For last week's Throwback Thursday, we took you back to 1997 and examined the Prodigy's legendary album "The Fat of the Land." This week, we decided to go back even further and highlight the work of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, better known as Underworld, or to many: one of the most crucial electronic acts of all time. The duo's music has spanned decades, genres and multiple live band configurations, but it was their potent combination of live techno and progressive house, often spiced with ethereal vocals, which wrote their legacy.
Hyde and Smith's musical career started during a study session in a small Cardiff café. Inspired by the electro-pop innovations of Kraftwerk, they spent the 1980's exploring a number of under-the-radar, electronica-tinged projects ranging from reggae to new wave and funk-infused pop; However, their commercial breakthrough did not come until they were joined by house DJ Darren Emerson to form an entity known as "Underworld MK2."
Early Success As "MK2"
In 1994, Underworld MK2 let loose their first album as a trio, "Dubnobasswithmyheadman," to rapturous critical acclaim. Unlike Hyde and Smith's electro-pop roots, their newest effort combined a strong influence from the acid-house movement of the 90's with a healthy dose of dub and the band's love of techno to create a wildly progressive sound. Haunting singles such as "Mmm Skyscraper I Love You" and "Dark and Long" made the upper reaches of the UK charts, but it is the 1994 classic "Cowgirl" which best defines Underworld's early sound:
Further defining themselves in the global electronica scene, Underworld released their second LP, "Second Toughest In The Infants," in 1996. Hailed as a "knockout punch," their sophomore effort brought in a welcome shot of rowdy jungle abrasiveness to their sonic formula, carrying the album's single "Pearls Girl" to major chart success:
After two albums together, Underworld's next breakthrough came in late 1996 when their B-side single "Born Slippy .Nuxx," their most recognizable song, was included in the globally praised Scottish film "Transporting." As a result, all eyes were on the group when they debuted their next album, "Beaucoup Fish," in 1999. You may remember its first single, "Moaner," from the unintentionally hilarious film "Batman & Robin" and its second single, "Push Upwards," which nearly reached the UK top 10:
MK2 Disbands, Underworld Continues
By the turn of the 21st century, Darren Emmerson became less interested in the Underworld project and decided to leave the group to pursue solo work. Undeterred, Hyde and Smith continued on as a duo, releasing three studio albums, an anthology of their greatest hits and other multimedia works - including a few movie soundtracks - by 2010. And their most recent LP, "Barking," has kept them as relevant as ever.
Its debut single, "Scribble," was featured as Pete Tong's essential new tune and its opening track, "Bird 1," takes the classic Underworld sound into the modern era:
Finally, if there were any doubt as to the importance of Underworld's legacy, it was shattered in 2012. When he duo was given the monumental honor, alongside past collaborator Danny Boyle, to conduct the opening ceremony for the London Olympic Games. Their music selection was obviously geared toward a broad audience, but two of their originals, "And I Will Kiss" and "Caliban's Dream," made the cut.
Underworld were also able to tap their friend High Contrast to DJ the Athlete's Parade, with whom they produced this epic masterpiece a few months before:
Until next week, this has been another installment of Into the AM's Throwback Thursday!