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Underworld
DRIFT Series 1 Box Set Esme Bennett , November 21st, 2019 06:56

A year-long project which saw Underworld release new music every Thursday, every week, Drift Series 1 is a hefty package, full of delightful surprises, finds Esme Bennett

Exactly one year ago, techno luminaries Karl Hyde and Rick Smith began a saga of exploration that would result in the epic accumulation of Drift songs, a multi-media project by the Romford collective Underworld. Since electrifying the 90s underground scene with their other-worldly trance and techno-dub, our dirty numb angel boys have since released nine studio albums and basked in the afterglow of the cult classic ‘Born Slippy’. What began as a platform with which to showcase all music, stories, poetry and artwork has now amassed a year of inspired work, surpassing six hours of listening time – creating more than they have in fifteen years. In a statement, the pair said, “Drift is the opposite of ‘normal’ or ‘usual practice’. We’ll do this until we’re dust”. This speaks to more than a re-hash of the sound of the hedonism of 90s rural England. The breadth and vision making up this compilation is nothing short of extraordinary.

This is not simply an album, but a projection of a hunger to create that Hyde and Smith have explored before, and it certainly isn’t the first time the pair have connected in this way. This public display of their creative persona and outlets can be found anywhere on the internet. Karl Hyde’s daily diary is visible on his website along with accompanying, often eerie photos. Wednesday 23rd of October reads: “In a silent room, too big for me, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed”. The site is full of these mini poetic epigrams, often playful yet suitably dark. Via underworldlive.com the pair have also been releasing archival material since 2000, whilst all episodes of Drift have been publicly available via the group’s website every consecutive Thursday, forming five self-contained episodes through the seasons. From a pig shed in Essex, a hotel room in Reykjavik, club shows in Amsterdam, London, and Manchester, amongst other seemingly random destinations, the compilation mix intentionally follows no sensical path.

The collaborations on Drift amass far and wide, whether it be techno producer ø [Phase] otherwise known as Ashley Burchett, experimentalist Australian band The Necks, Japanese noise group Melt-Banana or fellow chaos addicts Black Country New Road. This inspiring collective of artists all have a common thread: a grasp of the eccentric ethos that have come to make Underworld who they are.

To even summarise each moment of Drift is a challenge. What I can say is the elements of surprise and familiarity work together to form a deep, dark and wonderful hole, unmanageable by its very nature, and beautifully chaotic. The essential ingredients of Underworld are all there. Karl Hyde’s mesmerising and monotonous stream-of-consciousness vocals over Rick Smith’s glitchy techno and disorientating acid synths often come into the mixture, but often new elements reveal a new side to Underworld’s ever-growing pasture of material. ‘Appleshine’ on Episode 2, for example, combines Faithless-esque trance with Black Country New Road members on violin and flute, adding a peaceful ambience and reflection which is often found throughout Drift. ‘Poet Cat’ on Episode 3 makes use of trippy, out-of-whack horns that convulse over a steady melody; the collaboration with ø [Phase] on Episode 5’s ‘Give Me The Room’ is an intense piece of spoken word merged with acidic tones dominating a liminal space between consciousness and unconsciousness. ‘Appleshine Continuum’ is a mammoth track of thirty-four minutes, featuring the experimental work of The Necks, free-flowing in its entirety. Hyde and Smith work in perfect unison as they always have, yet these levels of distortion and inspiration from a year-long period of creativity showcase the deep pulse at the heart of their work.

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