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underworld's karl hyde shares the records that changed his life

They soundtracked an Olympic opening ceremony, scored one of the most famous cult films in British Cinema and wrote what is arguably the most important anthem in dance music history. You might think you don’t know who Underworld are, but we promise you...

by James Hutchins
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03 October 2014, 12:15pm

Sparked by a mutual love of Kraftwerk, the effortlessly woven blends of trance, techno, house, rock drum and bass and synth-pop are the foundations for the songs of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, aka Underworld. Most recognised for their seminal anthem Born Slippy, featured in the Danny Boyle British cult classic Trainspotting, the past 20 years have seen the band become cemented in dance music history.

As their breakthrough album dunnobasswithmyheadman celebrates its 20th anniversary, the pair not only play a one-off full live performance of the entire album, but also release an Abbey Road remastered version of the LP packed with exclusive previously unreleased material and alternate rare mixes. Whoa.

Ahead of the show and the rerelease of the album, i-D dig into the depths of Karl Hyde's mental musical library, finding out first (and last) records, what song made him fall in love with electronic music, why the Sex Pistols got him through his first broken heart and why pretending to be The Beatles was the done thing.

What was the first record you bought?
The first record I actually bought was the Simon and Garfunkel album. I think I was 9, or 10 years old. They did a version of Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme and they did the incredible vocal harmony cloud really that I loved. It wasn't necessarily them; it was just the sound of this vocal mass that they did, that I loved.

What was the song that made you fall in love with electronic music?
Kraftwerk - Autobahn. When I first heard that as a kid, there wasn't anything like it and it very specifically came out as a post war German response to American and British music, making music that came from somewhere else and it really did come from somewhere else. That resonated with me.

What was the first song that made you fall in love with rock music?
Weirdly, it was probably something like Sly & The Family Stone watching the Woodstock movie because I was a big funk and Atlantic Records fan and loved that, and then seeing Sly Stone do something that I thought was the beginnings of rock music in a way. That was probably the beginning for me

What song would you say reminds you of school?
It would depend on which school. Being a 5 year old, 6 year old infant, it would be something like The Beatles - She Loves You. We used to pretend we were The Beatles.

And what song would you say reminds you of your parents?
That's a good one. I really don't know. Neither of my parents were musicians. They had the radio on all the time so what I really think of with them is songs like, Riders on the Storm, Marrakesh Express, I Get Around. Driving late at night with my Dad in the car, with the dashboard all lit up and listening to pirate stations. I loved listening to music with my dad in the car.

What song got your through your first love and first heartache?
I was at art school and when she left me, for one of the tutors actually and I had to stay there for another two years, it was art and expressing myself that got me through really. I was squatting in a condemned building in Cardiff that had the best parties; it was called the Punk House. So it was probably something like God Save the Queen. That at the time made me think 'ah I don't care, I'm having a great time'.

Was there a song or a lyric that you heard and made you think, 'I want to write songs like that'?
There were things like, Johnny Remember Me again a Joe Meek production. It was those kind of haunting lyrics, Riders on the Storm was also a big one for me as a kid, and would still be there on my top ten. I'd take that to my desert island.

Can you remember the first song you ever played live?
As a human being? It would be something that I wrote when I was 11 with the two guys in my first band. We performed at the front of the school. It was a song about being totally out of it on drugs, not appropriate for a school assembly but the head let us sing it! It had vaguely moral tinge to it, but it was a dubious selection for a school assembly.

And the last song you played out loud?
Born Slippy - when we headlined Sea Dance festival on the beach in Montenegro.

Have you got a rare record you've been searching to buy but can't get hold of?
Yeah, I've always got something that I'm searching for but can't find. Collecting records is my greatest passion! At the moment it's by a band called Kowalski. The English title was 'Overman Underground' - produced by Conny Plank in 1982. It was released by Virgin records but it's not the English language version, it's the one sung in German - on Vinyl.

Most precious record in your collection?
They're all pretty special. Maybe there's two singles that were given to me when I was 10. My Dad had a great musical influence on me, buying me stuff and there was one, Build me up Buttercup and at the same time he gave me a record called Race for the Devil by The Gun. So on the one hand you had this quite light sound, and on the other side you had this three-piece heavy rock and they both sound great. I guess that's been the story of my life, which way do I go? I don't know.

What film that you've scored would you say is the most special to you?
Danny Boyle's Sunshine. Its my happiest time with Rick, working together as a real team, really collaborating and exchanging roles and creating things that were beyond what each one of use could archive on our own, it was special, really special.

What was the last record you bought?
So, I went into the Oxfam shop the other day, and I bought Lord Radio and the Bimshire Boys, its an album called Rhymes in Rhythm, I think it's from the 60s, its from Barbados. Theres one track you can find on YouTube It's called I Do Adore Her. The picture on the front, says it all. It cost me £3.90.

If you were rulers of the underworld, what would it be like?
They'd have really good curry.

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Text James Hutchins