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It’s that rarest of things, when a song becomes a veritable cultural snapshot of its time. And in the closing scene of Danny Boyle’s 1996 cinematic masterpiece Trainspotting, Underworld’s “Born Slippy” so sublimely soundtracks the “sellout” revelation of Ewan McGregor’s ex-junkie Renton, that it, in a way, poignantly marked the end of the UK rave scene’s naïve but noble idealism and optimism.
Ironic, then, that Underworld were not even actually born of the rave generation. Rather, having long failed as a more conventional band, they opportunistically latched onto the dance scene by slyly recruiting hot young club DJ Darren Emerson. Their 1994 debut album dubnobasswithmyheadman became a genuine zeitgeist marker, and has now been remastered by the band’s Rick Smith, with the 20th anniversary edition released this month on Junior Boys Own. A five-disc deluxe edition is also available.
Karl Hyde, who was already 36 years-old upon its original release, recalls it with the enthusiasm of a teenager.
Were you aware that dubnobasswithmyheadman was going to be such an influential record?
No, because we didn’t even intend to make an album. We were just enjoying making tracks that sometimes applied to the dancefloor and sometimes didn’t. Rick started to assemble it into a collection; I’m not even really sure what drove him to do that.
Did you have a sense of really being a part of something at that time?
If we were really a part of anything it was a particular club scene that was based around the kind of music that Darren Emerson was playing: Chicago and Detroit house and Junior Boys Own records. It was all about the dancefloor. And thank god it was, because record labels at that time were telling us to get rid of the singer if we wanted to make dance music, or get a drummer if we wanted to keep the singer. At the same time, hundreds of kids were dancing to our music in clubs — so we knew the record labels were out of synch with what was happening.
What drew you to Darren Emerson?
Darren was this nineteen year old kid that was really into the Baeleric sound coming out of Ibiza, but also a Beatles fan. He was a rising star in the scene, and he would say to us, bring some of that other stuff in, film music, dub, guitar music. So we developed this very eclectic sound.
The dance scene then was militantly segmented. What were your crowds like?
We would do these all nighters at Brixton Academy, and rather than looking out and just seeing a few thousand kids who were dressed and ready to dance, there were also islands of indie kids. And they were looking at the dance kids and thinking, What are you doing here? This is our band.
Do you feel the music still sounds fresh?
Curiously, it doesn’t sound dated, I guess because it wasn’t taking its influence from what was going on at the time. It was more intuitive and intellectual than it was responding to a market.
Is it a particularly visceral experience, to revisit these songs?
It’s painful in the sense that you’re re-experiencing things that you did intuitively that you could never do again. At the same time, you’re thinking, Why did I stop doing that? It brought up some really interesting conversations between Rick and I.
That moment in Trainspotting where “Born Slippy” kicks in was really defining of a moment in time. Do you feel blessed or cursed by that now?
Blessed. It opened a lot of doors for us and it really fast tracked us.
Are you aware of the Future Islands tracks “Seasons” — or rather, how it sounds so much like “Born Slippy?”
If that was intentional then, thanks for the nod. If purely coincidence, then what a smile. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it? I wish them luck. I hope they find their Danny Boyle.
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