Merging Art and Music: An Interview with Underworld

Merging Art and Music: An Interview with Underworld

by Marcos Colón
07.31.2008

 

What’s an ArtJam? Well let’s dissect the term. First you have art; a human creative skill and its application. Next is jam, which in this case would refer to a celebration. So, if you add them together you basically get a celebration of a human’s creative skill. UK electronic music duo Underworld have turned this term into a unique event that they’ll be recreating next week at the first annual All Points West music festival.

In November of 2007 at Tokyo’s Obvilion Ball, Underworld joined forces with art design collective Tomato to create a live art exhibit simply titled ArtJam. Consisting of all mediums of communication from music and film to writing and painting, the Tokyo gallery stretched onto a 7x50 meter wall and was an impressionable visual and audio site. This one time project has picked up momentum and is turning into a recurring event as the Jacobson Howard Gallery in New York has offered up their space for the second ArtJam, coinciding with the All Points West music festival next weekend.

Clubplanet spoke with Underworld’s Karl Hyde on the development of ArtJam, the cluster-fuck of materials and creative structuring involved and the attitude and acceptance of art today.

Clubplanet: How’s your schedule been as of late?

Karl Hyde: We’ve toured through Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Europe, we’ve done two web radio broadcasts and have been writing and working on the ArtJam for New York. We’ve also been publishing a monthly art jam on the Internet and working on a new record. That’s a good chunk of it. (laughs)

CP: As far as Beautiful Burnout goes I read that John from Tomato described it as ‘A dynamic expression of the process of making things.’ Can you go into that?

Karl Hyde: A few years ago, Tomato and Underworld went to the corners of the globe. We seemed to get a lot closer together when we set up a way of jamming via the Internet. Since then we’ve been producing a hell of a lot more work then we ever did. That jamming has manifested every month in things that happen on the Internet. The visual dialogue between us has been encouraging everyone to make work. Years of drawings and the odd gallery exhibition over the years has turned into something much more solid. We have a large body of work that’s ready to go into galleries.

CP: How do you prepare for something like ArtJam?

Karl Hyde: The same way we prepare for records and downloads. We work all the time so that should the need arrive we are almost ready to go. The difference between ready and almost is huge. We’ve been wearing a lot of hats lately.

CP: Is it safe to say that visual art is a second passion for you guys?

Karl Hyde: Yea it is a close second to what we do. Writing music is a natural development into making visual things. In the early 90s, when I was walking through the streets with my notebook gathering fragments of the world around me I thought, “I wonder if I could do this with a camera?” So I started to do it with a camera. At first I used a cheap camera and it developed from there. So it has been a lot of years of pictures that have really influenced the way I collect words. And then we made films and there are a few films that we’ve made based on that. Then the drawings started to come out. They were really inspired by the marks I was photographing on the streets.

CP: As far as the time frame goes why did you guys choose do to it during All Points West, or was it something that just happened?

Karl Hyde: The Jacobson Howard Gallery approached us. We were over there doing a show and they asked us if we would like the gallery for two weeks. They saw the big ArtJam that we did in Tokyo in November in which we worked on a 7x50 meter wall throughout the performance of the night. They saw that and they saw works that we’ve been making on the Internet and they knew all about the online art studio that we’ve got and they said, “Look you’re coming into town, would like to put on a show here?” Normally we would have said “Are you crazy?” We’re on tour most of the time so it’s quite hard.

CP: It Seems like you guys are going to be using every form of medium to communicate this art. You’ve got videos, sound, sculptures. It’s so unique and it’s really intense.

Karl Hyde: I am going to be working in the gallery for a good chunk of it. Quite a lot of time will be spent jamming with art in there, answering questions and people coming in from different states to say hello. I’m actually a product of the art schools over here and our teaching was based on an American art school that was quite revolutionary, called the Black Magic College. The artists lived there, worked there and worked in and out of each other’s disciplines, supporting one another and inspiring one another and jamming. Just because you are a painter why wouldn’t you be working with a dancer? Poets should be working with sculptors, and this is how I grew up. Plus you kind of mash that up with our musical education, which was through the DJ John Peel on the BBC. He was mashing it up all the time, putting on some reggae, some punk, some deep electronic and some grime. You were listening to stuff that was across the board all the time. That philosophy runs deep with us. When you do something like that, it is very difficult to be taken seriously at first. Most people in the art world think you should be a sculptor, you should be a painter, poet, or a dancer, but you shouldn’t mash it all up. To me it’s this kind of street language, a sampler culture. You take a bit of this and you take a bit of that and it doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as it makes a good sound. I’ve always felt the same way about art. With this group, we’ve worked that way for such a long time now. It’s fantastic that the gallery would recognize that and give us a chance.

CP: How would you describe ArtJam to someone who has never heard of it?

Karl Hyde: We’ve got this track we do live and it’s called You Do Scribble which comes directly from that. It’s a group of friends that have been jamming together for 27 years now, with music and arts. When we get in a room we feed off each other and inspire each other to make things that we wouldn’t make when we’re on our own. On the walls there will be things that we’ve made, photographs we’ve taken, paintings, drawings that we’ve done over the last year, things that we’ve jammed on the Internet, lifted directly off our website. It’s quite fun. I spent five years in art school and I loved it, I really loved it, but showing your work in galleries in the 70s felt really elitist and I didn’t like that. I come from a quiet family that never went to any art galleries. I loved them but it really intimidated all my mates. In those days if you didn’t go to art school you didn’t know anything about art. I didn’t like that, so I abandoned it for 10 years and turned to music and I thought I’d make it on the radio. And then Rick and I met up with these guys who were different sorts of artists who really inspired us before we met Tomato. What was cool about Tomato was not only were they doing graphic design and advertising but they were real fine artists. They were making stuff just because they felt like it not because they were getting paid for it. That was really

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