The Music That Changed Everything: Underworld - Skym

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23. Dez. 2010, 12:57

I've not been the healthiest of late, as such this may end up being a rather brief and minimal entry, however the piece of music I've chosen perhaps suits such a dissemination. (This ended up not happening, a fact of which I'm glad).

Underworld's Skym is a piece of music I return to often, not always when I'm in a down cycle of bipolar, but these times are when I listen to it most often. The range of activities I can engage in, things I can watch and listen to reduces significantly at these times and almost everything I engage in is quite minimal and singular in nature.

I once played this piece after a party when there was only one other person in the room. I wasn't aware it was coming, it was just in the playlist but when it finally concluded, the person's comment was something very close to 'and sometimes some music can make you afraid.' I don't think they liked this piece too much. To those not accustomed to listening to this kind of thing, I can certainly understand that it may sound confrontational, particularly if most of the media one listens to is safe and homogenised. I cannot begin to describe the intimacy in this piece, the space in which it lives. I'm tempted to accept that some of its power comes from the fact that Underworld are a pioneering electronic act rising from the roots of techno (the real definition of the term) all those years ago, but then when I listen to it there is a definite transcendence from the band's own roots. This piece lives and breathes all of its own accord, I feel as though if it were the only thing they'd ever written, it still would not be diminished in power and effect in any way.

Karl Hyde's lyric in Skym is deserving of special regard, and in some respects prior knowledge of his writing style and lyrical tilt will certainly lend a lot of power to what he says and how he says it. In much of his writing there is a subtext of semi-literate England, of the volatile, passionate and frustrated youth living somewhere between the poverty-line and the glory of wealth. Karl himself often speaks about his lyrics being less about meaning and more musical in nature which is certainly true, but the theme of Skym suits the sound with an intimacy that can be disarming. I don't know whether the theme evolved as part of the sound or whether he, Rick and at the time Darren (if he had anything to do with it) had other pre-determined intentions for what the piece would be about, but the finished piece is a thing of stark, haunting beauty.

I must admit to being something of a production snob as is well indicated in the introduction to this series. Underworld are one of the rarest beasts in which electronic artists not only create amazing music but engineer, balance and master to the highest quality. In general critical listening of electronic music may be left a little by the wayside I feel, particularly as there is often an emphasis on dance-floor relevance and anthemic, car-stereo energy. For this reason the more remarkably produced and finished electronic music always stands out to me. I still remember the first time I listened to the opener Cups from the same album that Skym is on Beaucoup Fish way back in 1999 when it was released and being blown away by the balance of the mix. Subsequent listening sessions would only increase my appreciation of the phenomenal level of production on the album to a humbling degree, to this day it is still one of the most enjoyable albums for me to listen to.

If ever I were to do a series on the crucial albums that changed everything for me, Beaucoup Fish would be high on the list. Every track is linked with common themes that live in the realms of subtlety and subtext again rarely seen executed so well in electronic music, let alone music as a whole, particularly as the good, complete album thematically and in production values becomes a dying art. While every track could be considered the core of the album, Skym seems to be the strongest candidate as a representative of what the album is really about, less so on the literal subject matter of Karl's lyrics and more about the overall feel of the piece. It creates an atmosphere like no other piece of music I've heard before or since that positions it among some of the most powerful art I've experienced such as the films of David Lynch. These things cannot be viewed or listened to on any occasion, they demand the right frame of mind and an exclusion of distractions and even the wrong type or number of others in attendance, if at all.

For best listening indoors, close the door and turn off the lights. Perhaps even select the best pair of headphones you have though as always for critical listening and comfortable, transparent enjoyment both, a pair of good, open-backed and full-cupped headphones is always recommended.
If out and about, make sure that you're using either good cup headphones or decent canal-phones at the very least. I do listen to this piece once in a while in sunlight hours but I find a dark, neon-lit city at night most often suits it best.

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