ULTRAMARINE – “Kingdom” (from the album United Kingdoms)
Ultramarine’s United Kingdoms was one of a rash of progressive techno albums which used their beats to hide state-of-the-nation addresses (Dreadzone and Orbital also had a shot). The specific schtick here is rural techno, though apparently that’s a much truer tag for Ultramarine’s first album (Every Man And Woman Is A Star), which I never bothered hearing because the chilled-out flutefodder on this record bored me beyond horizontal.The band’s actual agenda here was to show that techno could be politicised and intelligent – and given the genre’s overt and specific harrassment by the UK Government of the time, this was an entirely reasonable aim. But while most ‘political techno’ wore its causes on its sleeve (and nowhere else!), Ultramarine were specifically concerned to link the free-festival crusty-raver movement to a longer tradition of English countryside protest. And so we come to “Kingdom”, United Kingdoms‘ one sublime moment, a 19th century protest song set to flutes and beats, and lent voice here by Robert Wyatt. Wyatt’s sad tree-bark voice and the song’s bitter, deceptively self-abasing lyrics go together like chocolate and tinfoil: it’s almost worth buying what amounts to a really soporific jazz album to hear the man sing “We’re low, we’re low, we’re very very low” like a pop Uriah Heep (the character, silly).