The Underworld story is one of dance music’s most heroic tales.
The story has been told over and over again of how the duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith from the band with an impossible name, Freur (a small squiggle, if you can call that a name), hooked up with the superstar deejay Darren Emerson and became schooled in the art of bass beats.
Two of their earliest albums “DUBNOBASSWITHMYHEADMAN” and “Second Toughest In The Infants” set their course to superstardom by exploding upon the dance music scene at the height of it’s massive public appeal. This attention then became worldwide with their work on the Trainspotting soundtrack. And when crowds thought ‘how can they top that?’ they exceeded all expectations with their follow-up “BEAUCOUP FISH“.
The critical third album is where most bands fail, especially in the fickle dance music genre. With “BEAUCOUP FISH,” Underworld took the best bits of the first two albums, and then added some new twists, giving their audiences that extra something which sealed their status as club land giants.
With stealthy beats and an infectious style all their own, tracks like “Cups” and “Push Upstairs” set the standard of quality that all other techno groups had to match to groove the audience’s minds, bodies and souls. With this unique energy and build-up in each track, the listener is left breathless and grasping for more.
Many a drug addled road trip began with their music in the CD player, and ended the journey with some of their comedown tracks easing the car in the garage. With a twitching in the eardrums, perfect memories of the wide-open road can be reactivated with the simplest of samples from an Underworld song; such is the power of their music.
Coming to Prague to headline the Creamfields party, Underworld has gotten a lot of press in the local media, unfortunately focusing on the departure of Darren Emerson, and with the predictable (and most inane) question being; Is Underworld still Underworld without Darren? As if Darren was the whole of the group. Darren has left the group, but focus on that word ‘group’. Everyone else that they worked with is still working on the new album, still in the same studio, still on the (JBO) Junior Boys Own label, still with the same manager.
Hell, they even have the same wives (but with a couple more children). As they explained it to Bassline Magazine, “Darren did not build the Underworld sound, we all did. If you want to know why he left, ask him. I think you have a very simplistic view of Underworld and how the three of us made the music if you put the sound down to one person.”
And I have to agree. Contrary probably to what you might think from reading some of the interviews they’ve done, it’s obvious that Underworld is still having a great time. I keep reading interviews of the band, stressing that no one person “made” Underworld what it is.
“When we started working with Darren, we started working with a number of new people; Darren Price, Malcolm Corbett, the JBO crew, these people are still with us and there are many others new and old. Underworld was always more than the three people on stage and it still is. Inspiration comes from the process not just the people.”
But just how did they feel about Darren’s decision to leave Underworld? “It was easy, he wanted to leave and we wanted him to go.” And the effect on the group? “It affected the band because it was one less person to talk with, but the music has always been Rick’s responsibility so there was no change in that respect,” says Karl. “If people doubt us that’s ok. We have never doubted, we made those old albums and we will make more. What can we say except listen to the record before judging.” He pauses to chuckle, “But who are these people that doubt? We want their names and addresses…”
So with years of hit-making under their collective belts, what can we expect to find in this new good time album, made with a whole new set of records on the decks and a goal of overcoming the moans of the critical masses? “It’s great! Someone said to us it seemed like all the albums before had been leading to the new one and that’s how we feel.”
Upon listening, it’s obvious that this album is about rediscovering certain records from their past. When asked about which songs they expect to blow up large, Karl replied, “‘Two months off’ because of its huge summer sound, ‘Little speaker’ which is a big funky bass line track, and ‘Dinosaur adventure,’ a full on Underworld blast, like ‘Moaner’ without the shouting!”
It’s obvious that with their earlier albums they tended to get carried away by things, wanting to match and maintain their signature sounds.
Freed of Darren, they’ve had a chance to sit back and remember what they really liked when they started out. “It sounds like Underworld 2002 and is all about beauty, light, texture and new thoughts,” Karl shares, “Same Underworld with some more funk and lots of love and happiness. I (Karl) sing and play instruments. Rick does everything. We think this is our best album ever. When you hear it you will understand.”
Another difference that always separated Underworld from the rest of the pack is their refusal to play the commercial game. Many would have simply gone “lager, lager, lager” crazy and remixed as many “Born Slippy’s” as was required. Not so with this crew, “We are still fans of all music. Some drum and bass is good, some bad, but that is the same with all music. But now, there’s not a real d’n’b influence on this album, it has more of a Latin style.
But as for ‘style,’ dance music, pop music, whatever; we don’t concern ourselves with thinking about that sort of thing. We worry about making music and let you worry about the scene or the latest fashion. We don’t think about the scene really, who’s scene? What scene? The scene in Germany? The scene in Japan? Thinking about that does not help you make music. We just try and make the best music we can, from the heart, and let the public decide if they like it.”
But try to deny it as they might, people are watching their moods and hearing their music, from the dance floor to the CD collection, to the TV and even three of Danny Boyle’s movies! And last summer you even had a chance to see them for yourselves, at the Creamfields Festival in Roudnice nad Labem on August 9th, where they performed with Czech faves like Loutka and La-Di-Da, as well as international superstars like Paul Oakenfold, Layo and Bushwacka Live, as well as SuperStar Corvin Dalek. What new should we expect from Underworld?
“We are looking forward to seeing everyone and will be doing some old stuff and some new also. It will be a real roller coaster ride, as it will be the first time we have played our material live.” Yeah, but any special surprises? “You will see us doing our show (which will have elements of the old show but it will not look the same), and we think it’s great! We are looking forward to playing to the people and hope they get into the show. We enjoy what we do and people seem to like it, so why change?”