In the late 90’s, Underworld was super-popular among my graphic design and new media friends. It wasn’t just Underworld’s music, it was the way they used visual design and motion graphics as part of their brand, and as a central element in their live performances. They weren’t just music – they were media! And it made a lot of sense — Underworld had deep connections with the art/design group Tomato and there was even some sort of connection to the innovative interactive group Antirom.
Rummaging through storage boxes, I recently stumbled upon an old Underworld DVD, the 2000 “Underworld Live; EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.” What’s funny is that that it looked like I never actually played it, as the disc was unopened. So it was interesting to look at it with modern eyes, without the memory of what it was like at the time.
The disc had a DVD-ROM bonus feature, a PC-based interactive component that was comprised of two experiences:
The first, “Wongizer,” takes keyboard input and, based on the character pressed, displays a different video clip of abstract graphics. In an era when video and rich graphics were still pretty rare, this would’ve been a fun toy. But since you can’t remember which graphics are associated with which keys, there isn’t much sense of control. It’s a keyboard without the ability to really “play” it.
The second, “Headset,” lets the user select between four different soundscapes, change the audio mix between music and ambient speech, and vary the mix via a dynamic 3×3 matrix. Mixing audio was, at the time, a common CD-ROM experience, but the dynamic interactive graphics were a nice touch in a world where so much interactive content was made from static images.
Still, given Underworld’s design and interactive pedigree, I can’t help feeling that the piece was a missed opportunity. The Urban Feedback CD-ROMs, for example, had a similar moody, graphic designed, atmospheres and abstract interactions, but they felt much richer — spaces you’d want to explore further. I just wish Underworld had pushed this a bit more.