deep inside the band’s psyche. And it’s also a carefully picked single disc sampler that guides the listener straight through the centre of the project.

• It’s a series of extraordinary films that take you from Shibuya Crossing to the Moroccan desert to rural Essex via the inside of supercomputer.

• It’s a book that delves into process and explores the motivation behind one of the most ambitious creative endeavours ever attempted by a recording artist.

And… at the heart of it, there’s some of the best music Underworld have ever made – as much a progressive leap forward into the unknown as their classic debut dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The series was well-received by critics, with a normalised Metacritic score of 86 based on 6 reviews indicating universal acclaim and stands as the band’s most-acclaimed studio release to date. Mixmag called the album “absolutely stunning.” 

As with other collaborative efforts from the duo like Teatime Dub Encounters (with Iggy Pop) and Downpipe with Mark Knight & D. Ramirez, DRIFT Series 1 features a number of guest artists.

From International DJ Mag:

Guests featured in the collection included techno producer Ø [Phase], Japanese noise band Melt-Banana, trance outfit The Necks and economist Aditya Chakraborty (no, really) as well as long-term collaborator Simon Taylor, with whom Underworld founded the Tomato design and film collective. 

Tragically there are few published reviews exploring this release in the detail it deserves. (This article was drafted before the commercial release of the box set, so there will likely be more reviews to come once the release is available to the public.) Though the band themselves provide a brief write up accompanying each digital single which are archived at underworldlive.com/drift.

Thankfully, Adam Blyweiss of treblezine.com offers some insightful observations which contextualize both the strengths and shortcomings of this massive project. I’ll quote a few sections from his article but encourage readers interested in exploring the DRIFT series to read it in its entirety here. Blyweiss writes:

I’m pretty sure Rick Smith and Karl Hyde struck the word “small” from their vocabulary long ago. Performing as Underworld, nothing they have ever done can be described as such. Their biggest hits are epic in length and strength, their albums cavernous, their ideas complex enough to require dedicated studios, design firms, and streaming media channels.

The techno form has always had detractors of its monorhythmic and monotonal origins, and responsive artists who dare to twist those as far as they might go. With that in mind, Drift Series 1 is a daunting work, and a daunting listen. To the uninitiated or less-dedicated, there are moments when Underworld stray so far from being, well, Underworld that they sound like faded copies of other artists, the promise of experimentation turned into heavy-handed gimmickry. Disc four, with the episode “Space,” includes heretofore unheard gestures with melody and songwriting that can sometimes descend into irritating Flaming Lips territory (“Hundred Weight Hammer”). And for as pretty as the piano feature “Brilliant Yes That Would Be” is, it’s still just lifted from the modern classical motifs of Eno, Glass, and Satie.

Further, there are moments where Smith and Hyde’s equipment and sample libraries threaten to overwhelm listeners with countless variations on what is ultimately the same theme. Many of these songs are long, shifting treatises on the groove—multipart, meditative throbs that recall the days of “Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love”—that in a vacuum might stun but revisited over and over might make even the most dedicated fan a little numb.

But he makes sure to express the merits of the project – 

Still, so much of Drift Series 1 reminds us that Underworld are just worlds apart from most other house derivatives of today, let alone the contemporaries who rose up with them in the heart of the 1990s’ big beat and intelligent dance music movements. 

For another thing, Drift Series 1 brings to the lexicon some of Underworld’s most memorable contributions since Beaucoup Fish in 1999. “Listen to Their No” is a fresh dip into their well of ecstatic house conceits, and “Imagine a Box” is a dour, eerie acid ghost story. “S T A R,” meanwhile, is an infectious little speed demon of a track that rests somewhere between nursery rhyme and children’s word game, matching up the activities of established fantasy characters like Tom Thumb and Robin Hood with modern names like Dr. Dre, David Beckham, and Rosa Parks. This and other cuts like “Another Silent Way” (originally released set to footage of UK drift racers—“drift,” get it?) find Smith and Hyde continuing to sneak more cheekiness into their music this late in their careers, and they’re all the more entertaining for it.

The last song of disc one, “One True Piano Need Hand,” is their first real attempt at droning noise, while disc three, “Heart,” is the box set’s locus of high weirdness anchored by the stuttering improvisations of “Poet Cat.” Frankly, Underworld scatter horns and strings, jazz and classical throughout Drift Series 1, from the patches of “Altitude Dub” to disc five’s choral denouement, “A Moth at the Door.” Smith and Hyde also make room in this music for contributions from Australian experimental band The Necks, none so thorough as the set’s sixth disc of collaborations between the bands based on songs released earlier in Underworld’s project. While the first two songs (42 minutes!) lean heavily on The Necks’ tender jazz interplay, Underworld’s stamp is clearly on the closing half-hour-long “Appleshine Continuum,” a composition suggesting the massive remixes and studio bootlegs from the dubnobasswithmyheadman days.

Underworld bravely use the broad expanse of time and creative space covered in Drift Series 1 to explore sounds and arrangements not yet heard in their repertoire. There’s also plenty of evidence that what brought them to the dance—and the dancefloor—not only never went away, it’s as sharp as ever. Surely not even UW superfans are going to like everything they hear in this collection, but there’s so much worth giving a chance. And hey, there’s always the sampler. And next year.

I also must mention a parallel drawn between Underworld and one of my favorite kosmische musik artists which I found mentioned in a feature by Simon Tucker of LouderThanWar.com:

John Doran of The Quietus recently compared Underworld to German pioneers CAN and that comparison is perfect. Like CAN, Underworld always seem to be in a constant state of evolution and knee deep in the high-art of experimentation. What they also share with their German predecessors is the sheer wealth of quality that they produce with DRIFT being the ultimate example of this. Fired up and free from the leash, Hyde and Smith now plan on continuing the project into 2020. They are now the gatekeepers and the spirit guides. Cerberus and Snoopy. As they continue we wish the road rises up to meet them and we will be following them every single step of the way for this is a story that has many enthralling chapters left to be written.

Stunning.

Series 1 explores a gamut of electronic subgenres. The Discogs entry for the release cites no fewer than a dozen genre tags for the release, including Techno, Leftfield, Experimental, Downtempo, Electro, Abstract, Future Jazz, Minimal Techno, Progressive House, Drum n Bass, Ambient, and Spoken Word.

DRIFT is, as Blyweiss wrote, a daunting and somewhat overwhelming undertaking, but one which is fantastically rewarding and welcomed by fans who wished for new Underworld music. As I mentioned, this release brings the grand total of discs in my Underworld library to an even 600, comprising well-over 8,100 tracks, many of which clock in at anywhere from 40 minutes to hours in length. These six hours of new content will be enjoyed again and again this winter and I look forward to the next DRIFT installment in 2020!

Published in: on November 16, 2019 at 7:55 am  Comments (2)  
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