A Hundred Days Off Revisited

This evening on a late night drive back to the city, I queued up one of my favorite Underworld albums that I hadn’t spun in some time. I wanted to share it with various music communities online but felt an obligatory responsibility to defend the album, as it received a lot of undeserved heat upon its release.

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A Hundred Days Off (2002) was Underworld’s first full-length LP after the departure of Darren Emerson. Darren was a critical contributor to the trademark sound of Underworld Mk2, which spanned the album trilogy of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest in the Infants, and Beaucoup Fish. This chapter of the band concluded with the release of their live concert DVD, Everything Everything Live in 2000.

What followed with A Hundred Days Off and Rick and Karl’s subsequent LPs was a markedly more cerebral incarnation of the duo’s sound. AHDO traded in the floor-stomping anthems and “lager lager lager…” lyricism for more artful explorations of electronic music. Rejected by some of the clubbing community as weak or lifeless, these listeners were too quick to reject the ambient soundscapes, natural percussion, and polyrhythmic intricacies that make A Hundred Days Off such an enjoyable and enduring record.

Call it what you like – “album-oriented techno”, “progressive downtempo”, or “music for aging ravers”… just know that the best of the band’s recordings lie deep in the grooves beyond the club tracks of the late 1990s. And with The RiverRun Project, an array of web-only releases, and their music for both stage and screen, Underworld had an incredible wealth of music to offer after the dance floor had cleared at sunup.

Underworld: A Guided Tour

Underworld has been producing music, art, and film for nearly 40 years.With over 500 albums, EPs, and singles, newcomers to their work might find their catalog daunting. If you are just such a listener, this is for you.  So you know “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” from Trainspotting, but are wondering where to venture next.

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Many listeners might be inclined to snatch up one of their compilations or anthologies. In 1999 they released a 3CD Singles Box Set, but it is not an ideal entry point as it focuses too heavily on Darren Emerson’s contributions and is heavily saturated with alternate mixes which do not showcase the band’s true talents.

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The next compilation issued was in 2012. A Collection’s opening track is a strange choice – a song by High Contrast featuring Tiesto and Underworld, which few fans associate with Underworld. And track 03, “Bebop Hurry” is a collaboration between Karl Hyde and Brian Eno taken from the Underworld vs the Misterons’ Athens LP.

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 Unfortunately neither function well as introductory material, nor are they representative of their artistic style. Still, the other tracks on this compilation are the meat and potatoes of the band. The majority of their biggest hits are here, but for the sake of constricting it to a single disc, all of the tracks have been edited down to radio-friendly durations, sacrificing the ethereal and progressive characteristics which occupy the minutes which have been trimmed away. New listeners would benefit far more if they were to take in the tracks in their original form.

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That same year, a 3-disc collection was issued called, The Anthology: 1992 – 2012.  Interestingly, this set does not serve as an off-the-shelf hits collection but instead is comprised of b-sides and odd tracks which act as snapshots of the band’s development. This made it a rewarding purchase for fans who already owned all of their major LPs.  It also presents the content in a chronological setting. Disc 1 is material from their Mk 2 phase around the recording of their massive breakthrough hit album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman. Disc 2 showcases recordings from around the Second Toughest in the Infants and Beaucoup Fish era, including their non-album mega-hit, “Born Slippy (Nuxx)”.  The fan-favorite concert closer, “Moaner” is here as well.  Disc 3 offers more rarities like “The Hump”, “Minneapolis”, and “Why Why Why”, and includes a few uptempo selections from the series of non-radio, meditative EPs released exclusively via Underworldlive.com during the early 2000s.  

So without an easily-digestible compilation, how is a new listener to approach the band’s staggeringly large discography? Underworld is best experienced in album form. They are not a singles artist. Each record adds a contextual value to the tracks which each stand well as a packaged project of their own. My advice is to begin with Dubnobasswithmyheadman. The record marked the second incarnation of the band after its synthpop beginnings in the 80s (and a one-off garage punk single in ‘79). Dubnobass was incredibly progressive given the sound of techno and house in 1994. It contains eternal hits like “Cowgirl” and “Dark and Long”.

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If you like what you hear on this album,  explore their evolution into their next two records which complete the Darren Emerson trilogy before he parted from the group. These albums are Second Toughest in the Infants and Beaucoup Fish, best known for singles like “Pearls Girl”, “Cups”, “King of Snake”, and the aforementioned epic, “Moaner”. But it’s their more explorative tracks which reveal the most about the band. The opener to Second Toughest is “Juanita: Kiteless : To Dream of Love” – a monumental piece which engages the listener for over 16 minutes. And the mellow, downtempo rhythm and effect-laden vocals of “Winjer from Beaucoup Fish will never see radio airplay, but is a fantastic and atmospheric tune.

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This era concluded with Everything Everything Live: The Definitive Underworld Experience.  Pick up the DVD – it captures the incredible energy of the band performing live at the peak of their popularity in 2000.

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If you’re interested in going deeper to explore their more intimate and cerebral work, it began in 2002 with A Hundred Days Off.  Every track contributes something unique to the set. “Two Months Off” was the radio A-side but the deeper cuts are far more rewarding.

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At this point in their career, the duo embarked on a side project of web-only albums dubbed, “The Riverrun series”.  These include:

(2005) Lovely Broken Thing
(2005) Pizza for Eggs
(2006) I’m a Big Sister, and I’m a Girl, and I’m a Princess, and This is my Horse

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Filed under ambient techno and progressive trance, these artful projects reveal a more intimate and contemplative side of the band.  And a series of singles from this series offer even more experimental b-sides worthy of listening.

2007 marked their return to the commercial market with Oblivion With Bells. This album features the hit, “Beautiful Burnout” and the startlingly ambient “To Heal” which was redubbed “Capa Meets the Sun” for the film, Sunshine.

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The 2010 album, Barking is their least popular record. “Always Loved a Film” and “Bird 1” saw some airplay and there was an art film of video vignettes for each track. Not their most essential work, but even Underworld’s worst ain’t bad.

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For years thereafter there was silence. Rick released his first solo album, Bungalow with Stairs in 2010. Karl soon followed with his own solo debut, Edgeland in 2013. It was wonderful stuff. Then he surprised and delighted fans by releasing not just one but two collaborative albums with fellow genre-defining artist and producer Brian Eno in 2014. The artists had worked together a few years earlier as members of the improvisational concert project, This is Pure Scenius!  “DBF” from their first collaboration titled, Someday World was energetic and complex and instantly fascinating.  Their follow-up, High Life further refined the duo’s sound with an album full of brilliant tracks. As a dedicated fan of both gentlemen’s work, these records were a dream come true.

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In 2014, the band released a special anniversary edition box set of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, newly remastered and featuring all of the odds and ends from the era, some of which were issued on The Anthology. Another remastered box set appeared the following year, this time of Second Toughest in the Infants.  And further anniversary remasters are expected in the years ahead.

Then in 2016, Underworld released their first new album as a band in six years. It was an absolute triumph of a record, proving to the world that these aging ravers still had what it takes to produce rich and exciting new sounds nearly 40 years into their career. With each new listen to the album, Barbara Barbara We Face a Shining Future, it becomes more and more rewarding an experience.

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So there you have it – a brief tour through the catalog of Underworld. Of course, not everything worth sampling is mentioned above.  With 510 releases, as well as a library of short films, art installations, and publications for both print and web from their art collective, Tomato, it would be impossible to highlight them all. But hopefully, this guide will serve sufficiently as an introduction to their work.

Happy listening.

 

Celebrating my Birthday as Only an Insane Fanatic Can

Today I celebrate my fast-approaching birthday with the album which, as a teen, revealed to me that a world existed outside of top 40 radio pop, and whose album art directly inspired my pursuit of a design degree.

Shamelessly celebrating as only a design fanatic can… with a shrine of custom-printed tees, buttons, concert memorabilia, the original UK LP, the 20th Anniversary deluxe edition, the WaxTrax US compact disc, and the custom album art skin for my new Chromebook which arrived today.

Thank you, Underworld for sticking with me for 20 beautiful years.

 

Dubnobass Chromebook FrontDubnobass Chromebook Back

Tune in with me this evening – I’m spinning the Super Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition.  Cheers!

Inspiration or Obsession? Underworld, Freur, Karl Hyde, and Tomato

A theme was introduced for the day’s posts in a vinyl community today which led me to take a few updated snapshots of my collection.

The theme was 90s Techno and Dance Music, and it seemed as good a time as any to share my ever-growing collection of the Underworld family of albums and singles.

As many of my readers know, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman is perhaps my all-time most beloved LP.  For those not familiar with its significance in my life, it was the very first record I ever heard which wasn’t top 40 radio rock and it blew my mind.

The progressive-house rhythms of Rick Smith and stream-of-consciousness lyricism of front-man Karl Hyde were the catalyst for my exploration into the history of electronic sound and pursuit of the avant-garde. I would certainly not be who I am today without that record.

The stunning album art of Dubnobass was also the work of Hyde’s own graphic design company – Tomato, which counts among their many clientele Nike, Levi, Adidas and many other big names looking for fresh, exciting design in the 90s.  Tomato was the direct inspiration for me to pursue a degree in graphic design and visual communication – a decision which set me on a path to meet many of the most important people in my life. 

Below is my collection to-date.  This includes the albums and singles by their first band (not counting their brief one-off as Screen Gemz) – a synth pop group called Freur.  Freur was originally named with an unpronounceable squiggle depicted on the clear 7″ picture disc below.  Freur is best-known for the hit, “Doot Doot.”  Also featured below are Karl’s more-recent solo effort and collaborative project with Brian Eno.

Brilliant stuff!

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Underworld has explored a wide-range of sonic styles from their early synth-pop days to the present.  Perhaps their best-known trademark sound is that of the hit single, “Born Slippy.Nuxx” – a b-side which gained significant exposure with its appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack.

But the tracks which first-grabbed my attention were those from the Dubnobass years.  From the album’s opening stead-paced club track, “Dark and Long” to the high-energy pairing of “Rez/Cowgirl.”

Here is the anthem performed live on the Everything Everything tour.

And check out the strikingly-different ambient soundscape, “To Heal” from the Sunshine soundtrack.

And finally, if you fancy a more-worldly mesh of Fela Kuti and Steve Reich, here’s the latest single – an instrumental collaboration with Brian Eno.

I have some exciting original material in the month ahead that you won’t want to miss, so stay tuned!

Underworld’s 20th Anniversary LP and a State of Cultural Curation

Today it finally arrived! The 5-disc Super Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition of Underworld’s incredible album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

Underworld is perhaps where I go off the deep end from fan to fringe fanatic. The first album I ever heard which wasn’t commercial pop radio – this record changed my life forever. The album packaging also marked the definitive moment when I knew I had to become a graphic designer.

To date I now have 394 of their albums and EPs in my digital library and nearly every LP, single, book, poster and print they’ve issued since 1979.

It’s collections like this that make me cautious – While I don’t buy these titles blindly, I feel somewhat of a sense of responsibility to have them all – perhaps as a part of what critic Simon Reynolds called the growing “curatorial culture” of music fans.

The snapshot below comprises the majority of the releases linked directly to Dubnobass in 1994. But emotionally it feels like I’m archiving my own life story at the crossroads where my preconceived notions of Music were shattered.

A tribute to Dubnobasswithmyheadman
I’m really at a thoughtful point in my self-appointed archival career.  I’m reading a number of books that examine the nature of post-millennium economy of music sales.  Most address the same fundamental points –

– The ease of distribution of digital files and their compact size has stripped music of its commercial value and rendered the majority of physical media useless, making music more of a utility than a property.  Most casual listeners are satisfied to sacrifice fidelity and dynamic range for the convenience of carrying thousand of albums with them while they shop, eat, and work, or to give up possession of their libraries entire in exchange for cloud-based music services.

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– Simultaneously, the inevitable gluttony of music acquisition which takes place in the digital age further diminishes the value of commercial music.

– However, vinyl sales continue to increase year after year while all other media sales plummet as music consumers discover the merit of the EXPERIENCE of actively listening and participating in their music instead of consuming it passively while performing other tasks.

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– And finally, there is an ever-growing culture of music curators who collect physical artifacts of any number of periods, artists, styles, and formats in an effort to reaffirm the value of their music.  Another benefit of the digital age is that the Web grants these “curators” access to the furthest reaches of obscure and limited-pressing musics from cultures near and far and from (most) any period in history.

I’ve found myself spending more time and energy (and money) than I ever have before building my library of “artifacts,” in part to document my own personal story via music and also out of a sense of duty to build a library of Music that Matters, so that I can share it with the world and open the minds of listeners yearning for strange and wonderful sounds.

What about you?  Are you a cultural curator?  Are we wasting our time and our money with these antiquated and out-dated treasures or does our very act of collecting them somehow justify their value?

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Calling all aging ravers and bedroom rockers… listen up.

Fellow Dirts,
Riders of the sainted rhythms,
disappearing down the tube hole on Farringdon Street,
with Whiplash Willy the motor psycho.

I’m looking at YOU.

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To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman has been meticulously remastered at Abbey Road for a deluxe reissue by Rick Smith. Revisiting the original MIDI files, Rick uncovered a wealth of previously unreleased material and rare alternate mixes that sit alongside the record”s original companion singles and remixes and offer a fascinating insight into the creation of the record. The resultant release is the definitive version of one of those rare records that truly deserves to be described as a classic.

Thunder thunder lightning ahead
To coincide with the re-release of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld will play the album in full at a one-off show at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 11th October 2014. This show will offer fans a unique chance to see Underworld in one of the capital’s most iconic venues playing this classic album in its entirety for the first time. Tickets cost £35/£30 and are on general sale from 4th July.

Pre-order dubnobasswithmyheadman on underworldlive.com before 2nd July and get access to tickets to the Royal Festival Hall show 24 hours before they go on general sale. 
(Tickets are available to Southbank members on 2nd July, underworldlive.com pre-orders on 3rd July and general sale from 4th July)

When you pre-order you will also get the remastered version of Cowgirl straight into your inbox.

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Formats include a limited Super Deluxe 5-CD Box Set with book containing memorabilia and newly created artwork by design collective tomato; a 2-CD Deluxe Edition; remastered single CD; 2LP on 180 GM vinyl; Blu-ray Audio and Digital Equivalents.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman is the first remastered work to be released, there are plans in place to remaster and reissue all of the Underworld’s studio albums in the next few years.

In all its glory

Here is the track listing for the Super Deluxe 5 CD boxset which also includes a 50 page book of memorabilia and new artwork by tomato;

CD1 Dubnobasswithmyheadman

1. Dark & Long
2. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
3. Surfboy
4. Spoonman
5. Tongue
6. Dirty Epic
7. Cowgirl
8. River Of Bass
9.M.E

CD2 Singles 1991 – 1994

1. The Hump (Wild Beast)
2. Eclipse (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
3. Rez
4. Dirty (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
5. Dirtyguitar
6. Dark & Long (Hall’s Edit)
7. Dark & Long (Dark Train)
8. Spikee Cd3 Remixes 1992 – 1994
1. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Jam Scraper)
2. Cowgirl (Irish Pub In Kyoto Mix)
3. Dark & Long (Most ‘Ospitable Mix)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Telegraph 16.11.92)
5. Dark & Long (Burts Mix)
6. Dogman Go Woof
7. Dark & Long (Thing In A Book Mix)

CD3 Remixes 1992 – 1994

1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Jam scraper)
2.Cowgirl (Irish Pub in Kyoto mix)
3.Dark & Long (Most ‘ospitable mix)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Telegraph 16.11.92)
5. Dark & Long (Burts mix)
6.Dogman Go Woof
7. Dark & Long (Thing in a Book mix)

CD4 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED RECORDINGS 1991 – 1993

1. Concord (3 Comp75 id9 A1771 Aug 93A)
2. Dark & Long(1struffid3A15512)
3. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (A1765 Sky Version id4. Harmone6 COMP43)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (After sky id6 1551 2)
5. Can You Feel Me? (from A4796)
6. Birdstar (A1558 Nov 92B.1)
7. Dirty Epic (Dirty Ambi Piano A1764 Oct 91)
8. Spoonman (version1 A1559 Nov92)
9. Organ (Eclipse version from A4796)
10. Cowgirl(AltCowgirlC69MixfromA1564)

CD5 LIVE JAM KYME RD (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED LIVE REHEARSAL RECORDED IN THE BAND’S HOME STUDIO IN 1993)

1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
2.Improv 1
3.Bigmouth
4.Improv 2
5.Big Meat Show
6.Improv 3
7.Spoonman

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This release is a milestone for the Dirties.  We’ve all shared our copies of  “Thing in a Book,” “‘Ospitable,” the Dubno rehearsal cassette, and every one of the other glorious rarities that appear on the Super Deluxe set over these past 20 years.  These tracks circulated privately among the Dirty forum members for ages while other odds and ends appeared only briefly a decade ago on the retired Underworld website.  Dedicated fans from the corners of the web have compiled well over 2,600 tracks between studio outtakes, official and unofficial live releases, Karl’s web diaries and Tomato ANTI-ROM and other multimedia.  But this release will be the first time these recordings will be available (as raw .WAVs, no less) on an official release.

John Bush of Allmusic.com called it “music for aging-raver activities like driving cars, pushing swings, or jogging on treadmills.”

Regardless, Rick and Karl have been making incredible music for over thirty-five years, and the two latest collaborations with “senior citizen soundscape artist” Brian Eno are no exception.

Tomorrow High Life will arrive on my doorstep, and I look forward to perusing the new Tomato publication when it follows.

…and the light it blinds my eyes.

February Featured Artist: Mr. Karl Hyde

A dear friend recently stated that “Sometimes I think the only point of going to college was for me to find out about Underworld’s A Hundred Days Off album.”  I replied that it was one of the most beautiful sentences I’d ever read.

And it came at an opportune juncture, as there is brilliant Underworld news afoot.

Karl (the lead, founding member) has released his first-ever solo record.  And you need to go buy it right now.

Karl Hyde - Edgeland

I touched upon this album in my post from mid-December, which served as more of a sample analysis of the LP than a proper review, but now that I’ve had time to really digest the album I thought it appropriate to explore the record and his recent live performances in greater depth.

Karl’s debut solo show at The Union Chapel on April 25th 2013 featured several UW rarities and classics, many performed live for the first time in his 35-year career.

The genre tag for the new LP is listed as “Ethereal” and honestly I could not dream up a more fitting term.  It explores the more intimate progressive sounds which kept bringing listeners back to A Hundred Days Off, and to many of Karl’s more exploratory “deep cuts” over the years.

This first-ever live track is “8 Ball,” originally issued exclusively on the soundtrack to the film, The Beach 14 years ago.  Karl concluded the Union Chapel show with this treat, and it’s wonderful to see him filled with joy at the end of the performance.

And here is “Dirty Epic” from the same show. “Epic” was the first track on his first release as Underworld Mk2.  Underworld Mk1 was a synth pop extension of his earlier band, Freur. But Dubnobasswithmyheadman was brilliantly progressive and a milestone in the history of electronic music. Karl’s stream-of-consciousness sexually-charged lyricism takes center stage in this more intimate interpretation of the now 20-year old trance anthem.

And finally, here was the mind-blowing surprise track of the night. Watch below as Karl performs the track which first exposed him to musical celebrity – the Welsh synthpop one-hit-wonder Freur released in 1983 – “Doot Doot.” This is the first time in 30 years that Karl has performed the song.  And without the electric drum kit or synth keyboards, it takes on a much more mature mood.  Fans who have been following Karl since his humble beginnings were awestruck to hear the track performed by a a man who, at the age of 57 has guided the direction of electronic music for the last three decades.

Now onto Edgeland – Karl’s first official release without his bandmate, Rick Smith.  I came to this record without having heard a single note before I dropped the needle on my own copy.  I made no hesitation about ordering it – Karl has never let me down and Edgeland proved to be no exception.

Karl_Hyde - Edgeland 2013-5.16.2013 Inner Jacket

A few words on Edgeland’s production value:

This is an elegant and mature recording – rare form in an electronic genre plagued by contemporary trends like brostep and heavily-compressed electro pop.

Examining “Perfume” we find a simple, low-fi sawtooth wave paired with a melody supplied by Karl’s Gibson SG guitar.  But headphone listening reveals several other instrumental nuances.  Similarly, subtle choral harmonic effects support and enrich his vocals.  Both of these effects are masterfully executed and clearly separate this record from the bland pop that dominates the genre.

And here is the video of the album’s single – “The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers.”

The track exudes Karl’s intellectual refinement and his overwhelming joy.  The record is a proud sonic declaration of who he is – capturing the musical voice that exists within Mr. Hyde, outside of the sold-out arenas in Tokyo, and away from the rave anthems of the music festivals.  We are hearing Karl’s true voice, independent of Underworld, of the genre, and free of expectation or responsibility.

And his voice is beautiful.

Thanks, Karl.

Karl Hyde Press Photo

Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds

More big news to finish off the year with a bang!

Two new titles to report – one from each of my greatest musical inspirations.

The first is John Higgs’ new book – THE KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds.

To quote DJ Food, who just blogged about the book at the end of October:

“If there’s one event that the book centers on it’s the burning of a million pounds and from there he draws clear lines to Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea, Alan Moore, Ken Campbell, the number 23, Dr Who, magical thinking, The Dadaists, the Devil, Discordianism, the assassination of Kennedy, Wicker Men and the banking crisis of the late 20th Century.”

This is definitely not your average KLF biography.

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The book went into print just last September, so I was happy to create an entry for the title on Goodreads and to provide its first review.

I’m 3/4 through this brilliant book and with each new chapter I am amazed how much this humble little paperback reveals about global events and cultural responses of the 20th century.

For example, Chapter 12: Undercurrents examines the quiet death of 20th century culture – the forgettable early-to-mid 90s.

The chapter summarizes the beginnings and endings of cultural climates, citing key events beginning with Darwinism’s impact on the pillar of faith in the late nineteenth century to The Great War, the conflict of the 40s, the conformity of the 50s, the liberation of the 60s, the hedonistic self-indulgence of the 70s, and the shift toward material wealth in the 1980s.

All of this lead to the 90s – the point where culture simply burned out. “They were out of ideas.” Slacker became the iconic low-culture film of 1991. Nihilism peaked in 1994 with Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the KLF’s burning of a million pounds, and the death of Bill Hicks.

And with these events, Higgs declares, “this was the point when the constant creation of new musical genres that had characterized the 20th century came to an end.”

Higgs refers to 1991-94 as the “Age of Extremes,” bracketed by the end of the Cold War and by the birth of first popular web browser.

The chapter also touches upon Surrealism, Situationism, Anti-capitalism, Communism, Fascism, Dadaism, The Cabaret Voltaire, Generation X, Tony Blair, George W Bush, The Spice Girls, and how all of these lead us to the new millennium.

Other chapters are equally rich in content.  Chapter 4: Magic and Moore, (specifically pp 80 – 89) examine the nature of consciousness, Carl Jung, Alan Moore’s concept of “Ideaspace,” and reality, itself.

A thoroughly exciting book, I had to put it down mid-chapter just to collect my thoughts.

One thing is for certain – Higgs’ book will give you more insight into the mysterious entity that is the K-Foundation than you could ever have asked for.

The KLF Print by Innerspaceboy 2013
A screen print design I made in tribute to the K Foundation earlier this summer.

And I was absolutely delighted when I received a record from my other great inspiration in the post – the first solo recording from Underworld-frontman Karl Hyde.

For those who aren’t aware of my history with Underworld, the debut record of Underworld Mk II – Dubnobasswithmyheadman was the very first album I heard which wasn’t top 40 radio pop.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman

The album set me on a path to discover the progressive and cerebral sounds of the avant-garde and the history of electronic music.  And the album’s packaging, designed by Karl Hyde and his design company, Tomato, inspired me to pursue my degree in graphic design.

In the 35 years since two gents from Cardiff sold their first single out of the boot of their car, Underworld has gone on to write floor-stomping anthems, to collaborate with Danny Boyle on Trainspotting and more recently, the Frankenstein play with Benedict Cumberbatch, and to score the 3-hour opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.
They’ve produced experimental works with Brian Eno and created ambient installation pieces for their Tomato art collective.

And now, in 2013, Karl Hyde has released his first-ever solo LP at the age of 57.

Karl Hyde - Edgeland

Edgeland is an elegant and ethereal experimental record – an appropriately sophisticated first solo venture for the man who has been pioneering the electronic genre for decades.

There are subtle but clear elements of inspiration sprinkled throughout the record which Karl’s life-long fans will surely detect.  The last 40 seconds of “Final Ray of the Sun” for example contains a few notes from a muted, compressed harmonica.  The sample comes from a single titled, “Big Mouth” released by Karl back in 1995 under the moniker, Lemon Interupt.  The single received little press or radio play, but true Underworld fans will smile contentedly when the harmonica begins to play on “Final Ray.”

The percussive piano loop which comprises the opening 10 seconds of “Out of Darkness” serves as a subtle nod to Terry Riley’s genre-defining minimal masterpiece, “In C.”

Furthermore, the fragmented instrumentation of “Dancing on the Graves” and the mechanical vocals of “Cascading Lights” are musical elements one might suspect were lifted from Brain Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Even if not for those particular samples, Brian Eno’s collaborative impact is certainly evident in Karl’s trademarked stream-of-consciousness vocals.  It is a mature, contemplative record and a triumph for Karl Hyde.

The release of this new LP inspired me to take on a large project.  This evening I set myself to the task of downloading the largest compendium of Underworld’s work – all in 320CBR  quality and merged it with my own UW library, twice the size of the web-sourced archive.

In four hours’ time, I had constructed a 27GB network of 393 sub-folders and over 2,500 tracks.  I applied uniform naming conventions to the entire set to establish the first archival-quality library of their extended catalog.

Each folder is prefixed with the year of release, and suffixed with its respective catalog number.  Albums are sorted into folders such as ALBUMS, DEMOS & PROTOTYPES, INTERVIEWS, LIVE RELEASES, SINGLES, SOUNDTRACKS, etc, etc.

I plan to spend the remaining evenings of the year tagging the entire network of files to match the folder structure.

And I will enjoy every minute of it.

Thanks for tuning in for 2013 and I’ll see you next year!

Finest Examples of Where Music Meets Design (3 of 3)

Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman was a milestone in the history of electronic music. It was the first thing I’d ever heard that wasn’t top 40 pop radio and it blew my mind.  If “Born Slippy” (yes, that song from Trainspotting) is all you know of Underworld, do yourself a favor and give “Dark and Long,” “Dirty Epic” and “Cowgirl” a solid listen.  The most accurate term I’ve found for this album so far has been “progressive house” and if you follow the evolution of their sound from their synth-pop beginnings in ’78 to their 2011 album, Barking you’ll see what I mean.  Dubnobass has only gotten better with age.

Just as Lemon Jelly’s art is created by Airside, Karl Hyde (half of Underworld) works for a similarly innovative design collective called Tomato.  The team is responsible for Underworld’s incredible typographical album art. The very first moment I saw this album I knew I had to pursue a degree in the field of graphic design, and I’ve never looked back. 261 Underworld releases later, it’s led me to delve deep into the history of ambient and electronic music, studying everything from Satie and Stockhausen to Cage and Eno and a thousand other artists.   This album changed my life.

Here is the elusive 1993 video for “Cowgirl,” from the Footwear Repairs by Craftsmen at Competitive Prices VHS.

Click here to view my photos of the album’s glorious packaging.

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 12:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Classic House at My Doorstep

Three classic singles just arrived at my door.  For only a few dollars I could have ordered these at any time during the last several years.  However, it would have meant shelling out $12 for each single to ship them overseas.  I lucked out this week when I found all three from the same seller – and in the USA!

The first single needs no introduction.  It’s “Dark and Long (Dark Train)” from Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman era.  After over 15 years they still play this song at many of their live shows.

Underworld - Dark & Long (Dark Train)
The second single is only familiar to real Underworld fans, which is sad because it’s such a fantastic disc.  “Spikee” / “Dogman Go Woof ” was released on Junior Boys Own records in ’93.  If you don’t want the hassle of tracking down the original single, the track was released on the 1992-2002 compilation double disc – an album which also features other rarities like “Bigmouth” and “8 Ball.”

Underworld - Spikee / Dogman Go Woof
The “Spikee” video below is from the rare Footwear Repairs By Craftsmen at Competitive Prices VHS, a compilation of early Underworld videos produced by Tomato.  Anyone who owns a copy of Karl’s mmm… Skyscraper: A Typographical Journal of New York will recognize the fractured type which eventually ended up as artwork for the Dubnobass LP.

The vocal samples come in at around 3:10 and play throughout.

The song is structurally similar to Darren Price’s “Everybody Jack” in its use of fragmented vocal loops.  “Jack” was previously known as “Javelin Boy,” a misinterpretation of the lyric.  The song has yet to be released by the band.

The earliest versions of “Everybody Jack” that I have in my collection are from 2007 – the Central Park, NYC show from 09-14, the Glasgow Academy, Scotland set from 10-13 and the London Roundhouse England performance from 10-18.  But the version aired during the 30 minute Exclusive Mix for the We Are One Festival blows all the others away.   Here it is, from that very mix.

And this is a promo vid Darren Price recorded for Maschine 1.6 a few weeks before the Miami Music Conference where he plays around with the “Everybody Jack” sample live in studio.  Jump to 1:37 to watch him at work.

The third and final single is the KLF’s Justified and Ancient.  I already have”3 A.M. Eternal (Live At The S.S.L.),” “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” and “Chill Out” is on its way.

KLF - Justified and Ancient (front)
KLF - Justified and Ancient (back)

In addition to the songs themselves, an added bonus of ordering the singles was that they provided me with clean copies of the older JBO logo and the KLF pyramid, which I scanned and recreated to work on dark t-shirts.  I’ll be printing them up soon, along with a White Room icon tee and one of the “Why Sheep?” graphic from the White Room liner notes.

I also stumbled across an Underworld unreleased treasure that I had somehow missed when it first surfaced on the Web.   It is the DAT prototype tape for Dubnobasswithmyheadman which the band used when trying to secure a record deal in the U.S in 1993.  You can definitely hear them finding their sound on this tape.  Check out “Organ.”