And the music directors of London 2012 are … Underworld?

Those who dismiss the British dance duo as stadium techno haven't been paying attention. Their ambitious projects make them a perfect fit for the Olympics opening ceremony

A balmy night at the end of July 2012. The Olympic torch has finished its 70-day journey around the UK. Having been carried by 7,999 people and ventured through more than 1,000 British towns and villages, it's finally arrived in the gleaming new stadium in Stratford, London. As the 8,000th and final torch barer moves to light the flame, the musical accompaniment for the evening reaches its apex. Through the stadium and out across the whole world, over a thunderous role of drums, a deranged rabble-rousing chorus rises. "Shouting lager, lager, lager!" The flame goes up. Sweeping, glacial chords arch out over east London. Games over.

British dance duo Underworld have been announced as music directors for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics – is this how things will pan out on that night? Well, no – probably not.

Although it might first seem a curveball choice, anyone who has kept an eye on Underworld's career over the last two decades will realise it's a no-brainer. While the public might view Underworld as a "stadium techno" band – one usually experienced as spine-cracking bass blasts out over festival fields – the reality has always been different.

Karl Hyde and Rick Smith remain obsessed with experimentation – whether working on art and design projects as part of the Tomato collective, Hyde's role in Brian Eno's improvisational "supergroup" Pure Scenius, or writing movie scores for the late Anthony Minghella (Breaking and Entering). They have also been regular collaborators with the opening ceremony's artistic director, Danny Boyle.

Boyle and Underworld have collaborated on numerous occasions since they both released acclaimed debuts in 1994 (Underworld's Dubnobasswithmyheadman and Boyle's Shallow Grave). Boyle's love of the band's first LP saw him initially cut his second, career-defining film, Trainspotting – the defining Britpop movie – solely to Dubnobass. Although the soundtrack would eventually feature a selection of then-NME cover stars such as Blur, Pulp and Elastica, it was a dusted-down Underworld B-side, Born Slippy: Nuxx, that provided the film's musical KO. The track describes the dog end of a night spent plastered in Soho, set to a pummelling hybrid of seemingly incongruous musical elements, and soundtracks the frenetic closing reel of the film. It was a phenomenal success only kept off No 1 by Spice Girls' Wannabe.

Since then, Underworld's music has perfectly complemented Boyle's work – be it bleached-out and sun-dappled for The Beach (Eight Ball) or claustrophobic and elegiac for the space paranoia of Sunshine (Capa Meets the Sun – aka To Heal). Their most recent work together, on Nick Dear's National Theatre production of Frankenstein, saw the Essex based duo engaged with in-house production for four months, tweaking a live sound that leapt from folk-flecked acoustics to churning industrial electronics. The result was a triumph.

As Boyle stated on Wednesday, Frankenstein acted as "a dry-run to see how far we could take a broader approach than we'd used together on the films". The Olympics opening ceremony moves the creative partnership to a bigger stage than that of the Olivier Theatre – a stage projected out to a global television audience of billions. Underworld's Karl Hyde added: "We want to leave people with a musical memory of the show rather than a purely visual one." That seems certain – even a cursory glance back through 16 years of collaboration will tell you that. And it'll redefine the term "stadium techno". Olympic techno, anyone?


Robin Turner

The GuardianTramp

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