We nearly didn't do Trainspotting; Dance duo Underworld are preparing to tour the world with their first album in six years. Singer Karl Hyde talks to MARION MCMULLEN about turning down Danny Boyle, the London Olympics and going big in Japan.
OING things by the seat of their pants is a way of life for Underworld.
d. Karl Hyde, laughing, admits he and fellow band member Rick Smith never take the easy option and they recently showcased music from their new album by headlining the BBC 6 Music Festival.
"It does get the adrenaline running," he says. "I'm heading to Japan on Monday with Tomato (Underworld's art and design collective) and we are taking over one of the biggest department stores right in the middle of Tokyo. We're taking art work and I'm building an installation and Rick is providing a soundscape ... and then we will be playing on the roof. Why not? It's winter. We'll also be doing massive TV shows out there, so no pressure."
Karl and Rick met in Cardiff in the early 1980s 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 in Essex and built a studio in his spare bedroom. It was from there that a new version of Underworld was born and Born Slippy: NUXX became the anthem of a generation when it was featured in director Danny Boyle's 1996 movie Trainspotting.
The single, with its "lager, lager, lager" lyrics, reached number two in the charts, selling more than one million copies in the UK.
"The movie feels like a life-time ago," says Karl. "In fact, we turned Danny down originally. Friends of ours had read Irvine Welsh's book and they were the particular kind of friends who talked about the hedonism within the book and we did not want to be involved in the glorification of drug-taking. We wanted to distance ourselves from all that so when we were asked to be part of this film we said no. We've turned down many, many films associated with drugs, and guns and fast cars."
He smiles: "Danny was very persuasive, however, and took us to the edit suite and showed us some scenes from Trainspotting and it was clearly not glorifying drug-taking, but we had to be persuaded.
"Now we've learned our lesson. If Danny turns up and asks us to do something we just say yes."
Saying yes has also led to Underworld providing the score for Danny's acclaimed production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre in London with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of Dr Frankenstein and his creation.
They also worked with him on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics 2012.
"We were actually working in the States on a back lot were they do a lot of the Oscar parties and Danny called us and just said 'I've got a couple of projects,'" chuckles Karl. "We sort of guessed about Frankenstein, but couldn't imagine doing the Olympics."
Now Karl and Rick are preparing for the March 18 release of their upcoming ninth studio album Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future.
The title comes from words spoken by Rick's father to his wife a few weeks before he sadly passed away. "I just knew instantly that had to be the title of the album," says Karl.
The album, the duo's first since Barking in 2010, stands alongside the recently reissued classics dubnobasswithmyheadman and Second Toughest In The Infants.
"Rick is the producer and had a very clear plan for the album," says Karl. "My plan was to forget everything about Underworld and just think about my performance. It was like making our first record together. All the things we've done over the last six years, in between the albums, it was important for me to forget everything" The relationship between Karl and Rick is at the heart of Underworld's enduring success and Karl says the forthcoming release is the quickest album they have ever brought out.
The electronic duo have already sold out two dates at the Roundhouse in London later this month, will be heading to America and China and will headlining many UK and European festivals over the summer.
"Working apart and with other people helps us," explains Karl. "Getting frustrated and all the things that make people break up, well, we made a decision we would never break up. We go off and do projects with other people, but when we are on stage I look at the guy next to me and think 'I miss him.' "We had a great time on tour recently, a really wonderful time, and we know we can do everything without causing upset. There is a joy in working together. We just instantly know what the other wants to do. We've learned a lot from each other over the years particularly when we are on stage. We just pick up things. The language between us is so refined.
"My voice was going through the mixing one time and he was switching my voice off and said 'That's really good, but not now.'" Karl laughs: "You spark off it and learn a lot ... not least setting your ego to one side."
Go to www.underworldlive.com for album and tour details.
The disco scene in film Vanilla Sky features Underworld's 1993 hit, Rez
Karl Hyde, right, and Rick Smith, left, of Underworld. Inset below, their new album