It fell to one of dance music’s most iconic bands to deliver ADE 2107’s biggest moment at the historic Reijksmuseum.
It’s impossible to listen to Underworld without a lump in the throat and a wild case of goosebumps.
The UK band are the closest thing techno has to a U2 or a Rolling Stone. An act that can fill huge venues and create the sense of unpalpable musical awe that normally only ends with a moody Tuesday. A band who can pull together crowds of all ages, that know the lyrics to all of their biggest tracks, and shout along at all the right moments.
On the Friday night of ADE at Amsterdam’s Reijkmuseum, awe is in high currency. The venue is a 19th century arts and history museum and the cavernous room is the bicycle passage that runs underneath it. It is the kind of party that only happens at ADE (the last time it was opened for something similar was last year’s ADE party with Maceo Plex).
For locals, it’s the equivalent to throwing a one off rave in London’s Natural History Museum or New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A space that is usually only enjoyed while cycling through on the way home from work, and is dedicated to upholding the work of the Dutch Masters.
A live stream of Underworld at the Reijksmuseum.
After their thirty year career, Underworld can be easily considered one of dance music’s very own masters. A heady, artistically complex act that has touched the mainstream with hits like Born Slippy through sheer brilliance alone.
Carrying on from their keynote speech that provided one of ADE’s other opening highlights on Wednesday, they began their set with a tense minimal rolling track over which Karl Hyde invoked the crowd to “step back,” with the lyrics from ‘Between Stars,’ a track from their 2010’s eighth album ‘Barking.’ The huge, ornate and thick-set brick walls, and its stain glass windows at the front of the venue, only helped to compress the energy further as the band built to their first highlight moment, ‘Dark Train.’
Best known for its use in the soundtrack to Trainspotting, the track ignited the crowd, and as the lazers swept overhead and lights blasted from every angle through the darkness, it was impossible to tell if we were at ADE, or lost in a club in Glasgow in the late 90s.
It’s credit to Underworld’s timeless production and musical awareness that their sound still feels very 'now.' This is clearly not a band marooned in the sonics of their own back catalogue. As the breakbeats and updated production on ‘Pearl’s Girl’ thundered around the space, the music could very easily have translated into the set of current DJs like Ben UFO or Midland.
Underworld’s rave rooted techno can be certainly classed as timeless. But it takes a keen ear to make sure its every bubbling sequencer line feels like it still belongs to the music of today.
As their set rolled on, classics like Rez, Dark And Long, Push Upstairs and Two Months Off kept the energy and excitement at a blistering pace. 2016’s ‘Downpipe’ by contrast didn’t feel out of place or like a distraction to a crowd hungry for nostalgic moments.
As their set wound to a close, they threw their inevitably biggest punches. ‘Jumbo’ provided the perfect ADE moment, as the lush synthesizer pads invited waves of serotonin overloaded synapses around the room, yellow light basked the venue and tipped a cap to the festival’s signature logo colour.
They finished with ‘Born Slippy,’ the track that blew them skyward in the late 90s after its use as the theme for Trainspotting. The crowd by this point, was as full to capacity as it was at the beginning of the event, an unusual treat for ADE where crowds often ebb and fade as dancers flit between events courtesy of their multi party access wristbands.
The interior of the Reijkmuseum's bicycyle passage for last year's Maceo Plex ADE show
Rather than dissipate, I found myself encircled between a ring of seemingly ever taller Dutch people. As the fizzing hats of Born Slippy began, Underworld’s enigmatic vocalist Karl Hyde addressed the crowd as the lights plunged to black.
“This has been an interesting experiment I think you’ll all agree,” he said to roars of approval. “So nice of you to come to our little soirée, here in the bowels of high art. God bless high art and all who sail in her. And our apologies to the masters, whose bass drums we salute.”
As the signature pummelling kick drum assault made way for 'Born Slippy's' delayed chord breakdown, the crowd launched into a shout-along of its famous "drive boy, dog boy" lyrics. Few acts can maintain two hours of constant techno and rave lead euphoria quite like Underworld. They are, quite simply, the musical embodiment of the best parts of the ecstasy experience, whether you’re on the drug or not. A point made with a tinge of humour by Hyde in the breakdown. “I’d invite you all for a drink but I’m afraid I’m teetotal. Doesn’t stop us dancing though eh.”
Next to me, as if in agreement, an easily sixty-something woman threw shapes like a podium kid at the Hacienda.
To read the next in our highlights from ADE series: click here.