Underworld: Rez and Cowgirl
’m not a DJ. I only own about fifty records, don’t know how to beat match, scratch or pitch shift—not to mention the fact that the only turntable in my house is my parents’ old single-deck. However, I do like being responsible for the music at parties with my friends—whatever that makes me—and I like using the tools at my disposal to try to make it sound like I’m a real DJ. So I’ll use two stereos and attempt mixing songs in and out of each other without the aid of technical beat-matching or pitch-shifting. The success of this is inevitably limited, but occasionally I’ll find a jump-off point between two songs—a shared sample, a common break, or just a point where one fades out and the other fades in—that makes it possible to smoothly mix between them. However, Underworld did me one better and gave me two songs where pretty much any moment works as a jump-off point.
The third of a string of classic singles released by Underworld in 1993, “Rez” was Underworld’s finest moment to date. The song is actually quite minimal compared to the monster near-prog epics Underworld have crafted since—over the course of the song’s 10 minutes, there’s only really one main hook that fades in and out of the song’s 4/4 hi-hat and tambourine frenzy when appropriate. But when you’re Underworld, all you need is one hook, and on this one they deliver the best of their career—the glorious sound of Orbital’s “Chime” being played at a hoedown of the dance music gods. It’s a hook so insistent and captivating that you don’t even notice the lack of Karl Hyde’s deadpan ranting—one of Underworld’s last singles to be entirely instrumental.
“Cowgirl,” on the other hand, is in many ways Underworld’s definitive moment. Starting with its signature “everything, everything” chant—both the namesake of Underworld’s live album and the precursor to the more famous “Lager, lager!” shout from “Born Slippy”—“Cowgirl” reveals itself to be a true evolution from the instrumental minimalism of “Rez.” “Cowgirl” never keeps a hook for longer than a minute, switching from one tantalizing vocal phrase to another (“I’m invisible, I’m invisible,” “An eraser of love, an eraser of love”) and constantly adding enthralling layers of synths and percussion. It’s the single that truly placed Underworld on the top of the dance world, and was wisely selected as the climax of Underworld’s classic LP, Dubnobasswithmyheadman.
I was playing “Rez” at a party once and decided to throw “Cowgirl” on the other stereo just for kicks—I knew that the songs had similar structures and tempos and that they even shared a background hook, and I figured it might be fun to try my hand at a little amateurish mixing. But my jaw dropped as I witnessed how well the songs flowed in and out of each other. Standing alone, they were already two of my favorite singles of the 90s—true house epics as euphoric as any dance music ever created—but put together they were just breathtaking, their hooks intertwining like a strand of DNA and their beats synchronizing near flawlessly.
While listening to the two songs, I could turn down the volume on one and up on the other at any point and it would still sound totally natural and unbearably blissful. The songs reveal their hooks in a relatively similar manner, the hi-hats kick in almost simultaneously, and the beats pummel with the same force throughout both songs. It’s not quite a perfect match, and “Rez” being over a minute longer than “Cowgirl” doesn’t help matters, but that slight challenge made the results even more fabulous when successful, and once both songs get going, it’s truly open game on the mixing, especially when both songs climax—a truly ecstatic experience.
But even that doesn’t compare to the point when playing the two songs simultaneously and the beats to both of the songs drop out, and you’re just left with the delicious afterglow of those hooks, playing over and over and over. That’s the truly perfect moment, the one where I stop trying to mix and just sit back in awe of what Underworld have accomplished. During the climax of both songs, I feel like I could fly if I just lifted my feet off the ground, but during the afterflow, I feel like I’m just relaxing in the clouds.
I’m not the first person to think of matching these two songs, of course—Underworld themselves have frequently acknowledged the song’s similarities, putting them on a double A-side in 1994 and even mixing “Rez” into “Cowgirl” at the song’s obvious jump-off point, the shared hook I mentioned earlier. But listening to these songs flowing together at merely one point is no comparison to the epiphany I felt listening to them on top of one another, fighting for the foreground and reaching a blissful compromise.