Concluding this extensive discussion with Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, whose massive, 52-track project, Drift – and its 10-track, more easily digestible “sampler edition” – is out now, the gaze turns outward. (Read parts 1 & 2 …)
Firstly to the present, and how the many versions of Underworld offer ways into such a trove, and then to the future, which has fewer rules and many more promises.
“Rick always talks about being driven by heart, by intuition, and the three of us – Rick and I and [manager] Mike - the mindset is more being driven by heart. Are you happy, is this fulfilling?”
Karl Hyde, connected – re-connected – to the essence of Underworld, is happy. And fulfilled. The reaction to Drift has been heartening, but more importantly, the inspiration of the work he and Rick Smith has been invigorating. And educative.
What did they learn from playing these new songs at the Sydney Opera House across the four nights? What did they think would change, or not change, or be used, or not be used?
“I feel differently about the material at different times,” says Hyde. “For example something that evolves in the studio, that sounds great, you play it and sometimes I go, oh, I’m not enjoying that so much. But Rick might think, ‘ah that sounds fantastic’. The crew might come back and say ‘that’s amazing, that’s our favourite in years’.
“So why am I having a problem then? And that becomes an interesting part of the next conversation.”
And if he wants to change something he doesn’t have to wait three years until the next project.
“Do it then and we won’t waste time talking about it for the next three hours,” says Smith. “It’s just more exciting for us. I don’t think it’s a map for everybody else, a nice simple way for how ‘young people’ should work, or how the industry should become. This is what we are up to and it’s very hard to articulate what is good about it. There’s a lot of pain involved, a lot. But it’s not that extreme.”
Pain is just pain anyway, right?
“This is our life’s work,” says Hyde. “And our life’s work can’t be compartmentalised into these glory moments. The other beautiful thing, delightful thing, that has come out of it is in releasing something straight away, and using the system that’s been there for a really long time, a lot of people get to hear what you did yesterday and so you walk out on stage today and they go ‘oh, I know this one’, fantastic.
“We did four shows here, six new tracks …”
“Which is unprecedented for us, in 30 years,” chimes in Smith. “Not a goal; we didn’t do this so we would have a lot of material we could play live, but it worked out.”
And then there’s the stuff that’s accumulating that they haven’t played yet.
“People will not like some of the stuff,” says Hyde. “Some fans who like to come out and dance will really not like some of the stuff we release. That’s okay, this is the world we live in. The world of Underworld’s where Drift sits - and the world of Underworld covers everything from film music to installation to banging techno to North African blues, spoken word - has never been gathered up together before. Yes, it’s a catalogue, but it’s a thing of the past. Drift has access points that are alive right now that goes ‘here is a lineage’.”
There been working together for 40 years “and you think, if we been together for this long, for God sake let’s make it interesting,” says Hyde. “And interesting is challenging, creates conflict, but if you are friends, trust each other – and we’ve had years when it’s not been like this - I was going to say extraordinary things happen, but I don’t think they are extraordinary. I think ordinary things are allowed to happen in natural journeys, not unnatural straight line journeys the cut-off all these possibilities.”
You mean, I don’t know … drifting?
“We are using the word drift here - and I didn’t mean to arrive here, a bit cheesy ‘and I’ve thought about this all the way along’,” Hyde smiles. “But what’s good about a drift is you don’t know where it’s going to go, you are following an intuitive path along which you encountered things that makes the journey richer if you’re open. If you’re not it makes the journey a pain in the arse.”
The less demonstrative Smith shakes his head not so much at the scale but the success of their bold experiment. And the possibilities ahead.
“The rate of change is so intense. I’ve lost count in this process, and it’s not something we could have predicted, of the number of times we will find ourselves on a Wednesday or Thursday or Friday going, and you know what, if this was last Friday we didn’t have this insight or this idea. And it keeps happening.
“What we don’t know is whether we are going to stop. We genuinely don’t know.”
So this is the new normal, an on-going process, then? Yes, says Hyde who describes the recordings as “a doorway to a number of episodes”, not a definitive statement. For really, what is the definitive Underworld?
“If you are lined up from over here, you see us as a very interesting, esoteric group that works with Danny Boyle and makes film music. If you look from over here, it’s the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games. If you look from over here, you don’t see any of that, you just see banging techno and a bloody good night out and I’ve just seen God through the lights. And it’s all true.”
Drift Series 1 and Drift Series 1: Sampler edition, are available now.