The story of how Bassnectar gave the Underworld classic a new life.
Underworld’s “Rez” is an electronic music classic. Released as a single in 1993, before the U.K. group’s trippy and brilliant full-length “Dubnobasswithmyheadman,” it’s an open invitation to some sort of shimmering experience, be it in a field, club, or on a couch. Even so, the track is buried deep in old vinyl bins of collectors, too weird to make sense in today’s “EDM” scene. But two weeks ago, DJ, producer, and troubadour Bassnectar previewed a new, drop-filled remix of the record on Soundcloud – and it got CODE thinking, why this, why now?
A U.K. national treasure – members Rick Smith and Karl Hyde even directed the music for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics last year – Underworld is one of the most enduring festival acts of all time. With frontman Hyde stalking the stage, the band’s artistic collective Tomato developing the visuals, and the sheer sonic tonnage of their catalog – albums full of bass, drums and bizarre monologues, rendered still with a somehow delicate beauty – they defined the experience of massive shows like Glastonbury in the late ‘90s. The band broke through in the U.S. in 1996, thanks to the placement of their track “Born Slippy” on the soundtrack to slacker drug drama Trainspotting, and America’s short-term love affair with what was then called “Electronica.”
Self-made star Bassnectar is a scholar of that period, and like any great DJ, a curator of all types of music – despite his fans’ expectations for a drop-filled set. His experience with “Rez” was personal, and he wanted to bring it to his audience in a form they could understand, particularly for his gig at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on New Year’s Eve. And as it turns out, it was the track’s 20-year anniversary, too.
CODE caught up with Bassnectar, aka Lorin Ashton, and Smith and Hyde on email, to talk about what went into the resurrection of “Rez.” In the process, they had some great things to say about punter education, American scenes, and techno ice cream trucks. The remix drops February 12 on Child’s Play, an Om Records sub-label.
When did you hear the original “Rez,” and what was your initial reaction?
I was at a warehouse party in the mid-‘90s, and after dancing all night I was feeling very euphoric. I had lost track of time and did not realize the sun had come up outside, until someone lifted one of the large warehouse doors and the sunlight came pouring in. The DJ faded out the music, and everyone on the entire dance floor turned to face the sun and then "Rez" started fading in on the sound system. I had never heard it before but I will never forget how deeply affected I felt in that moment.
Had you ever played it in your sets? In what type of context?
It never worked in my sets – and I tried various remixes of it as well – in part because the track is amazing but I felt it lacked melodic progression. The bass line is basically just a flat, steady G note. What really enchanted me about the track is the sparkling synthesizers, which sound like a million particles of resonant harmonics glittering in you ear drums. And even though the drums are sick trance-inducing percussion, and driving beats, I could never really make it work in a set.
What brought you back to it all these years later, and what did you set out to do with the remix?
I had tried, and failed, to sample what already existed. But I needed to get deeper into the separated components. So it was only last year that I finally got Underworld to release some stems to me, which was an incredibly complex process for them. Most of the music was created on now-defunct equipment, or simply was no longer in existence. Even after they began sending parts, I was still missing a lot and had to recreate a lot of it. There was an extreme amount of technical engineering necessary, but once I crossed that hurdle the remix kind of fell into place. I created it with the explosive moment of a New Year's Eve countdown in mind.
When did the Underworld guys first hear it and give it their blessing?
We have been in communication throughout the process, and they have been incredibly supportive and flexible. It was beyond an honor to get this opportunity, and honestly the real "remix" I created has not been released; it’s more like an extended 10-minute version that I can sample from and retrigger in my live sets, so it can be fresh and dynamic every time.
Do you think that young fans of electronic music are sufficiently aware of their history, and icons like Underworld? Are remixes like this a good vehicle for promoting such awareness?
I think about that all the time. There was an entire era – several eras, really – of electronic music that the modern “fans of EDM” seem to have very little understanding of. There are entire musical acts with vast discographies, and even entire sub-genres that span multiple artists which a lot of today's fans seem unaware of. To me it is like special treasures that can be reborn and re-experienced again and again, and I think DJs have an important opportunity as historians and cultural archeologists to educate and promote these “forgotten” songs or sounds. In fact, I spend a lot of my time reinventing, or re-enforcing my old records from the 1990s into modern bootleg versions, partly because it's fun, but partly because a lot of the classics are much better than some of what's being released today.
How hard did Nashville go off when you dropped this?!
It was literally chilling. Partly because of the anticipation, knowing what was about to happen. But also because of how carefully it was timed to hit right at the exact stroke of midnight. Being on a circular stage inside of an 11,000-person crowd was intense enough, but when this song hit I almost collapsed.
What do you think it is about “Rez” that makes even the original so timeless?
Firstly it has a joyous, celebratory sound that seems to impart positivity and good vibes whenever it's played. And secondly it doesn't sound like anything else. It didn't sound fashionable when we first released it, and it certainly wasn't made for any one scene or type of DJ like so much dance music has been over the years. Someone once said it’s the sound of a techno ice cream van coming towards you. Who doesn't like that?
What were your thoughts upon first hearing the Bassnectar mix of “Rez”? We're always happy when someone wants to remix one of our old tracks especially if they are doing it because they love it. Lorin made it really clear the track was important in getting him involved in the dance scene so we knew he'd be coming at the remix from a good place.
Do you follow Bassnectar otherwise? What do you think of him and the American bass music scene he represents?
We've been aware of Bassnectar for some time as one of the big names on the American scene, and knew he was into dub as we are. We couldn't say we have much knowledge of the bass music scene per se, but we've seen a few of the acts at festivals and DJs around the world. Some we like, some we don't .
As icons of festival culture, what do you think of the U.S.'s latest take on it? What’s happening in the U.S. must be pretty exciting to everyone involved. It's bigger than disco, so we're told, and like disco you've got the full spectrum of music, acts and DJs from Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage, to Bony M and “Saturday Night Fever.” To us it’s a continuation of something we've loved for many years: EDM, electronica, EBM, rave, whatever. Some of it's great and some of it's trash, but if it makes you move...
The 15th anniversary of “Trainspotting” just passed. Any reflections on 15 years of the "Born Slippy" breakthrough?
The 15th anniversary of “Trainspotting” doesn't really affect us the same way as it does some people. We were getting on at that point anyway! We realize it was significant for many people especially in the U.S. because around that time the whole electronica thing was breaking and loads of new people were getting turned on to the scene and the culture. We're really happy to have been part of that and hope we are fondly remembered, because we have only happy memories of gigs up mountains, and DJs like Liquid Todd and Jason Bentley and all the smiling faces who came to see us.
- Code