A Sit Down With DJ Underworld
Its been 20 years since the future that legendary electronic group Underworld faced was shining its brightest. The long journey of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith began in the early 80s, with the pair achieving minor success in the new-wave band Freur. Then, with a pared-down lineup and a new name, the duo went on to have an abortive late-80s run playing synth-rock as Underworld.
"I knew if I tried drugs theyd take me so far over the edge I might never be able to come back."
Did you guys get into the club culture at all, or did you feel like you were already misplaced from it by the time you got there?
Well, when we were making that second record, we went to see Adrian Sherwood. And it blew us away, mostly because of what Adrian did with the sound system you know, turning off the highs and the mids and the lows, and kind of playing with the sound. He was using the sound system like an instrument. Shortly after that, we were taken to our first rave, and that completely sealed it for us. Because there we were seeing an audience that wasnt looking at the stage. There were no lights on the DJ, none at all, they were all on the audience. The audience was the main act. And then in other rooms, there were bumper-car rides, and different videos being played it was like the ultimate Pink Floyd gig. And it just felt like we were completely on one side of it. I wanted to be part of it.
What songs are you excited to play live?
All of them. I really am because they all pose very interesting questions, they all demand very different headspaces. So going out and playing any track from this record is going to be a challenge and its going to be a challenge in terms of playing in a different headspace and I like that.
Since the band is quite a bit different now, did you consider changing the name?
Yeah, a few people said that, but we couldnt think why. Because there was nothing wrong with the name and we certainly werent ashamed of our past. Theres no reason to disassociate ourselves from the work that wed done. Besides that, logically there were a lot of people what knew about us and wed spent a long time communicating with them. So it seemed logical to keep the name.
Do you have an idea of where this new sound of Underworld fits into the electronic dance music world or you dont care?
No, I dont think about it because thats baggage to think about that. What was very prevalent in Underworlds mentality in those early days, dubnobass and Second Toughest, whenever somebody put a label on us we moved somewhere else and that felt right. Then we made Born Slippy and a lot of people said, All you need to do now is write a bunch more Born Slippys and youll be made for life. And we just kind of looked at them and went, Were just going to do something else if you dont mind. What we have is a journey into the unknown, I have no idea where this is going and that is what makes me want to be in Underworld.
What was the story with your live painting?
Well, the guy who helped me put it together was John Warwicker from Tomato. Rick and I have worked with him over the past 30 years.
What's your new label and what's the idea behind that?
I started a project that wasn't techno, it was more my 'whatever goes' side. It's a band called The White Lamp, which is me and vocalist Pete Josef. The first track came out on Futureboogie and I didn't put my name to it. We've hit nearly 2 million YouTube hits now, including the Ron Basejam remix. Our second release was on Sonar Kollektiv and again nobody knew it was us. I just wanted to put some stuff out without my name and see how it went and it did really well. Our third release came out on Hotflush, Scuba's label. We put it out on some really cool labels to do the groundwork, get the name out there, but the fourth single, which is ready to go, is going to be on a White Lamp label. We have a release early in 2017, Ron Basejam's done a mix for it again and Maxxi Soundsystem.
In concert, you always have a video camera with which you project the audience onto the stage. What happens with that video? Do you save it? I heard youre having a contest where fans can submit clips that could be played in their cities.
Were still talking about how it. I didnt know that information was out. So, well done! I like being pushed. Are you living in my garden shed? Yes, were planning on using fan-made videos during the show. Weve been putting some backstage footage online as well, everything from audience shots to some obscure stuff, which we wonder about putting out. Occasionally, you get an exhibitionist, so you have to cut away. Unless its an exhibitionist the audience wants to see more of.
Do you listen to music when making art?
No, I cant. It would distract me. I listen to talk and sports radio a lot instead.
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