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Underworld Named Music Directors of 2012 Olympics

Karl Hyde calls it a 'once-in-a-lifetime calling card'

December 8, 2011 12:00 PM ET
underworld olympics
Karl Hyde of Underworld performs at the Global Gathering in Warwick, England.
Tony Woolliscroft/Getty Images

U.K. dance music icons Underworld, best known for the hit "Born Slippy," have been named musical directors for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "It’s just one of those things you never expect," the duo's Karl Hyde told Rolling Stone.

"It’s like 'Born Slippy' was for us," Hyde says. "As a kid you dream of having number ones, [but] you never imagine you can have something that’s gonna outlast you, and that certainly has done that. And the Olympics, well you never ever believe you’re gonna be musical directors of the biggest gig on earth."

Hyde is not exaggerating when he calls it the biggest gig on earth – the opening ceremonies are typically seen by a worldwide audience of billions. As musical directors, Hyde and partner Rick Smith could put together just about any show they want. Perhaps they want Kanye West and Portishead to duet, David Bowie to come out of retirement, or the Dead – of whom they are big fans – to jam with Aphex Twin. They know at the very least people will take the call.

"It does give you a once-in-a-lifetime calling card," Hyde says. "There are ideas in place."

These as-yet-unrevealed ideas will be spearheaded by acclaimed film director Danny Boyle (127 Hours), who is directing the opening ceremonies. Boyle has worked with Underworld for the last 15 years and is the one who invited the group to be part of the Olympic Games.

"[Boyle's] breadth of musical knowledge is vast – it’s pretty varied and like ourselves – which is ultimately why he wanted to work with us," Hyde says. "So he knows we aren’t just gonna be making techno tunes. This has to be music that is utterly appropriate."

Surprisingly, Hyde says the band had to think over the gig because of the major "life commitment" involved, as he puts it.

Prior to working on the ceremonies, Underworld had teamed with Boyle on a National Theater of London production of Frankenstein, which gave them a taste for what the job might entail. "When he told us about the Olympics, I think we just took a step back because working in theater was such a commitment," Hyde says. "We literally lived in the theater for months. We lived in a hotel next door. We rehearsed with the cast, and we kind of grew up with them for several months."

So what made Underworld decide to ultimately say yes to the challenge? "We thought, 'When are you gonna get to say that you went from washing dishes in a burger joint in Cardiff, and [now] you’re doing the Olympic games?'" Hyde says. "I think it’s a 'yes.'"

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