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Three Songs No Flash

Your Window Shattering: Underworld And The City At Night
Mat Colegate , September 21st, 2010 05:47

Mat Colegate goes to see Underworld live and talks to Karl Hyde about the joys of being a flâneur

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“In discovering a small world we discover the whole world.” Bill Humber

“We’re developing journeys across cities. It does fascinate me: maps and keys and clues. It’s about leaving clues.” Karl Hyde

“My thumbs on a tetris key ring/moving in brilliant timing.” Underworld

Anyone who works and plays within a major city will tell you that urban living is all dislocation. Denied a unified field of vision the eye darts from advert to car park; from rotting takeaway sign to your brand new trainers. Your ears snatch for ten seconds of hummed pop while a car backfires outside a cinema. That’s the matter of the city. Garish, compact and close.

Underworld are in good company mapping these spaces. That serious bunch of motherfuckers encompassing The Situationists, Iain Sinclair, Baudelaire and Thomas De Quincy. Using a mess of chance encounters, dumb lucky scrapes and snatched notes, front man Karl Hyde interrogates his surroundings before sifting through the debris and rearranging it into narratives - Walks, drinks, a night drive, the distance between your house and the cash point, that girl’s name – uncovering previously hidden levels of meaning and tactility, as well as presenting a soulful and affecting autobiography. The kind that only pop music can provide.

“This apparently serious term ‘psychogeography’ comprises an art of conversation and drunkeness, and everything leads us to believe that Guy Debord excelled at both” Vincent Kaufman

“It was a pact – a deal – I’d send the drunk me out on the streets to experience stuff that the straight me would never dream of going anywhere near. And all this technicolour stuff came back.” Karl Hyde

“Going back to Romford/hi mom are you having fun/and now are you on your way/to a new tension” Underworld

Psychogeographer’s love getting hammered. De Quincy wafted through London on a plume of opium smoke, goggling as the street corners sprouted fauna. The Lettrists staggered around Paris in trousers stencilled with revolutionary slogans, stopping only to vomit into the Seine and engage in political infighting. Unconsciously or not, Underworld drink from the same bottle.

“We all see the world as just a series of fragments that we string together. A memory of a holiday is not so much the “I was on Clacton beach,” it was what Uncle so-and-so’s cardigan was like, that pair of shoes or that key ring you had. It’s the details that are the issue…”

He’s a smart bloke, Karl Hyde. In every sense. His clothing is immaculately casual, his manner easy and his conversation animated. A decent fella to shoot the shit with.

“I started to be interested in snap shot photography. Using ten quid cameras but shooting from the hip. Literally, like a drunk would – because I was a drunk – put the camera on flash and just wander the back streets of Soho night after night. And so these things started to work. They pulled together note books which were walks through cities. And then when Rick came up with a piece that inspired me I’d look through the books and start putting my fingers in the pages and flicking them back and forth. I’d improvise and head off on a journey with the music.”

This method of composition – the reassembling of random information through chance, the inebriation required to gather the information, the simple decision to use raw reportage as your clay – harks back to William Burroughs’ and Brion Gysin’s development of the cut-up method, not to mention Arthur Rimbaud’s excuse for 16-year-old boys to act like wankers everywhere with his declaration that the closest way to seer-ship was systematic "derangement of the senses".

I would not want you to think from the above that I was positioning Karl Hyde as a seer. Nonsense. For a start he doesn’t drink anymore and I’d rather leave words like "seer" and "shaman" to the wankers, thank you very much. What he represents is a simple, artful approach to the challenge of what a single voice can achieve in pop music. A medium where the concept of narrative is practically unchallenged. We tend to believe that when a singer refers to an "I" they are referring to themselves. As in their actual selves - the person who poured milk on their own cereal that morning, or had their heart broken, or pulled off a crack deal. Underworld leave all this apparency out - all the actuals, whys and whats - and we’re left with a list, a catalogue, a true and right biography in a fractured tradition.

“I’m going to tell you about me as I am today by what I collect around me: this sofa, that smell, a girl that walked into the room, and that sound of that car and this thought that I’m having. D’you get it? It makes perfect sense to me. I’m telling you I’m having a real time here. Listen.”

The difficulty of autobiography is in the residue. Karl calls 'Born Slippy' - Underworld’s biggest hit and a musical excuse to turn previously innocent country bonfires into dodgy orgies - "my failure". With the benefit of retrospect 'Born Slippy' is an obvious howl of disgrace. A back-alley vomit turned mid-nineties call to arms. Yet despite this previous misinterpretation, Hyde refuses to take his muse away from the hands of chance. He records everything. He gives it to co-conspirator Rick Smith. Rick Smith chops and time changes the livid heart back into it. Karl reports back from the laboratory. Word by word. Burroughs and Gysin in Kappa tops.

“We’d always loved that energy that happens between the absolutely bang-on machine metronome and this human drift across the top.” Karl Hyde

“Reading with the eye -------------- Reading out loud
from semantics ----------------------- from semantics
to calligraphy ------------------------- to phonetics
Hieroglyphic silence -------------- Oral complexities
fixed in space ---------------- existing only in time
From shape ------------------------------ to sound”
Bob Cobbing

“… thunder thunder lightning ahead/now I kiss you dark and long/shout your love...” Underworld.

The deal-break occurs when the jaw is loosened.

Because he’s a vocalist, y’know? Takes his position seriously. Puts himself into scrapes and sings what he’s seen. And his voice eroticises and humanises and turns the steel sighing beneath him into the beatings of a human heart. At their show at the Forum a few days ago Karl danced like a mixture between a bikram yoga instructor and a human lightning rod, physically becoming one of the semi-lucid hieroglyphs that decorate Underworld’s album covers; a grinning channel for a mess of registration plates, graffiti tags and sudden interruptions. It felt like a culmination: over a hundred years of interrogation by a host of visionaries broken down into a stream of glittering fragments. The sound of the city breathing through him and saying what, in the end, all cities have to say…

…which is everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything everything…


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Sep 21, 2010 11:27am

where, exactly, is this shit that you shot?

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Sep 21, 2010 12:55pm


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Sep 21, 2010 7:41pm

You really need to take a step back and write without an ego dude.. .. i gained nothing from that article except the pleasure of seeing someone use phrases like " That serious bunch of motherfuckers "... " A decent fella to shoot the shit with."

really you wasted an interview with the guy if that is the best you can come up with.

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Sep 21, 2010 9:02pm

Gotta agree with Dunwho... what a wank piece of writing

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diarmid o'hare
Sep 21, 2010 10:07pm

Nice l'il article...D

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uncle D
Sep 22, 2010 1:59pm

In reply to Dunwho:

May I suggest that if you really gained nothing from this article, you have never danced all night to Underworld and you possibly miss Oasis....

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Brion Gysin
Sep 22, 2010 2:00pm

You have spellded my namme wronged, otherwiz gr8, xlnt articule

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Bri0n Gysin
Sep 22, 2010 4:55pm

In reply to Brion Gysin:

now is correcteded i seen. supargh.

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The Postulator
Sep 22, 2010 4:59pm

I applaud the use of Bob Cobbing's poetry and I the train-tracking rhythm of the final words. Makes a change from the usual Quietus approach to rock journalism. He said/ I said blah...

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John Doran
Sep 22, 2010 5:52pm

In reply to The Postulator:

I don't think that's strictly fair postulator. We allow all of our writers to pen stuff in whatever style they feel like and there just isn't a "usual style". In lengthy features we prefer people to use Q and A just because a 10,000 word feature on the internet is quite uncomfortable to read.

That said, you've clearly not read anything that Neil Kulkarni, Taylor Parkes or Kev Kharas. And even I received a couple of death threats for my piece on Factory Floor.

At the end of the day we're not an underground literary journal, but I'm up for more writing like this where it's applicable. That being the main word here, given that the style of writing matches the lyricism, the theme and the music.

On a review of Mumford and Sons, it would just be senseless.

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The Postulator
Sep 22, 2010 8:31pm

In reply to John Doran:

Agreed, in part... to be fair the Quietus is generally a few cuts above most of the internetzines... as was/is s. pigeon above most if not all of the freezines... my quibble is not with this article but perhaps with the comments posted below it... maybe i should have postulated the "usual rock style of..." rather than besmirching the Quietus' general good name... i don't think this is a great article particularly but at least I got to the end of it which is more than can be said of many interview features... it at least tried something slightly different...

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John Doran
Sep 23, 2010 7:53am

In reply to The Postulator:

Is, for the Pigeon. It's just published a new look issue in Berlinner format with Salem on the cover.

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Red Mecca
Sep 24, 2010 9:45am

Great piece of writing. For 1971.

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John Doran
Sep 24, 2010 1:40pm

In reply to Red Mecca:

I can't tell whether this is supposed to be a diss or a complement. Do you mean, wow, this is like from 1971 when music journalism was read by tens of millions and really respected or is it just because Colegate looks, speaks and drinks like a dude from 1971?

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Sep 26, 2010 1:49pm

In reply to uncle D:

"May I suggest that if you really gained nothing from this article, you have never danced all night to Underworld and you possibly miss Oasis...."

Eh no I really miss Blur actually.. and if I hadn't spent many many nights and days dancing to Underworld I would never have bothered to read this article.

"That being the main word here, given that the style of writing matches the lyricism, the theme and the music."

That's great and all and kudos to the author for TRYING to write like Karl Hyde. However this article is packed full of swearing and "i dont give a shit" language that is completely contrary to Karl Hyde's writing style. So if the intention is to mimic Karl Hyde's writing then the reader is being misdirected to think that Underworld lyrics are written in a style that can only be described as amateur, and more at home in a secondary school English assignment for 13 year olds.

Furthermore nobody really understands Karl Hyde's lyrics, all we know is that it is a constant stream of everything and anything he experiences.. but to think that the best way to describe his writing is to write in a similar style is simply ludicrous. When the surrealist writers first started publishing their works nobody understood what they were doing.. the 1st surrealist manifesto (written in coherent language) explained it for everyone... if it was written in a surrealist style then nobody would have understood it..

This article is therefore pointless, aimless, and a waste of my time.

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John Doran
Sep 26, 2010 5:31pm

In reply to Dunwho:

Breathtaking analysis.

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Sep 26, 2010 7:39pm

In reply to John Doran:

Thank you.

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Sep 27, 2010 9:18pm

Dark & Long


There is something! Combined this song and me 4ever.

Special things 4 special times.

THX 2 K & R


& thx 4 playing in Berlin

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shannon ross
Oct 2, 2010 5:31am

the first comment says it all. at first, i had a hard time differentiating between what actually had anything to do with karl hyde and what was just the author rambling. besides, it's one of the worst things ever to happen to any sort of journalism - that the author supposes to know all these things about their subject, like we're here to read about the author rather than the artist. while using a couple of quotes or possibly excerpts from a brief interview (detailed none, btw) the author tries to make it seem like it isn't just a couple of quotes thrown in amongst just the author babbling about what the he thinks underworld is about - and the best part - all squeezed through a pinhole of jabs at drunk people. amazing.

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shannon ross
Oct 2, 2010 6:17pm

In reply to shannon ross:

though i must say, it really drives home that the inspiration for the lyrics are things seen and experienced by the lyricist, which is maybe the most important element in underworld's music, but i'd be surprised if anyone interested enough in the band to read this doesn't already know that. the writing is pretty good, but i agree that it would be more at home 40 years ago. mainly, it just seems to me the author's poetic perspective would be better suited for a blog than an article where people want information rather than a poetic perspective on the author's take on underworld.

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