Karl Hyde (Underworld): “Respond but not follow and also not become a pastiche of our ourselves.” Interview by Ruth Bailey.


“Rick was ahead of me in his vision for the dubnobasswithmyheadman album and he’s done it again with Brussels. Twenty-four hours before this release it was one of a pile of unfinished pieces ‘not’ scheduled to come out. Simon Taylor filmed his route home that evening as he travelled down the motorway – some of this footage inevitably found its way into the conversation. Working back and forth with sound and image is how we’re developing the DRIFT Series, Rick weaving and stitching grooves, melody and words together; drawing parts from disparate songs to create a piece of music that shocked me. Twenty four hours ago, this journey through the edge of night didn’t exist. Karl”

The above is the supporting blurb for “Brussels” and along with it sits an embedded film clip. It’s one of a collection of curious musings, penned by Karl Hyde, front man for Britain’s seminal techno outfit Underworld, and is currently listed on their website amidst a collection/tab known as Drift.

Drift is in and of itself an innovative concept borne from paradigm shifts taking place within Underworld (and their supporting artistic family). Hyde considers the project also serves as a response to the freedom the Internet has provided to immediately publish material.  

“We’ve spent a lot of years putting out an album with ten tracks, a couple of singles and taking it on tour… so that can be a pattern” he reflects. “To not have to make that decision about what’s in and what’s out; what did make the album and what didn’t make the album? Or is this an album of 52 tracks with 52 friends, and we haven’t seen that before?” He asks, almost rhetorically.

And while these are curious questions for Hyde to pose that’s precisely what the project is proving to be – a curious journey. Throughout a 52-week period (which commenced on the 25th of October 2018) episodic content chapters drop. These drops comprise collaged footage captured from moments in time (largely on tour) by the broader family who make up Underworld; lyrics (taken from Hyde’s many notebooks where he has written almost religiously since 1990) and of course the analog and digital sonic rumblings that are the often unfinished outputs of Underworld which never made it to an album status. Blend it all together and a live art installation exists.

“It’s driven by Rick and in part I would say, it’s his idea of a landscape in which the people that are in the team get to really shine. So, whether it’s Simon Taylor in Tomato or myself or Rick or our management, or the crew, it’s a place in which everybody’s skills are brought into play.”

“Because you’re having to work at such a fast pace and constantly every week for 52 weeks there’s no rest really. You really need people to bring their skills and their intuition, their awkwardness and their idiosyncrasies to the party. Drift is a landscape in which all this is encouraged, and which enables us all and demands that of all of us.”

Taking time out ahead of their series of one-off shows at the Sydney Opera House and Vivid (where no show will be the same), for Hyde it’s always been down to his co-bandleader Rick Smith, for his ability to architect the artistic outcomes Underworld has been heralded with producing.

“You know, Rick since the beginning of the 90s, he’s really been at the core of what we do, he’s been really switched on to what is going on in the world and how we respond to that and making sure that what we do isn’t just following on behind. We did a lot of that in the 80s – the following on behind, the trying to be somebody else and he’s been the force to push us to respond but not follow and also not become a pastiche of our ourselves.”

They’re a musical ensemble who have been alive and reborn in various incantations since the beginning of the 1980s. The two principal members, Smith and Hyde, have remained the constants. Masterminds behind the uber eclectic sounds presented by the electronic, post punk derived noise act, initially named Freur. Although at one point they drew on the skills of renowned British DJ, Darren Emerson as history tells it the two mates from Cardiff, Wales have gone it “alone” in their musical marriage since the closing stages of the 90s.

2020 will see the pair celebrate an almost unbelievable 40 years together as playing partners and friends and it’s a quiet truth which emerges while speaking with Hyde – there is a deft fondness and bond shared between him and Smith. Much has been documented about the periods Hyde’s spent away from Underworld. The pursuit of separate projects (Hyde’s time with Deborah Harry and Rick Stein in NYC throughout the early 90s and an album produced with Brian Eno in 2014) some of this time apart has correlated with spirals into darker places for Hyde. Yet he is buoyant about what it means to spend time with Smith.

“We want to actually be together more”. Hyde stifles a small laugh. “At any time in our career, [laughing continues]we get quite down when we don’t see each other, that might sound a bit weird but, ah, we’re working so closely together and we’re helping each other solve problems both creatively and in business on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, that being together is like the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, that you need to enable you to go beyond that immediate, or that automatic thought that comes into your head, you know? I just feel more alive working with him than with anyone else.”

You can witness the wonder of Underworld’s live show from inside the Sydney Opera House, when they share pieces from Drift and their entire album catalogue and journey across four special and unique nights during Vivid.


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I find myself in a 'looping state of mind' more often than not.

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