Underworld: Above the Influence Interview | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Above the Influence

Jun 08, 2016 Photography by Perou Underworld
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Karl Hyde has been keeping an online diary for 16 and a half years. This medium is a great storage space for Hyde, who as Underworld‘s frontman is known for his fractured, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. For Underworld’s latest album, Barbara, Barbara, we are facing a shining future, Hyde’s daily postswhich are housed on Underworld’s siteserved as a handy exercise allowing him to practice writing lyrics fast, editing and revising up to four drafts in under 30 minutes. These entries are always accompanied by an image, and sometimes what Hyde is listening to, neither of which appear to have any direct connection to his writings.

“The connection is only me,” says Hyde, whose regular speech isn’t miles away from his head-scratching lyrics. “Life is often presented as a series of convenient boxes: this goes with this, tick this if you like this, if you like this, you’ll probably be listening to this. What interests me is the mapping of the random juxtaposition of combinations of sound, conversation, light, color, architecture, positions, smells that one takes as a signature of a place.”

His diary allows Hydewho identifies Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles and Lou Reed’s New York as the blueprints for his processto have output without having to wait for a formal album through which he can express himself. Rick Smith, his partner in Underworld, tapped into Hyde’s characteristic habits to encourage his writing for Barbara, Barbara. Smith suggested Hyde approach lyrics the same way he approaches photographs: gathering them through intuition, the results of which he only fully understands after completion.

The music side of Barbara, Barbara is similar in tactics. The computer is reduced to a tape recorder. Hyde is armed with his guitars, purposefully picking his least favorites, ones that are difficult for him to play, and radical pedals, with the intention of having them interfere with his sounds. Smith tackles a monolith analog modular synth, one he is in the early stages of learning to manipulate. Both of these choices are made so the two don’t fall into patterns and are forced to improvise, something they do on stage, butuntil nownot in the studio.

The music sounds reliably like Underworld, but a somewhat subdued version. Signature hypnotic basslines buzz throughout, particularly on “I Exhale” and portions of “Low Burn,” whose other bits are far more understated and a good lead-in to “Santiago Cuatro”‘s organic Middle Eastern strings. “If Rah” starts minimalist with declaration-style vocal delivery, escalating into complex rhythms and Hyde’s deranged repetition of a single word: “Luna.” And if “Ova Nova” is the duo’s digital lullaby then “Motorhome” is their digital ballad, and “Nylon Strung” their slow shuffling seducer.

Barbara, Barbara is in a good position to stand the test of time, as Underworld’s 30-year history has proven, particularly live. The duo may not be known to the increasingly youthful festival-going crowd, but they still occupy the top of the bill, and they own that spot.

“We come from a time when [electronic acts] crossed over out of clubs and warehouses into rock festivals,” says Hyde. “I remember playing a festival in the ‘90s where we went on after Aerosmith. How are you supposed to do that? We were up against audiences who would have been hostile towards us had we not, very quickly, delivered. For a number of us who are still here, that moment when we started playing festival main stages was an important schooling in realizing that you had very limited time to turn people on before it was all over.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]



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