We were supposed to be headlining the second stage with full production lights, video, and everything.
Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are truly Renaissance men. Hyde, as part of the dynamic duo, Underworld, is engaged in a constant exploration of creativity, from sculpting in the ’70s to, very soon, a Playstation 2 project. Hyde took time out to let us in on some of his latest endeavors after their recently released compilation of influences, Back to Mine…
Caught your set at Field Day…
Yeah, it was all last-minute. It was the most moving musical experience of my life. The further I got away from it, the more impact it had on me, just the way everyone worked to pull that off. No matter how big the place was and the size of the crowd being what it was, they were fantastic. Such a positive energy. It was good to be a part of it.
We were supposed to be headlining the second stage with full production lights, video, and everything. We ended up playing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, no lights, no screens, equipment breaking down ’cause it’s getting wet. None of the radio transmitters or receivers were working, I think, for any of the bands. So I was on cables for everything, which I haven’t used for years and, in the end, I just gave up and got soaking wet with everybody else and had the most fantastic time. There wasn’t a grimace at all backstage. Everyone was smiling and putting their skills to the best of their abilities out front and getting on with it. There was just this positive determination. Again, the crowd was just fantastic, fantastic. You don’t need the biggest crowd in the world to get off on the electricity ,and they were wonderful.
Any more tour plans?
We’ve got two more shows in Japan at the end of this month—well, next week—and then something which has been kind of an ambition of ours since we were young, which is to do a John Peels show/sessions for the BBC.
When is that happening?
It’s happening on the 10th of December. I think it’s going live to air. That man has informed more musical taste than anybody, I think. It’s nice. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time. We get to play in front of 30 people in a really small studio at the BBC. It’s fantastic.
It doesn’t sound like the crowd size is a measure of success to you.
It’s the electricity that happens. It’s very important that we’re playing with people.
You feel more comfortable on stage versus being in the studio?
They’re both very very different. The stage is about spontaneity. It’s about the moment. The moment’s gone and you’re quickly on to the next one. In the studio, it’s about crafting something, you know, improvising to a point, then going back over it and crafting it until you achieve something which you feel is close to what you’re trying to say. It’s a very insular activity, really, which is why we need the Internet to publish works on, ’cause when you’re kind of locked away for such a long time, it’s nice to have some contact with the outside world. [In the studio], it’s kind of experimenting, cutting loose, not being Underworld for awhile, but just making some stuff and seeing how it turns out. That kind of process of reinvention that Miles Davis always talked about is something we aspire to, whether we achieve it or not all the time. Whenever we start a record, forget Underworld, forget writing stuff that you think is going to work live; just make stuff and see what happens. We carry a smaller version of the studio that’s in our Powerbooks and a little bit of hardware kits outside, for putting in things like guitars and microphones and stuff. We’ve been working in our hotel rooms and planes and buses and wherever we can snatch half an hour, an hour to work. That’s something we talked about 20 years ago. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a record all over the world? What would it sound like if each track was written in somewhere specific?” We haven’t quite done that, but at least we can keep writing while we’re moving around.
What other occupation would you like to try?
I was a sculptor and an installation artist in the ’70s and I worked with this kind of early video. We’ve started publishing books now and we do photography, films; we’ve done lectures, talks, spoken word, sound installations, interactive media. If we see this as any kind of a looking back, looking forward period—which we don’t, but let’s say for convenience sake, if we did, if the last 10 years were about us consolidating Underworld’s activities as a group that makes records and goes on tour—the next 10 years would be about consolidating the fact that we’re two guys that make a lot of stuff, and some of those things happen to be going on tour and making records. We start next year with the release of a Playstation 2–based project coming out in early March, which is a platform we’re interested in using to explore Underworld sound and Tomato visuals. We intend to make an album as a game-based platform, as a way of exploring our sounds, in a way that’s not just you put the record on, it starts there and ends there. We’ll still put out stereo things. It’s the most exciting thing that we’ve come across in years, since we jammed for 18 hours in Glastonbury in ’92 and went, “Oh, my God, I think we’ve got a blueprint for a band here.” Now the programmers and the software writers are, to me, the new DJs. I speak to them now and I get the excitement that I used to get back in the ’80s talking to DJs. I’m now talking to young guys with attitude who think they’ve got right on their side and I just love it. I think it’s just fantastic, the kind of beautiful youthful arrogance. It’s a real kick up the ass to us.
I think we all need a little bit of that to keep us in check.
Underworld have just released the two-disc career retrospective 1992–2002, available from JBO/V2.