Thursday, 12 January 2012

Karl Hyde (Underworld) interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 5th October 2007

A succession of seminal moments
Karl Hyde looks back on Underworld's history
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

"We've been treating the world tour as the warm-up for Japan."

As the minibus speeds toward Narita Airport on a pleasant late September morning, Karl Hyde, founding member of British electronic dance duo Underworld, reveals the importance he puts on playing in Japan.

In Tokyo to promote Underworld's Oblivion Ball at Makuhari Messe, in Chiba, in November, Hyde was ebullient about the new show.

"We're very much part of [British art and design group] Tomato again so we're bringing some new Tomato films, there's gonna be a Tomato/Underworld installation and art space in the venue...and, as always, the improvisations. No set lists, no rehearsals and everybody, the whole crew, jamming," he says enthusiastically.

And Hyde is nothing if not enthusiastic. After four days of doing the rounds of the Japanese media there were no signs of him flagging, right up to the time he checked in for his British Airways flight to London.

With their fifth studio album, Oblivion With Bells, out Wednesday, the day before the group start the European leg of their global trek in Dublin, Underworld seem busier than ever. So how does the 50-year-old keep coming up with ideas for his lyrics?

"I just remain open. If we weren't talking, I'd just be in the van and I'd be writing all of this that I'm seeing out of the see a color and a tree and a concrete bridge and the back of his head, the lace doily on the back of the seat. Then you hear something else. Then you stop for a moment and carry on again. You just remain open," he says.

Underworld's first album since 2002 has a healthy mix of dance tracks and more ambient tunes that reflect the group's interest in soundtracks. It's the end of a long journey of discovery. "There's never a plan for it to be a dance album or a filmic album or any kind of album--we go on a journey," he says.

The journey involves Hyde and partner Rick Smith collaborating on tunes, sharing computer files and reworking tracks as necessary. "A kind of very egoless conversation was happening over the last five years, things passing backwards and forwards," Hyde explains.

So did the destination measure up to the journey?

"[I'm] really happy with the results, because they're honest and the more I listen to it, the more it surprises me how much it's caught what Rick and I have been doing for the last five years, the film scores and listening to German club music again, which has been a huge inspiration," he adds.

Underworld's interest in German music and film soundtracks stem back to Hyde's formative years growing up in a small country town near England's second-largest city, Birmingham, although the first LP he bought was more mainstream.

"The first album I bought was Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme because of the harmonies. I remember hearing 'Scarborough Fair' and thinking, 'The harmonies are amazing,'" he says.

But it was his next purchase that would prove a turning point. "The second album was the score to 2001, because of Ligeti and those beautiful choral themes and 'Lux Aeterna' and 'Atmospheres.' To this day I would say that's a seminal album in my life," he says.

Though his earliest influences were the sounds of Tamla Motown and producers like Joe Meek and Phil Spector, it wasn't until he started listening to John Peel on BBC Radio 1 that he discovered his real passion.

"John [Peel] started playing this electronic stuff from Germany and I imagined Germany as this exotic kind of satellite that was somewhere out there in the east that was generating all this weird stuff and it was moving across Europe and becoming normalized. Then eventually it would get to the U.K., and we would make it into a sound that the Americans could understand and then they'd take it and turn it into something really glossy and global and sell it back to the Germans," he explains.

And perhaps the fact that he didn't visit the home of "Kraut rock" until the '80s might go some way to explain the teenage Hyde's image of Germany.

"For a long time I had this idea of this strange place with laboratories where people were deliberately thinking up obscure stuff to pump out into the world," he admits.

Not surprisingly, Kraftwerk were a major source of inspiration for Hyde, though he had not discarded all interest in rock music. "Hearing [Kraftwerk's] 'Autobahn,' that was a transformation for me. There was that and Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine' and those two records in that era were unlike anything that was being played on the radio," he says.

Hyde got a chance to record in Germany when CBS Records offered his band Freur a contract in the '80s.

"They [CBS] sent us off to work with [producer] Conny Plank in Cologne. That was the first time we met Holger Czukay and heard bands like Kowalski, using power tools along with guitars and electronic drum kit," he says.

And they were also introduced to a new band by Plank.

"He played us this album and said, 'Check this out, I've just recorded this album, it's by a band that used to be called the Europeans and they're gonna call themselves the Eurythmics'.

"Again, that was seminal so we were driving around in this big, old German car playing this electronic fusion music. Funnily enough, at the end of the '80s, our last tour as Underworld MK I, was supporting the Eurythmics on their farewell tour of the [United] States," he says.

And before long, Underworld MK II would be enjoying the kind of fame that Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart did in the '80s when film director Danny Boyle chose to use the Underworld track, "Born Slippy.NUXX," in his movie Trainspotting.

"Trainspotting, 'Born Slippy,' Danny Boyle, Underworld. Those four, they're synonymous. You can't say one without the other,' he says emphatically.

And he's well aware of the importance of that song on the group's progress. "It opened a door for us to a lot more things a lot quicker than it would have done had we carried on on the trajectory that we were. It helped us make the leap to the main stage at the festivals and for the rock promoters to want to start booking dance acts really. It was one of the first crossover records that helped the genre become much bigger," he adds.

One of those festivals that welcomed them was Fuji Rock Festival.

"The first time we played Fuji Rock...they had to close the field off, because they couldn't get any more people in and [I was] thinking, 'Wow, this is Fuji Rock, a famous place, they can't get any more guys into this field.'

"And the last time we played, we headlined the main stage and the same thing happened there. It was throwing it down with rain and they couldn't get any more in the field. [I remember] Watching thousands of people dancing, and this going in waves right to the back where the field curves up, and looking at each and thinking, 'This is a good job, innit?'" he says.

Yet it was another outdoor festival in Japan that Hyde remembers most of all.

"When we played on the slopes of Mt. Fuji at Rainbow 2000...lots of extraordinary memories there, not least of all the sun coming up opposite the stage and there was the mountain, cloudless," he says.

Yet it would take one of Japan's most famous rock music exports to provide another magic moment for him

"One of the guys from the YMO [Yellow Magic Orchestra] had the ambient field, absolutely amazing--another seminal moment--that's something that we want to do. We want to do an ambient field just like he did, it was extraordinary," he says.

Another seminal moment for Underworld. How many more can one group have in their career? Whether another such moment will occur at the Oblivion Ball remains to be seen.
(Oct. 5, 2007)

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