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SO YOU reckon dance music is dull, repetitive and only marginally more fun to listen to outside of a club environment than a Black & Decker power drill. Well, if 2 Unlimited and their thousand zillion beat per minute chums are your yardstick, I'd have to agree.
Stuart Clark, 25 Aug 1993
SO YOU reckon dance music is dull, repetitive and only marginally more fun to listen to outside of a club environment than a Black & Decker power drill.
Well, if 2 Unlimited and their thousand zillion beat per minute chums are your yardstick, I'd have to agree. Fortunately though, there's more to this strutting your stuff lark than some vocally challenged disco diva bellowing "techno techno" ad infinitum over the sort of backing track that your average sheet metal worker could knock up in their lunch hour.
While I'm not sure about the 'ambient folk' tag that's been hung round their necks by the British press, Ultramarine aren't a million miles removed from the inspired weirdness you'd expect from Fairport Convention if they were locked away in The Orb's recording studio with a pot of mushroom tea and a Roland D-50 owner's manual.
It's not nearly as kitsch or gimmicky as it sounds - the duo use flute, acoustic guitar and the much maligned tin whistle to add natural warmth to their stock-in-trade arsenal of tape loops and samples.
Although a predominantly instrumental affair, Robert Wyatt gets dragged out of retirement to croon his way through 'Happy Land' and the wonderfully rustic 'Kingdom' which is a not-particularly-distant country cousin of his own solo masterpiece, 'Shipbuilding'.
It's a winning formula that a lot of bands would be tempted to milk dry but Ultramarine's almost pathological zeal for experimentation and absorbing different influences means that there's enough variety to satisfy even the most eclectic of tastes.
The gently skanking 'Urf' and bass heavy 'Badger' suggest that Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond may also be in possession of the odd Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Dub Syndicate album while 'Instant Kitten' can only be described as test trade card music for LSD-TV. Very strange.
You'll need the right drugs to fully appreciate the complexities of United Kingdoms but even without the chemicals, it'll take you places you've never been before. Enjoy the trip.
Orbital are another outfit blessed with the wherewithal to shag minds senseless, although their between-the-sheets technique is altogether harder, faster and more perverse.
The opening 'Planet Of Shapes' sets the tone for the debauchery ahead, a mad maelstrom of a tune which starts off with a few words of intergalactic wisdom from Star Trek's Lt. Warf and then batters merry hell out of a sitar. Ravi Shankar it most certainly isn't.
'Lush 3-1' throws some surprisingly palatable Arabic caterwauling into the pot while 'Remind' gets all industrial with fuzzboxed-to-hell metal guitar and weird squirty noises which sound like the by-product of solid state indigestion.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Didgeridoos have already been called in to investigate the acts of barbarism perpetrated by 'Walk Now' which could explain why Orbital decide to chill-out on the closing 'Halcyon + On + On' by nicking the la la's from Opus 3's 'It's A Fine Day' and engaging in a spot of New Age mysticism.
If you still reckon dance is boring after listening to these two albums, perhaps I ought to come round and check the fuse on your life support system.
• Stuart Clark