Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest In The Infants, Beaucoup Fish. Three groundbreaking electronic music albums, all created by the same group and released in the same decade. Impossible to top, right? Not if you’re Underworld. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been making music together since 1979, but you could argue that the material they’ve released over the last five years has been some of their best. Barking marks the first time the band has collaborated on album tracks with artists outside of the core group, and the results are astounding. Personal favorites include “Bird 1″ (with Dubfire from Deep Dish), “Scribble” (with High Contrast, which you can download below) and “Diamond Jigsaw” (with Paul van Dyk). (Click here for a tracklist and full collaborator credits.) The ebullient and always poetic Karl Hyde took some time out of a recent vacation to rap with me about the new record and his own artistic journeys this year.
Barking comes out September 13 on Om Records/Cooking Vinyl, and can be purchased in a multitude of formats via Underworld Live. They’ll be playing one show in the US before the end of the year – Hard Haunted Mansion in LA on October 31 — but you can always hear their Crude webcasts online.
MP3: Underworld - Scribble (6:58)
So where are you at this moment?
Karl Hyde: You won’t believe this, but I’m standing on a beach looking out at the Atlantic and I’m surrounded by holiday makers and it’s kinda weird. Seagulls wheeling overhead. But, you know, I’ve been in weirder places.
Sounds like a job for the cellphone camera.
Karl Hyde: (Laughs) Yeah, I do have a spare hand.
I think the last time we spoke Artjam was in its infancy, and you’d been a huge proponent, not just in idea but in deed, of cataloging life through cell phone pictures and digital micro diaries. Since then, social media has exploded with the sharing of photos and places and ideas. Thinking back to when you first started doing this for the Riverrun Project, what are your thoughts on the way we, as a society, have become such rabid digital compilers and sharers?
Karl Hyde: I wish there wasn’t so much of it, because not a lot of it is very interesting. I find the system is clogged up with a lot of images and words and publishing of small aspects of personal lives. I feel there’s got to be a better way of doing it in such a public domain. I think there’s been a devaluing of the personal by making it so public. I think that’s really what I’m trying to say, and I cherish the personal. One of my nieces, she writes letters to me, and they blow me away. A letter comes in the post and it’s between her and me, and I really feel like she sat down and wrote it and posted it and its arrived to me. It’s like a conduit between the two of us and I’m holding something physical in my hand. The virtual world has eroded the real experience. I walk through the streets of cities and I document them, but I walk through the streets of cities. I can’t concoct something that I haven’t lived. I like being with people. It’s the experience of standing in front of a real audience whose really giving you the message they want to give you. All those things are deeply important to me. Pencil and paper has become more important to me now than an iPhone. The computer world, the digital world, a digital photograph, a cell phone, the app store. I’m looking for balance. I don’t see any of those things as being bad at all—at all—‘cause I love ‘em. I think they’re fantastic and it’s what we wanted in the early 1980s, but there’s a lack of balance.
Do you think that’s shifted the manner and the frequency which you share your stuff?
Karl Hyde: Yeah. For example, I’m flying to Tokyo on Friday to open up my first painting exhibition, which is on paper and there’s one version of everything. (Laughs) I’ll webcam it and we’ll put it up on the internet, but to see it you’ve got to be there. I’m doing a live painting there for the people that turn up. Rick and I, together with John Warwicker, formed Artjam. For all the web radio shows and broadcasts that we do, which we deeply love, the balance to all of that is being in front of a real audience and being in contact with real people. I’m on vacation here and I was just walking around an art gallery and this guy comes up to me and starts talking to me about a concert he saw us in two weeks ago. That carries deeper resonance for me than something I see on a blog. But at the same time, I’m so happy that we can go to the laptop tonight and publish something instantly and not be imprisoned by some of the old mechanisms that were around releasing only in the physical form. That was depressing. Now we’ve got much wider possibilities. As artists, the digital world has liberated us, to an extent, but it can also imprison us if that’s all we do. That’s why moving between different medium—like moving between two older guys living in Essex and all these younger guys living in the rest of the world—is important. It’s the energy of the moving between. It’s the freedom of choice. That means everything.
I really appreciate you taking the time to rap over your vacation.
Karl Hyde: Oh, one last thing. There is one band out there that I’m absolutely loving; a band called HEALTH, who you probably know. Really, really a fan of the last album, to the extent that we’ve made contact them.
Are you planning on working with them at all?
Karl Hyde: Could do, yeah. There’s a performance on YouTube of them doing “We Are Water” that absolutely blew me away.
Talk about young and full of beans.
Karl Hyde: Absolutely, man. Young and full of beans. I thought, you know what, they kinda remind me of us years ago. Yeah, I like what they’re doing.