On top of the Underworld

Eighteen months ago, they insisted they'd never do a live album. But now, Darren Emerson has left the band, and the other two have been busy with - guess what? Ben Thompson hears their excuses

I saw Karl Hyde get on a train with his baby daughter once, at Liverpool Street station. On the face of it, it was not the most notable of celebrity sightings (though the Underworld frontman's blond highlights and strangely elasticated stance do stand out in a crowd). And yet there was something magical about happening across him in the midst of a trip he's made mythical.

I saw Karl Hyde get on a train with his baby daughter once, at Liverpool Street station. On the face of it, it was not the most notable of celebrity sightings (though the Underworld frontman's blond highlights and strangely elasticated stance do stand out in a crowd). And yet there was something magical about happening across him in the midst of a trip he's made mythical.

Watching Karl Hyde board a Central Line Tube is like turning a corner to find Bob Dylan stuck on the hard shoulder of Highway 61, or bumping into Kraftwerk in the queue for the buffet car of the Trans-Europe Express. From the irresistible imprecation to "Ride the sainted rhythms on the midnight train to Romford" on Underworld's debut album, dubnobasswithmyheadman, to "Born Slippy"'s bacchanalian station-concourse headrush, to "Stagger"'s anguished "Everything's going west, nothing's going east", Hyde's finely honed stream-of-consciousness-style narrations have fetishised the journey back and forth between the West End and his group's Essex base to the brink of legend.

Few voices in pop (or any other art-form, for that matter) have so clearly captured the sense of fragmented stimuli coming together in a single stream, which is at the heart of modern living. Look out of the window on the afternoon train to Romford, and the landscape flashing by - railway sidings, pylons, half-finished housing developments, the odd canal - is like an Underworld song in three dimensions.

From the station it's a short cab-ride to the quiet suburban street in which the group made their first two albums. Rick Smith - Hyde's friend and colleague of almost 20 years' standing - is trying out the sound-beds for the internet site that their forthcoming live DVD Everything, Everything will connect up to. "It's different every time," he enthuses in a gentle Welsh accent, as the room is suffused with the rheumatic breath of an antique synthesiser's pre-digital wiring.

A year and a half ago, when their third album, Beaucoup Fish, came out, an interviewer asked Underworld if they had any plans to release a live record, since their music took on such distinct new shapes when they took it out on tour. "Did we say 'Absolutely not'?" Smith asks with an anxious smile, knowing full well that they did. "The thing was, we knew we were gonna change - I started to see that look in Karl's eyes - and we thought it would be a shame not to document a period where we were playing really well."

If your run-of-the-mill live album is a holiday snapshot, Everything, Everything is - as its title suggests - the full Super 8 film-show. As a record, it's a worthy souvenir of the full-on Underworld live experience. But the group's determination to push back the frontiers of new technology will allow - among other treats - those lucky fans with a DVD player to mix their own visuals using images activated by a keyboard: "From A for the calmest, to Z for the most mad." When (or if) the thrill of doing that starts to fade, the disc will connect to customised websites plugging into the full range of Underworld's extra-curricular achievements - from Tokyo gallery installations to some lovely pictures of sofas.

The timing of such a voluminous stock-taking exercise could hardly have been more propitious, as the change Rick saw coming in Karl's eyes has since taken physical shape. Darren Emerson, Underworld's third member of 10 years' standing, recently left the group to plough his own furrow (his trance single with fellow dancefloor hotshot Sasha is out in a couple of weeks). After an extended build-up, in which Underworld began to develop a reputation for grouchiness, the eventual parting of ways is said to have been amicable. But they haven't seen Emerson since. Not even at the local newsagent's buying a pint of milk - he lives just around the corner.

It's not the same as Ozzy leaving Sabbath. For all the occasional shouts of, "Where's Darren?" when the newly binary Underworld played without him at Junior Boys Own 10th anniversary celebration at the Astoria a couple of months back, the band's live set didn't have to be extensively restructured. It will be interesting to hear the difference in the first recordings they make without him, though, as Emerson - City bonds-dealer turned acid house DJ - was the living embodiment of the place Underworld's other two members are in, but not of.

"He's from here, born and bred," Smith explains, "whereas Karl and I were both brought up in small villages [in South Wales and the West Midlands/mid-Wales badlands respectively]." The story of how the two of them ended up in Romford is rather a romantic one. "My wife was from here," Smith says simply. "I met her, fell in love and moved." So she whisked him away to a life of east London luxury? "At the time," a smiling Hyde explains, "we weren't in an environment which it upset Rick too much to be whisked away from."

A gruesome tale of late-Eighties penury unfolds. Having just been dropped from their second major-label deal of the decade, and on the cusp of artistic (and financial) bankruptcy, the men who would be Underworld were holed up in a crumbling seafront property in Bexhill-on-Sea, eating undercooked vegetables out of a malfunctioning pressure cooker.

"We said we'd laugh about it one day, and we do," says Hyde, "but it still hurts to laugh." The truly funny thing is the way Underworld's pre-history as shameless Eighties pop tarts has always been treated as a skeleton in their cupboard, when it actually plugged them into the same mainframe of weedy English electro-pop that all the original US techno pioneers used to feed from. "Thank you for that," Hyde grimaces, "I feel much better about the Eighties now."

The Eighties is not the only thing the wanton libertine turned father-of-two is now feeling better about. Around the time of Beaucoup Fish, he spoke of a serious run-in with alcoholism. Was he afraid that he would no longer be able to tap into that trademark Underworld mood of mobile abandon if he wasn't drinking heavily? "Absolutely. It wasn't so much that everything I did previously was written that way - it was more a key to being uninhibited: going to places and hanging out longer than I should have. Stories would stick to you: you just had to walk through them..."

It turned out that travelling home sober had an upside as well as a down. "It was disturbing - and to an extent it still is - to have contact with the world again, so you're not wandering through life in a cocoon, looking through a tiny little slit. I used to sit in the backs of trains being completely invisible. Now" - Hyde gives a jokey shudder - "I feel like I'm part of the human race."

'Everything, Everything' (Junior Boys Own CD and video) is out on 4 September. The DVD follows in October

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn