Underworld Interview: “Reinvention is the Mother of reinvention!”Posted October 11th, 2010 At 3:42 pm By MTV ASIA
Interview by CJ ANG
When one discusses on the subject of innovative, shape-shifting dance music, one must take note that Underworld – pioneers in this field of music, who have been playing since 1980 – must not be excluded. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith continue this 3-decade old legacy (and counting), with their deck full of energy and spirit. With the release of a new album titled Barking, it seems like there’s no stopping these guys despite of age; only with experience to gain and music to share with and to inspire the rest of the world.
We hooked up with Karl Hyde via email and found out more about the band, the new album Barking, the future of dance music and more!
From Oblivion with Bells released in 2007 to the current release of Barking, what has been the progression like since, and what is the direction Underworld is heading for with the new record?
Most of the tracks on Barking were developed live in front of audiences as we toured the world for three years. The intent of this process was to write material that brought the vibrant ‘celebratory’ electricity of the live shows onto our recordings.
How have the inputs of collaborations with Mark Knight, Appleblim, Al Tourettes and D. Ramirez, and the production assistance from High Contrast, Dubfire and Paul Van Dyk, affect the output of Barking, artistically and musically?
Rick was clear that he wanted us to open the doors to ‘jam’ with other artists and to get their point of view, their particular perspectives on our music. It’s an excitement that remixes have always brought, but this time Rick wanted us to continue the ‘conversation’ – throw the idea back and forth, and see what happens.
Underworld’s long-time studio partner Steve Hall is partly responsible for the guest-list of appearances on eight of the nine tracks on Barking. With this detour from the usual makings of Underworld, are you worried that long-time fans may not be as appreciative of the album (with these artistes’ inputs) as to the previous releases?
Our fans have always been open to the process of experimenting and the twists and turns we’ve followed. They themselves inspire us to keep changing, to keep moving on and it’s in the nature of dance music to search for new ideas and sounds, and to remain aware and reflect what’s happening in the current scene without loosing our identity.
Most importantly, Rick’s always looking for a new twist on everything he hears.
Critics have been raving about Barking, with some even declaring the album “as possibly Underworld’s poppiest ever, yet retains their trademark dark heart.” What’s your take on this ?
It’s probably thought of in that way because of it being developed in response to live audiences and our desire to make music to dance to. We never wanted to make music for bedrooms. We have always wanted to get our music across to as many people as possible. Spread the joy!
Off Barking, majority of the critics also have been singing praises for the track “Louisiana.” What is the inspiration behind the song and how did it come about?
That track was written in two halves – three years apart. It started with a line I over heard on the train “I feel asleep last night, on a round-about. It always sounds like it belongs in a David Lunch film to me. Ha ha!
It’s a wild road trip for some senior skaters featured in the recent video for “Always Loved A Film.” Any tell-tale signs of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles of Underworld?
Ha! That film made me laugh out loud when I saw it. It’s not often you get a video turn out even better than the script but that one did. Yeah, I think I would be six feet under a long time ago if I still lived like that. Brilliant reminder!
With a successful career that stretches 30 years and counting since 1980, how do you wish music listeners will view Underworld as in the long run?
Like a cherished state that never fades.
Have the perspectives/interests of Underworld changed over time? What do you like to see a change in, in terms of the band, its music or the music scene/industry in general?
The internet has been liberating, something we talked about back in 1980, so glad it finally kicked in. We enjoy collaborating with people outside the band more than we did in the past and also generating new work beyond what people would normally associate with ‘Rick & Karl projects.’ We’ve expanded our circle of interest to include painting and photography exhibitions, live painting shows and installation music, performing live with other artists and the first release on Rick’s own label, Bungalow with Stairs.
Looking back from the past to the present, what will have been the highlight in the three decades-old career of Underworld? Is there a particular moment you will like to revisit again, or a history you will like to rewrite, change about?
Wish I’d given up drinking sooner than I did. Best highlight is waking up still in Underworld. It sounds sappy but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my musical career – I never thought it would be this good!
Underworld has once stated that they were tired of themselves. Are you guys still feeling that way, and in some ways, are you afraid that fans may also feel the same way about the band and its music? Like in a long-term relationship, what do you guys do to spice things up creatively?
Nope, not tired being in Underworld today. This album has given birth to another incarnation of the band that’s a buzz to be around. Reinvention is the Mother of, err, reinvention! Miles Davis did it all his career and if it was good enough for Miles it’s good enough for two oiks from Essex!
Underworld has not been as active doing official remixes as compared with the 1990s period. Any reasons why so?
Yeah! Always touring, being on the road and spending so much of our time writing for Underworld. I always love Rick’s remixes though – bring ‘em on!
Let’s talk about your live shows. The band definitely had met with several mishaps during the last series of promotional tours (with the release of Oblivion with Bells). Has this affect the band in any way?
Yes, we breath a collective sigh of relief every time we touch down safe in Essex. Apart from that – no.
Do you guys still go with the unpredictable route in live acts and continue not to use set-lists?
Sometimes, though recently, just to be totally radical, we started using a set-list for the first time in twenty years. Weird!
Do Underworld still make albums in Rick’s spare bedroom on some so-called ‘crap’ equipment? What are some of the production hardware/software, equipment and instruments that you use in your productions of recent times? And how was the transition like moving from yesteryear’s hardware-based technology to that of today’s technology?
We have a luxury of a few studios now. Some software-based, some with a lot more hardware and some based around the live kit where we can record and play LOUD. The transition is always expensive and mind numbing, but somehow, we get results in the end. I put it all down to Rick’s dogged perseverance!
It is known that Karl’s the lyricist in the band while Rick’s the perfectionist editor. Are there any changes to the roles played in the band of friendship-partnership?
Rick loves words probably more than me and inspires me to write. He’s also pushed me to write more music over the period of this album since our work together on the Sunshine Film Score and though the lines of definition have blurred, Rick writes most of the grooves and music still remains our producer.
What are your views on today’s electronic dance music scene? Will you say that it is slightly too commercial these days; and with the commercialism, does it help to get electronic music more exposure in today’s world of music?
Electronic music is everywhere now and dance music has found it’s way into everything I hear on radio with very few exceptions. That’s a very cool thing considering that no one gave it much hope of staying alive for longer than a few years back in the early 90’s! The fact that it’s so visible as an overground vibe in so much contemporary music is a smile, but we all know there are cool things happening in the underground that will become tomorrow’s ‘pop music.’
The band often listens to all types of music from the independent labels and artistes that send out their tapes, which helps in the majority of the influences into Underworld’s music. Share with us some acts that you have been listening of late.
Health! Check out the track “We Are Water.”
Besides Underworld, you guys also founded tomato – an art design collective – in London since 1991, with other various co-founders. Are there any other areas of interests that you guys are keen on working and will like to venture into in the near future?
I just had my first one-man painting show in Tokyo, Rick launched his label Bungalow with Stairs. He’s also developing his own gallery installation and I sporadically records and preforms with Brian Eno.
The music playing in each city, country differs from one another, or so you guys had mentioned before. Having been to various parts of Asia, what do you think is the definitive sound of Asia? And is there any particular Underworld song/record – past or present – that most suitably describes this part of the world?
I recall the sound of base balls being hit with metal clubs on driving ranges, the sound of traffic, the distinctive sound of police sirens, the calls of market traders, local pop music blasting from the doorways of electrical stores, massed drumming coming from yards hidden behind shops,loud hailers on top of buses calling rhythms to the street, tiny speakers making announcements on underground trains, the sound of pedestrian crossings, the chimes of elevators and the greetings of white-gloved strangers bowing as you step in off the street!