by Robin Turner
At the end of last year, three of the biggest names from the ‘golden age’ of dance music (i.e. the bit in the mid ’90s when I was out on the floor four nights a week and the records were addictive and challenging in equal measures) found themselves attached to the kinds of projects that get the fanboys frothing at the mouth in giddy anticipation. Over in Hollywood, Daft Punk parked up in the Disney lot to work on music for a second Tron movie (who knew anyone cared that much about the first one?). Back in London, the Chemical Brothers partnered up with one of their former visuals men, Atonement director Joe Wright, to create a soundtrack to his forthcoming film Hanna. Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the capital’s monument to beautiful Brutalism, the Southbank, Essex duo Underworld were undertaking possibly the most ambitious project of all of them.
Never ones to take a stair lift when there’s a un-scalable wall to climb, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde immediately agreed to work on a live score for Danny Boyle’s stage production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre when the director called them. The band’s relationship with Boyle dates back over a decade and a half; back to the point where they rejected his request for the use of one of their old b-sides in his movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
The story of Born Slippy (Nuxx)’s second life doesn’t need repeating here; Frankenstein, though, is a different matter. Four months locked in the National working on every permutation of a track; bending, stretching and chopping as scenes come and go, shrink or grow. The resultant score is something else entirely. Having been lucky enough to see the production at the National twice, its presence becomes more like another character than background music at points. Industrial noise meets Wicker Man-like acoustic folk music; chopped and screwed human voices arch over choral ambience and birdsong.
Brilliantly, the soundtrack album works as a standalone piece though suffice to say, this is not your typical Underworld record. Flowing as a seamless piece of ambient sound, it has the kind of zone-out qualities you’d associate with the sounds in your head while plonked down in the far-flung corner of the Stone Circle just before sunrise. Think of it as the flip side of last year’s Barking – an exploration of human not electronic sounds. It could be a soundtrack to the last haunted moments between the dancefloor and sleep or to the dewy-eyed optimism of first light. It’s a permanent record of another magical collaboration between musicians and a director who seems to pull the very best out of them. Hopefully not the last time we see their names on a poster together either.
Frankenstein the play is on in London for another couple of weeks – if you’re lucky enough to be going, I’m envious of anyone seeing it for the first time. The soundtrack is available in the Caught By The River shop.