The plan, in the beginning, was that there was no plan. No album, no record label, no tours. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld had tried all that in the 1980s and ended up broke and broken. So they were done with ambition. Even later on, they weren’t sure their hyperverbal art-rock take on techno could find an audience. One label executive told their manager: “If you want to make that kind of music, get rid of the singer. If you want to keep the singer, get a drummer and be a proper band.”
Hyde tells this anecdote with a broad grin. The singer is sitting in the artists’ bar of the Royal Festival Hall while downstairs, in the main auditorium, Smith hunches over his synthesisers, rehearsing for Underworld’s first-ever complete performance of their classic 1994 album Dubnobasswithmyheadman. There is also a handsome five-disc boxset, flooded with bonus material, that illustrates Underworld’s extraordinary creative energy in the early 90s.