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Underworld have chosen CC to help drastically reinvent the official video for their biggest hit, Born Slippy.

Dance songs often get a remix treatment that renders them unrecognisable from their former self. But Underworld have chosen to drastically reinvent the official video for their biggest hit, Born Slippy.

After shooting to widespread awareness for its pivotal role in the dramatic climax of Trainspotting, Born Slippy has appeared in countless mix compilations, and probably millions of DJ sets over the last 20 years. Its powerful opening riff is one of the most distinctive hooks in dance music history, one has truly stood the test of time.

We caught up with video director Michael McCool to discuss the challenges of bringing the visual identity of one of the most influential songs of the 90s bang up to date.

It’s quite fitting that Born Slippy is the first to get the ‘video remix’ treatment, it being a remix itself….and also a tune that crossed boundaries, getting played in both house and techno clubs in the 1990s. What does the song mean to you?

Well, I was only 8 when it came out. I first learned about it because of Trainspotting. In fact, when I first saw the brief, the name didn’t really register. Then when I searched it on Youtube, that was an ahha moment ‘oh they mean thaaaat song.’ Those opening chords, everyone knows them. For people my age, I guess we missed it’s heyday as a clubbing, party song. We’re more accustomed to hearing its cultural and musical descendants in a club rather than the track itself. If it does come on people might consider it more of a novelty record, shouting lager, lager, lager and all that, rather than experiencing it as an incredibly influential and excellent piece of music in its own right. If you take in to consideration the record’s influence on an entire generation of music producers then it’s hard to dispute its status as a ‘modern classic’. My hope is that the video will present the record to an audience in a new light.

Tell us how you got involved with this ground-breaking project.

It was on the Creative Commission website and the brief was pretty cryptic. It said something like ‘make a video for classic dance song, it’s a banger. You want to apply for this.’
So I enquired, heard the track and then decided to go all out and just give everything for the pitch. I imagined the competition would be fierce, and only later found out that I was one of 18 pitches! I made a mood film as part of the treatment, elements of which survived right the way to the final cut. I’m told it was a clip in the mood film that ‘got’ Karl [Hyde, Underworld frontman], so in hindsight I’m very glad I decided to do one.

What’s the video all about?

In a word: celebration. Karl wrote me an e-mail explaining how he felt about the song. He’s been playing it on his world tours for 20 years, so he’s seen how it’s evolved. He sees first-hand how special a track it is to Underworld’s fans. He told me that he sees Born Slippy as belonging to ‘tribes of ordinary people’. The song represents the feeling of celebration and euphoria, anything with that feeling of punching the air, from scoring a goal, to having a baby. So capturing that became the core of what we were trying to achieve. But at the same time, we wanted to keep true to the song’s roots, and remind people what it was before it was ‘that tune off Trainspotting’…Born Slippy was actually the name of a greyhound that Karl put a bet on in Essex at some point in the 90s…hence a greyhound taking a starring role in the video.

The concept of making a new video for an old song is uncharted water. How did it feel, blazing a trail?

For me, as a young director, getting to work with a song that is essentially a modern masterpiece has been an amazing experience. The amount of shiiiiite songs that you pitch on and get rejected from is pretty soul-destroying, so when you have a truly great piece of music come your way it’s very much a case of ‘drop everything’. The idea of bringing it to a new audience is really exciting too. This new video should see Born Slippy getting more TV airplay than it has been getting, and generate more interest on streaming platforms and downloads. With streaming now counting towards chart places, it could even re-chart…it would awesome to be involved in getting the song back in the Top Ten.

Does making a new video present specific challenges?

The former video is very 90s, very of its time. We were looking to make something that referenced the 90s, but without being obvious, to give the film a more timeless feel. A dog running across a desolate beach isn’t time-stamped, nor is a group of friends having a kickabout.

One of the ways that I tried to reference the song’s era was to make a nod to one of my filmmaking heroes, Jonathan Glazer, and the rich monochrome feel he leant to much of his work during the same time. For me that time of great dance music and incredible music videos goes hand in hand — trying to emulate that feel became a creative touchstone.

What’s it like working when the elements are against you like that?

It was a nightmare at the time, but in some ways we were quite lucky to have seriously heavy rain. The football scene for example looks as if we’ve shot in a studio with a rain machine, Olly (DP) was able to backlight the rain drops which really adds to the atmosphere. The sort of look that a much bigger budget would’ve struggled to achieve. A good lesson — the things which make you despair at the time might actually be little blessings.

Also while we’re on the topic of the weather I should mention the beach shoot — we rigged a special buggy with a high-speed camera to be able to run alongside the dog at speed; my intention being to get different angles and shot sizes of the dog at close to 1000fps but because of the torrential rain, we had to protect the buggy’s engine with cling film. Big mistake. The whole thing caught fire, no more buggy shots. It could also be a world first: a full-on-fire during a full-on-monsoon. It was an absolute disaster, but after a big panic, we were able to rely on the kindness of the beach staff, who helped us out with a loan of their jeep for an hour, or the whole thing would have been off. Best twenty quid plus VAT I ever spent!

Do you think the ‘video remix’ is the start of a trend?

I think it could be. I’m sure there’re loads of songs that have outlived their video — and loads of great songs that never even had a video that could benefit from getting a bit more attention. Youtube’s only been around since 2005 and it has made music more visible, so if a song didn’t get a video the first time round for whatever reason, or perhaps one not quite befitting of the song which it has since become — it shows. I think if labels have a song with huge download and streaming potential like Born Slippy just sitting in their back-catalogue getting dusty, why not commission someone to make a dedicated contemporary video for it?

It could be a win-win situation — young directors like myself trying to break in to the industry get a great opportunity to prove themselves with an iconic piece of music, and record labels get a good video, which boosts sales and introduces new audiences to their artists.

I’m really grateful that Universal liked my work enough to give the project to someone like myself who is trying to move from assisting established directors to becoming a director in my own right. I hope it’s the start of a new trend.