Underworld (UK electronic music group)

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Underworld
history

Underworld – the British duo Karl Hyde and Rick Smith – have been one of the most pioneering and influential electronic acts in the world for more than twenty years. In that time, their music has transcended club dancefloors and provided soundtracks to everything from iconic movies (Trainspotting) to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games (for which they were handpicked as musical directors).

Rick and Karl met in Cardiff in the early ’80s and spent the following decade working together in a succession of bands with varying levels of success (highlights included a stint in the studio with Krautrock godfather Conny Plank and a Top 10 single in Italy as Freur). After splitting up an earlier version of Underworld (usually referred to as Mk 1), Rick relocated to Romford, Essex where he built a studio in his spare bedroom. A new version of Underworld began after Smith met a local up-and-coming DJ, Darren Emerson. Emerson’s sets in London clubs proved influential on Rick who began making music inspired by the sounds of UK’s nascent dance scene.

After a brace of singles released under the name Lemon Interrupt, the reinvigorated Underworld released Mmm Skyscraper… I Love You - a thirteen-minute blueprint for their future. Sounding unlike any other electronic record of that era (or since), the 1992 single fitted Karl’s hallucinogenic monologue to a rolling, relentless rhythm track. The dynamic may have been that of a band; the execution was something far more otherworldly. The album that followed – 1994’s hugely acclaimed dubnobasswithmyheadman – seamlessly blended man and machine to create ‘dance music utterly unlike any other dance music’ (Mojo).

In the months that followed the release of dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld built a formidable live reputation. Gigs became communions where songs were pulled in new directions and rearranged to suit the mood nightly. The band’s freeform shows set them apart from the more structured approach of their contemporaries.

Released early in 1996, Underworld’s second album – Second Toughest In The Infants – saw the band push further into the unknown to create what is unarguably one of the UK’s greatest electronic records – an utterly unique eight track sonic journey through techno, drum’n’bass, minimalist composition and ambient music. Upon release, the media elevated the band to something close to national treasure status (“A British band to rank alongside Pet Shop Boys, New Order… hell, Pink Floyd. If all acid house had ever left us was this, it would surely be justification enough” The Face).

Second Toughest…’s release coincided with that of Danny Boyle’s massively successful adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting - the closing sequence of which was cut to an Underworld B-side from 1995 (Born Slippy: NUXX). By the time the track was reissued in the summer of ’96 after the success of the film, Born Slippy: NUXX had attained anthem status. The single would reach No 2 in the charts and go on to sell over one million copies in the UK.

Underworld’s third album - 1999’s Beaucoup Fish – was another critically lauded release (“There are rare moments when even the longest albums feel like they should go on forever: this, emphatically, is one of them” NME) and remains the band’s biggest selling to date. The record’s crossover success soon saw the band booked for main stage slots at festivals the world over, in turn becoming one of the most recognizable electronic acts around. Many of those performances were captured on film and audio for Everything, Everything – a live project that saw the band experimenting with fledgling DVD technology.

Soon after the Beaucoup Fish tour finished, Darren Emerson left Underworld to pursue solo projects. Continuing as a duo, Rick and Karl subsequently released an album - A Hundred Days Off (2002, “A very fine Underworld album – they don’t make any other kind… a beautiful and baffling enigma” Uncut, 4 out of 5) - that was preceded by the massive radio and club hit Two Months Off.

In 2006, Underworld began to explore the emerging possibilities of the Internet and direct selling when they released the Riverrun series. Ever the innovators, the band were one of the first major acts to release music solely in the digital market. The Riverrun releases (Lovely Broken Thing, Pizza for Eggs and I’m A Big Sister and I’m a Girl, and I’m a Princess, and This Is My Horse) presented new music mixed into freeform, single-track compilations and pointed towards the more experimental nature of 2007’s Oblivion With Bells (“Less the comedown than the sound of the party still going 10 years on.” NME, 8 out of 10).

Following a period soundtracking both Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering, Rick and Karl released Barking in 2010 (“a harmonious marriage of the classic, propulsive Underworld sound and the kind of techniques and textures that postdate most of their career” Resident Advisor). The album saw the duo working with a handpicked selection of contemporary producers (including Mark Knight, High Contrast, Dubfire and Paul Van Dyk), many of who had been heavily influenced by the band when starting out.

Shortly after Barking’s release, Underworld were confirmed as musical directors for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Directed by Danny Boyle and titled Isles of Wonder, the opening ceremony was viewed by 900 million people worldwide, including 27 million in the UK alone. Later that year, the band received Q magazine’s Innovation in Sound award.

In the autumn of 2014, Underworld reissued dubnobasswithmyheadman in deluxe form for its twentieth anniversary. The album was universally hailed as a classic (“Acclaimed at the time as the most important album since the Stone Roses’ debut, dubnobasswithmyheadman is no less singular and compelling 20 years later… the album sounds like a city talking to itself after dark.” The Guardian, "A revolutionary record." The Quietus), a one-off show playing the album in its entirely at London’s iconic Royal Festival Hall sold out in seconds.

The dubnobass… reissue (followed in 2015 by a deluxe edition of Second Toughest In The Infants) and subsequent tour dates around the world.

Annotation last modified on 2015-11-19 10:10 UTC.
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Discography

Album + Compilation

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
2002 Empire 2002⁺ The Hottest Soundtracks… Now! Various Artists 1
2002 Tracks From the Best Dance Albums of All Time Various Artists 1
2002 Screen Cuts Various Artists 1
2002 ID&T Classics Various Artists 1
2002 Chilloutmix 3 Various Artists 1
2002 The Chɘmical Generation Various Artists 1
2002 CreamCollect: Balearic Various Artists 1
2002 Cigarettes and Alcohol: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning Various Artists 1
2002 Cream Collect Techno Various Artists 1
2002 Ibiza Classics Various Artists 1
2002 Karma Lounge 2 Various Artists 1
2002 SonneMondSterne 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Sorted! 40 Madchester Baggy Anthems Various Artists 1
2002 Trax, Volume 55 Various Artists 1
2002 Big Beach Boutique II Fatboy Slim and Midfield General 4.5 3
2002 Hits 54 Various Artists 1
2002 Ambient Lounge 4 Various Artists 1
2002 Pure Trance Various Artists 1
2002 Rolling Stone #01 Various Artists 1
2002 Rolling Stone: New Noises, Volume 55 Various Artists 1
2002 The Ultimate Teen Flick Soundtrack Various Artists 1
2002 Top of the Pops 2003 Various Artists 1
2002 Clubland II: The Ride of Your Life Various Artists 2
2002 Hed Kandi: Winter Chill 06.02 Various Artists 1
2002 De Afrekening, Volume 29: Best of 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 ACA World Sound Festival: The Official Compilation 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Disco Pogo for Punks in Pumps, Volume 1 Various Artists 1
2002 Introduced 100: 100 Issues Intro | Essential Music 1991–2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Chill Out in Ibiza 3 Various Artists 2
2002 Deejay Parade 2003 Various Artists 1
2002 Headliners: The New Generation Moguai 1
2002 A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Chill Out in Ibiza 4 Various Artists 2
2002 Dance Train 2002, Volume 4: Club Edition Various Artists 1
2002 ElectroBurn Various Artists 2
2002 Humo: Top 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Ibiza Hitmix 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Ibiza Summer Anthems 2 Various Artists 1
2002 Metro Collection Two Various Artists 1
2002 Ministry of Sound: The Annual 2003 Various Artists 1
2002 Muzik: Best of 2002 Various Artists 1
2002 Natural House Various Artists 1
2002 Old Skool Ibiza Various Artists 1
2002 Party Groove: White Party 02 Tracy Young 1
2002 Sensation 2002: The Megamixes Various Artists 1
2002 Serious Club Hits Various Artists 1
2003 Big Day Out 03 Various Artists 1
2003 The Very Best of Dave Pearce Dance Anthems Various Artists 1
2003 A Night at the Tables Dirty Vegas 1
2003 Bertallosophie, Volume 2 Various Artists 1
2003 Live Forever: The Best of Britpop Various Artists 1
2003 Strange and Beautiful Various Artists 1
2003 Music for the Masses: Visions of Future Pop Various Artists 1
2003 Broken Folk Funk Latin Soul Gilles Peterson 1
2003 Empire Presents: Sound Tracks Various Artists 1
2003 Triple J: Hottest Box Various Artists 1
2003 Razzmatazz DJ Amable 1
2003 Ambient Lounge 5 Various Artists 1
2003 Across America: Sixeleven DJ Mixseries, Volume 5 Various Artists 1
2003 Ibiza: The History of House Various Artists 1
2003 Pure Chill Out 2 Various Artists 1
2003 Sónar 2003 Various Artists 2
2003 Chill Out in Ibiza 5 Various Artists 1
2003 De Maxx Long Player 4: Classics Only Various Artists 1
2003 Ibiza: The History of Hard Dance Various Artists 1
2003 Kontor: Sunset Chill, Volume 4 Various Artists 1
2003 The Best of the Chillout Sessions Various Artists 1
2003 Ministry of Sound: Late Night Sessions Various Artists 1
2003 Perfecto Chills, Volume 1 Paul Oakenfold 1
2003 The Ultimate Chillout Classics Album Various Artists 1
2003 Trance Theory 3D DJ X-Dream 1
2003 Global Underground: Lights Out 2 Steve Lawler 2
2003 Acid House Reborn! Jon Carter 1
2003 Les Inrockuptibles présentent : Une rentrée electro 2003 Various Artists 1
2003 Later Various Artists 2
2003 The Greatest Driving Album This Year Various Artists 1
2003 101 Dance Hits Various Artists 1
2003 20 Years Airport Anniversary: The Club Classics Various Artists 1
2003 Antwerp Is Burning 2003 (Mixed by Boss Nova) Various Artists 1
2003 Astro Bar Various Artists 1
2003 Buddha Sunrise Various Artists 1
2003 ClubUK: The Best of British Dance Various Artists 1
2003 Dancefloor FG 04 Various Artists 1
2003 Flaix History, Volume 2 Various Artists 4 1
2003 Got Dance? Various Artists 1
2003 I Love Dance Class-X Various Artists 1
2003 Large Various Artists 1
2003 Mosquito Bar 3 Various Artists 1
2003 Nu:Electronica Various Artists 1
2003 Oorgasm 15, Volume 02 Various Artists 1
2003 Perfecto Presents Ultra Music festival 01 Various Artists 1
2003 Playlist Various Artists 1
2003 The Very Best Club Anthems... Ever! Various Artists 1
2003 Top of the Pops 2003, Volume 2 Various Artists 1
2004 Lazy Sunday 4 Various Artists 1
2004 Chiller Cabinet Various Artists 1
2004 Ministry of Sound: The Chillout Guide Various Artists 1
2004 Anthems of House Various Artists 1
2004 Ibiza: The History of Trance Various Artists 1
2004 Ibiza Uncovered II Various Artists 1

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