Simply put, Underworld is one of my favorite acts ever in music. Sure they are primarily known as a dance music act, and a very influential one at that, but their sound and presentation has already transcended anything we could ever tag as a simple "EDM" act. Their contributions to music started prior to Dubnobasswithmyheadman, their legendary LP from 1994, but you can legitimately point to this release as their first great creative artistic statement. This LP has also just celebrated it's seminal 20th anniversary with a tremendously extravagant box set release and an incredible once in a lifetime performance of the LP from start to finish on October 11 at London's Royal Festival Hall. Leading up to the performance, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Underworld frontman Karl Hyde about the impact of the celebration and what it all means to him. Needless to say the answers where nothing short of amazing.
It's been twenty years since the release of Dubnobasswithmyheadman and you guys are celebrating it in such a cool way. How does this all feel to you right now? Did you ever expect something you released in 1994 would be so influential to that era of dance music and would have a culmination two decades later like this?
Y'know...after four failed albums in the 1980s and years of trying to be successful, we'd given up and the idea of being in a band or ever releasing albums again. So how this all ever happened is beyond me. Though I think it had a lot to do with my partner (in Underworld) Rick Smith's dogged determination to get the music he heard in his head out to the world, he never gave up the desire to make good music and together tried to be honest and only put out music that turned us on. We were incredibly lucky to work with all the people we did (and still do) and that people on the dance floor took our music to heart. Without those factors, we'd be emptying dustbins.
Any Underworld fan worth a damn knows this wasn't your proper debut album per se, but it obviously signified a drastic change in your creative direction with the project. I've always been incredibly curious on what that catalyst was that really kick-started that whole shift. Was it a specific event or song you and Rick either attended or heard?
Well, it was kick-started by being sick of trying to get into the charts and never really fitting in anywhere. Then there was the being sick of being poor, and the debts that had mounted up and the having to listen to record company A&R people who were telling us what to do and always feeling like we were in the wrong band in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rick finally had enough and after we were dropped a second time by our record company he decided he was going to make the kind of music he wanted rather than music we "thought" people wanted. So at the end of a long US tour, he came back to the UK and set about finding a home for this electronic music we'd been making for more than 10 years but didn't know what to do with. Back in the UK, the acid house scene was going massive with illegal raves for 10,000+ people and records being made in bedrooms selling hand over fist, pirate radio stations in London were giving the scene massive coverage and it all sounded like the music we had loved since we were kids. Rick could no longer resist his instinct and got on with the job of setting up a new studio in his back bedroom, finding a young club DJ to help focus the sound and be the 'broadcaster' of that sound through his DJ set. Suddenly we didn't need A&R men telling us what to do, because the people on the dance floors were doing it with their feet.
Do you identify with anyone and their music today that you feel maybe Underworld was a heavy influence on? Do you feel a strong connection to the expanding dance music culture of 2014?
I feel close affinity with the music of Jagwar Ma and have even started writing with Jono Ma from the band, because from the first moment I heard them they reminded me a little of Underworld back in '94 and I love their energy. The expanding dance scene is a smile, because I still hear people say "it wont last" and it has gone on expanding now since the late '80s when it was only expected to last for a couple of years at most (laughs)! How cool is it that the dance music scene is bigger now than it ever was and covers far more genres than ever? So cool...
The packaging and tracklist for this anniversary edition is quite extravagant and seems to be very detailed in more ways than one. How did this whole concept develop on the release and how was everything selected for inclusion? Did either of you have to leave any music off that you were campaigning heavily?
The packaging was once again created by our art partners Tomato, of which Rick and I are founding members. They created the original artwork 20 years ago and have made all our artwork packaging since as we love what they do. We gave them complete freedom to do what they wanted and never interfered, though we contributed bits of our own artworks when they asked for them. The contents of the box set is extensive and this is mostly down to the diligence of our long time executive producer Steven Hall, whom we started working with in the early '90s when he ran Junior Boys Own Records, the label to put all our music out through the '90s. We have stayed with Steve because he never let us down and always encouraged us to do what we wanted. Even when the majors came knocking with bags of cash, we remained with Steve and JBO because they always delivered and never told us what to do.
What was it like for you and Rick to remaster the album at Abbey Road of all places?
Ah, that was Rick's job. He's fantastic at getting the sound just right. I love the way he hears things and have total faith in him when it comes to the sound of our records. It was a huge job as most of the original record was recorded on 12 track tape and a lot of the instruments had to be re-recorded because the old keyboards & samplers no longer worked. He even had to track down an old 12 track tape machine that worked in order to transfer the old master recordings—it was an extremely painful process for him by all accounts and I didn't see him for months!
Have you guys ever performed any of your albums front to back like you're doing with the show at the Royal Festival Hall? Do you ever see you guys performing and/or remastering your other full lengths as well? (Please say yes to Second Toughest In The Infants!?!?!?)
The Royal Festival Hall show on the 11th of October 2014 was the first and only time we've performed an album in it's entirety. The tickets sold so fast we booked a UK/European tour, which went and sold out in a few days. The response has been extraordinary, unlike anything we've experienced and the actual event on the 11th was crazier than any audience reaction I can remember. Such a fantastic experience that I can't wait to repeat on the tour which begins in March 2015. Second Toughest...? We'd be crazy not to...
Is there any brand new Underworld material on the way or being discussed?
Rick & I have been in the studio for a few weeks now, writing new UW material...