Electronica liberated by Tomato

By Stephanie Jorgl

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Rick and Karl Rick Smith and Karl Hyde are two true godfathers of electronic music. From the time of their early stint as the atmospheric band Freur, through the driving electronic advent of and sonic world takeover by Freur’s sequel, Underworld, Smith and Hyde have consistently found ways to crush any limits to their creativity.

Yet, both realized a while back that being rockstars alone wasn’t going to lead them to creative liberty and financial independence. So the duo figured out a way to be able to create the art they wanted to make, and get paid well for it. They did this by joining an art collective media company called Tomato. Smith and Hyde now regularly contribute their creations to the agency which, in turn, then blends the music with video and other media to be used in commercials for companies like Nike, Adidas and others.

“At Tomato, we make things because we need to make them, whether it’s film, sound, sculpture, or whatever,” explains Smith. “With Tomato, our completed personal work is taken and then used to sell a product or something, or to make a video for Underworld. It’s really just a way in which that purely personal work is used, really.

Two Fingers Toward The Music Business
“Underworld wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that, really, because both Karl and I have earned a very decent living from making music for the directors for advertisial clients like Nike and Adidas, which allowed Underworld to stick two fingers up to the music business and go, ‘No, we won’t become what you want us to. We’ll do what we want to do. And we’ll sell records in our way,’” says Smith.

“When you’ve been in a band, and you’re living off of advances — because we never sold that many records — then you’re always living off of borrowed money,” he adds. “It was so empowering to do a piece of work and get paid an amount of money, and then the job is over and you can move onto the next thing. It was fantastic!

From Freur to Underworld
Smith first formed Freur with Karl Hyde in the early 1980s, and the band’s single, “Doot Doot,” quickly topped the charts. But when New Wave became passe, the duo kept on, taking Freur’s sound to a new dimension by adding groove to the atmospheres they were used to creating. This shift hailed the birth of Underworld.

In the mid-90’s, this new sound broke through when the cult hit film “Trainspotting” featured the music of Underworld. Underworld managed to cultivate a dedicated audience, and still sells out shows across the U.S.

Sowing the Seeds of Genius
Smith’s music teacher mother planted the seed for songwriting in his mind at an early age, starting him playing the piano when he was four. “Thank god she did, because I never would have stuck at anything in my life if she hadn’t done that really,” he says. He continued with piano until he was 11.

“I gave it up for two or three years until I was 14, and then I discovered rock music and I thought, ‘Wow, now what is this?!’ Then I started playing piano for my own amusement, you know, when my mother was out of the house — I couldn’t let her know that I was playing again.


Next page: Music built for film


1. Electronica liberated by Tomato
2. Music built for film

Getting Virtual

Software Instruments
“The EXS sampler became quite an exciting thing for me on the last record. It’s fun, straightforward, easy-to-use, and you get instant access to this vast library of stuff that always used to take hours to load up when we used AKAI. Now they seem really sad, compared to the way that the EXS works,” says Smith.

“For the ‘100 Days Off’ album, I really wanted to capture live percussion, live instruments, real guitars, and then screw it up with software, and that was really exciting,” he adds. “But now, of course, I don’t want the big batch of outboard gear on the road, so I’m now using the ES2 and the EVP88.

“And I’m a piano player so I’m like ‘Oh my god, look, it’s the Wurlitzer! That’s fantastic!’ and so that will probably pop up on the next album, because I won’t re-record something if it sounds fine,” he adds.

Macs on Stage
“We use Macs everywhere,” says Smith. On the road, Underworld carries six trusty titanium PowerBooks, two perform with the band on stage, running 24-bit/48K audio.

Three more Macs are on hand as spares and one serves as Smith’s mobile songwriting/recording studio. “I have Logic installed on my mobile studio computer and it’s fantastic. It’s a great studio tool. Logic does things that make you think, ‘That’s bloody great!’”

Useful Links


Digidesign’s Pro Tools
Emagic’s Logic Audio
Emagic’s Software Instruments

Power Mac
Cinema Display
Akai samplers

Audio Interfaces
Digidesign’s A-D Converters

Remix Galaxy

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