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Issue Date:- 14 July 2008

Underworld Interview – Creamfields 2008

FUSING moody electronic textures, well calculated beats and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Underworld has been a mainstay on the international dance scene ever since DJ Darren Emerson first hooked-up with a couple of former new wave pop artists known as Karl Hyde and Rick Smith.  Peaking with, Trainspotting anthem, ‘Born Slippy’ back in 1995 while losing Emerson more recently [to allow him to focus on solo material including that released by his own Underwater logo], the duo still maintains a reputation for quality dancefloor-igniting material while further developing their abilities as a must-see live outfit.  In addition to opening for Radiohead for the second leg of the band’s US tour later this year, they are set to headline the Radio 1 stage at Creamfields 10th Anniversary event.  “Really looking forward to it,” enthuses Hyde - the act’s spokesman.

You’ve also played some of the other, non-UK Creamfields, haven’t you?

"Yeah, Buenos Aires in 2006 really stands out.  That was a mental crowd."

This year, there are 13 global dates for Creamfield including new territories like Chile and Romania.  What do you make of that?

"It’s amazing.  There’s a different energy at those places.  It’s a bit like how it was here ten years ago, maybe.  In the UK, it’s moved on, matured and mutated into all kinds of musical styles.  Then you go to some places – like South America or Europe – and we look at each other and we’re like,
“wow – this is what it used to be like”.  And it’s great to have the opportunity to re-live that."

Are we more cynical here?

"No.  I’ve never really experienced cynicism on the dance scene.  It’s just that it’s been around here for a really long time and become something else.  It’s just newer in some of those places.  They’ve heard it on the radio and caught some of the DJs and there are people there that have waited a long time to experience something like this.  There’s a freshness and an enthusiasm that comes from people finally having what they dreamt might happen.  It could be too easy to say
“well, we don’t have that” but then we play sets in the UK and are completely bowled over by the energy.  It hasn’t gone away."

But your reputation now precedes you.  Surely that’s changed the way that you’re received?

"We’ve never been a group to let that interfere with being ‘in the moment’.  We’ve never felt the pressure to become Underworld: ‘the idea of Underworld’.  And Rick and I plus the team we have around us are all experienced in pulling each other down as soon as anybody begins to demonstrate some kind of ego.  The great thing about dance music when we came to it at the end of the 1980’s was it was ego-less and it was all about the crowd and not the person spinning the records.  We like to try and continue that: which is why we’re never announced when we come on stage.  So you won’t hear [adopts exaggerated American TV introduction-style voice]
“Here! To-night! Those legends all the way from Essex, England! Heeeeere’s Underworld!” Instead, we just wander on and segue into what the DJ is playing."

It’s funny how the different acts – your peers, we suppose – have dealt with moving from being an anonymous production outfit to performers.  Some have embraced it, some have struggled with it and others – like Daft Punk – have just subverted the whole concept, haven’t they?

"I think what happened that there bands like Orbital and The Orb and, to a lesser extent, The Prodigy who changed what people might expect from bands involved in pop or rock music.  They were leaning more towards the “don’t look at me” thing that had come from DJ culture.  Then bands like ourselves were mixing up what we do because, y’know, I was a singer that played guitar.  Reluctantly, at first, though.  I mean, if it wasn’t for Darren Emerson saying “I like this”, we would never have been a band that had me at the front.  We’d have gone in a completely different direction.  That indie-crossover thing happened and what we were doing just caught on and it was great.  Although there were times when I still thought “oh dear – what have we started?”"


"Yes, because we were doing Underworld because we were really into dance music and there were times when what we were doing felt so far removed from it.  That said, the groove has always come before the singer for us."

Was the work with, design company, Tomato a way of providing a different visual aesthetic than that of regular touring bands?

"It was very timely how we came together in the late 1980’s and it was more a case of going “I like what you do” and “I like what you do too” and then just deciding to stay in close proximity to each other.  So we got a little office above Black Market Records in London and started making work.  Rick and I lived off the money that we got from making TV commercials that they were doing which was really important in that it meant that we didn’t have to compromise our own music.  We didn’t have jobs in The City so the work with Tomato was a way for us to put food on the table while still being independent.  That gave us massive freedom to make the music that we wanted.  Which were the records that Darren could play out in his DJ sets."

With Darren’s departure, a lot of people might have expected that you and Rick would have returned to your pop/rock roots via your subsequent Underworld material.  Yet you’ve continued to put out club records that are just as underground as the ones that Darren has since made.

"Darren was a big Beatles fan so we crossed over a lot anyway in terms of our tastes in guitar music and electronic music.  The great thing about the split is that it allowed Darren to really be himself because he was a solo artist before he was in Underworld.  The other thing I should mention is that Rick and I had been into German machine music since we were kids.  And whenever we would get dropped by our record company as ‘a pop group’, we’d go back to trying to make German machine music.  We didn’t know anything about club culture.  We had no idea what was happening in the underground clubs in Chicago, Detroit or New York.  We just had this love for electronic sounds.  When we finally stumbled on acid house on pirate radio, we were like “
oh, this is German machine music – this is fantastic”.  Then at the end of the 1980’s we suddenly realised that we were crap at trying to be a pop group and that there was this music that we repeatedly went back to every time we fell on our faces and maybe that’s what we should have been doing along.  Looking back, that sound was in our blood."

In more recent times, you’re more independent that you’ve ever been, aren’t you?

"Funnily enough, we still have the same team.  Steve Hall – who ran Junior Boys Own – is still working with us while other people who were at V2 Records are part of our label." 

...continued...  It still seems like a more ‘back to basics’ approach.

"It is.  And that was really important to us.  It was important that if Rick comes up with a track that we think is great, we can make it available that night.  Or we could package it as a bundle with some other music and some artwork and making it available for 60p.  Or put it out as a 12” single which is still as important.  I think one thing that got overlooked when we did the download album was that we also did five twelve inch singles for the dance-floors and were also making music available through our radio show.  A lot of people focussed on the download aspect, but there are many ways that we get our music out there.  We had to point out that we had made vinyl records for the clubs and also wrote two film scores to illustrate that there are the the traditional ways of working in addition to those more immediate ways of distributing what we do."

Are you still commissioning remixes of your tracks too.

"That’s just jamming with other artists.  It’s a way of hearing what other people would do.  We know what we sound like.  Working with Pig & Dan, for example: fantastic.  What a great sensibility the have for groove and sound.  Another misconception people have is that once you have a modicum of success, then you’re no longer available; you’re no longer interested; that you’re in your ivory tower.  It’s never been like that for us.

I read a while back about your approach to lyrics.  That you take apart your old notebooks and – similar to how a remix might work – you isolate words or passages and swap it around.  It sounded a bit like one of those magnetic poetry kits that you see on fridges."

[Laughs] "It’s more that I wander the streets and write down everything I see and bits of conversation that I hear.  I still work like that now.  I write every day.  It’s moved on into different medium.  But, just today, I went to Rick’s studio to work on some tracks and took this big holdall full of my old notebooks.  When you’re in a recording session, you can just stick your hand in the back and pull out something from 1993 or 2005 and they’re really different vibes.  They reflect what was going on at the time.  So I can almost steer my way through them now.  It will be like: “I want something a little bit darker?” “hmmm, that will be pre-1998 then”.  "

While you know what the source material is, the tracks themselves are open into interpretation, aren’t they?

"Yes.  But the music comes first.  The music tells the singer what to do and when to shut up.  I want people to hear the groove first and then be thinking that there’s some kind of voice in there and, if they like it, maybe the listener might finally be thinking “there’s some kind of singing going on there”.  I like the idea of that journey of discovery."

Is it unsettling when you perform and people sing along?

"At first it was.  Because we were inspired by club culture, we expected that people should have been dancing.  I wanted to tell them to stop all that singing.  Now it’s a cross-section of people that come to the shows and I’d imagine that most people are getting the words more right than I am."

The “lager lager lager” chant from ‘Born Slippy’ must be one that comes back to haunt you?

That’s the only lyric that we ever felt the need to explain.  Now I’m fine however people want to interpret it.  If it’s simply a celebration of alcohol to them, then that’s okay.  If they want to consider it as one man’s reflection on years of destruction and getting wasted, than I’m fine with that too."

You’ve always tried to avoid literal ‘songs’ anyway?

"Yes.   It’s interesting how artists can convey a mood anyway.  Whether it’s instrumental music, foreign voices or just unintelligible lyrics, they can all put across something as strong as a literal narrative anyway.  Bjork is probably a good example of how to express emotion while not revealing exactly what you’re on about. 

Exactly.  And, in fact, I do prefer it when she sings in Icelandic and I’ve got even less idea what the words mean."

So what else is inspiring you?

"We’ve been curating some events of our own.  We did one in Tokyo in November and took Simian Mobile Disco and Andrew Weatherall out alongside a huge art project.  We’ve also been doing web TV which is something that we’d like to further explore.  But we also need to ensure that we leave time in our schedules to make new music.  Because, you’ll never know when you might need it...."

With regards to the Creamfields show, will it be what’s now your standard fresh interpretations of older tracks with new pieces?

"Yeah, until we say Underworld has stopped, the old favourites are still a big part of what we are.  We do have the luxury of being able to go out there and remix it for each performance.  Being able to do that – sometime radically – is what keeps it interesting for us.  Things are involving all the time.  But even being a band that improvises as much as we do, it’s still very easy to fall into a pattern.  So there is still often the need to turn to someone on stage and say:
“you know that thing that you’ve been doing for the past three night that is totally brilliant? Don’t do it again”.  It’s especially important that we continue that now.  In the age of the internet, people do discuss your shows.  And even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t ever want us to get complacent."

Underworld perform live at Creamfields in the BBC Radio 1 Arena on Sunday 24 August, Bank Holiday Weekend, 2008.  Tickets on sale now tel:- 0844 888 4401 /  / Info:-

Creamfeilds Competition

THANKS to the organisers of this years amazing Creamfeilds event we have 1 pair of weekend non-camping tickets to give away to one of our lucky reader!

To win this fantastic prize all you have to do is correctly answer this weeks and next weeks questions correctly and send an email with your answers (in one email only) to us at Southport Reporter.   But do not forget to send us your full postal address and a contact number as well with your answer.  If you don't we can not get the tickets to you!   Also applicants must be 18 or over and agree to follow the events terms and conditions.

QUESTION 1 =  "What is the anniversary that Creamfeilds are celebrating in 2008?"

All emails must be in by 12.00 noon on 1 April 2008.


The winning name will then be pulled out the hat and the winner announced on 4 August 2008.   

Winners of the competition must follow all the organisers of the event requests.  False information can result in cancellation of your tickets!   T&C

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