Music review: Karl Hyde, Union Chapel, London


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The Independent Culture

Karl Hyde’s debut UK gig as a solo artist shows how far club culture has come. Not as spectacularly, perhaps, as when his veteran dance outfit Underworld helped their old pal Danny Boyle by assembling the soundtrack for last summer’s Olympic Opening Ceremony, 16 years after their “Born Slippy” helped give Trainspotting its propulsive rush. 

But in working apart from Underworld’s Rick Smith, his creative partner of 30 years, Hyde found himself making more organic, intimate music. The resultant album, Edgeland, explores the hinterland where London blurs into Essex, paying tribute to Underworld’s Romford roots. Playing it live finds a nervous Hyde standing in front of an altar and a three-piece band, with a largely unstrummed guitar strapped on. “We don’t actually often get to see each other,” he realises, peering out at the fans filling pews in unaccustomed stillness for what is effectively an Edgeland recital. The comforts of anonymity and ecstatic abandon have both been removed in this solo, formal world. 

The architectural grandeur bands usually enjoy in this church is screened by giant canopies of black calligraphy, and lighting so sepulchral those in the balcony sometimes vanish from view. This suits “The Night Slips Us Smiling Underneath Its Dress”, as neon flashes softly in smoky light, a keyboard chimes, and Hyde unfolds a characteristic tale of exhausted people in the long, small hours, a limo driver who hasn’t slept for days cruising him past surreal scenes.

Keyboards conjure the sound of bubbles deep underwater as Hyde enjoys the simple sugar rush of morning tea in “Angel Café”. “The Boy With the Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers” dips into a memory of a “messy night” with a touch of Underworld’s anthemic vigour, and “Slummin’ It For The Weekend” goes deeper into the happy weekend carnage Hyde has always soundtracked. But these songs by the wiry, healthy 55-year-old are reflective after the event, not replicating or stimulating its rush. The pew-bound listeners absorb remembered emotions, instead of moving.

A second half of Underworld songs redresses the balance a bit, as spotlights swing for “Dirty Epic”’s 1994 ride on “the midnight train to Romford”, with its heady mix of shame and exhilaration, and the exultant “8 Ball”, at the end of which Hyde declares “You feel…happy!” Even after singing about a cup of tea in a church, he goes out on a high.