It takes a lot for me to write about music or sports.
I’m obsessed with both and not great at either, so therefore disinclined to taint them and compromise my own dignity with fawning fandom, or worse, critical snideyness. For Iggy Pop, I would make an exception. I would also do so for Underworld. So the two together, launching a collaborative four-track EP Teatime Dub Encounters is an utter no-brainer. Lust For Life and Born Slippy are the iconic tracks from the first Trainspotting movie, and for over 20 years people have been putting them on the jukebox whenever I walk into a bar, just to see my reaction. Fire away, I never get tired of them. However, I confess that this collaboration concerned me. I found it difficult to picture how those very different styles might dovetail. I’m delighted that my fears were misplaced, this four-track EP is not only a belter: it features both at their very best. We’re at dinner in an agreeable Miami restaurant (there is a raging tropical storm outside and I’ve literally paddled here from down the street) when I first ask how this union came about. Iggy is typically generous: “because of you, man. Trainspotting.” Actually, that puts the cart before the horse. Trainspotting wouldn’t have happened without Iggy Pop, the surrogate big cousin of every clued-up council house rebel of my generation. I couldn’t have written a word of that book bereft of Iggy’s sensibility fused into my DNA through Stooges, Funhouse, Raw Power, and Kill City. Those days of letting off steam by leaping dementedly around your bedroom at the criminal injustice of spotty, pubescent male virginity, now seem positively innocent compared to today’s practice of assuming an anonymous Nazi persona and harassing women online for this state of affairs. My Iggy fandom was realised in the fictional universe through Renton, Sick Boy and the doomed Tommy, the nice guy trailing in the wake of their sneering bad-boy hipness. It had to be this way. Had those chaps been bug-eyed, drooling, slack-jawed acolytes of anybody else, would that book have worked? I first met Iggy (in person) back in the ’ 90s. Since then I’ve become friends with Jim [ Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop], the unfailingly polite, kind, wise and witty Mid-Western gent. He looks like the college professor freshmen loathe, because every cool girl on campus wants to sleep with him. Occasionally, an irreverent, demonic, laugh bubbles from his chest and a gloriously inappropriate comment reminds you that Iggy Pop is still in there, waiting to get out. Just show him a stage. I hadn’t actually met Rick Smith from Underworld, but have known his colleague Karl Hyde since his Soho days. He had the very tough shift of having a flat there in the ’ 90s. At closing time in bars and clubs he was the one eyes would fall on when the inevitable “where to next” question reared its head. Despite (or because of ) meeting that burden with commendable enthusiasm, he’s now strictly teetotal. So I’m guessing that he doesn’t miss those times? “No, I’m glad that they’re over, but I’m delighted that they happened.” It seemed that Underworld were heading the same way. Though never off the radar, they were working quietly in the background, but with great credit, on passion projects. Karl released the solo Edgeland album, and worked with the legendary Brian Eno on two collaborative projects. Rick was helping Danny Boyle out with the small matter of the Olympics, and acting as musical director on Trainspotting 2. Then they decided to reunite, in order to tour the first album. Karl saw it as the kiss of death. Rick was not so convinced it was a bad move. (I’ve come to realise, hanging out with them for a couple of days, that much of Underworld’s power is generated from the way they are completely at ease in inhabiting those contradictions.) The success of the tour got them excited and writing again and they exploded back with [ 2016 album] the Grammy-nominated Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future. Now, you sense, their biggest challenge is to keep things low-key, small-scale, quirky and fun. They have absolutely no desire to dance to the tune of the industry and Karl, punk sensibilities intact, outlines plans to play in clubs rather than at big festivals. This mentally is something Iggy wrote the playbook for. He’s become so adroit at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory that
“Iggy Pop looks like the college professor freshmen loathe, because every cool girl on campus wants to sleep with him.” Irvine Welsh
he’s turned this into an artform, and paradoxically, a roaring success. Where bad living once disguised those choices as selfdestructive petulance, people now see the underlying integrity in them. He’s never really been away: his wilderness years were loud and ostentatious, and now, speaking softly but carrying a big stick, whether with Jim Jarmusch’s excellent Gimme Danger documentary, the amazing Post Pop Depression collaboration with Josh Homme, or his cultish Radio 6 sabbatical, he seems more vivid and vital than ever. The following day we do high tea at the Biltmore, Miami’s swanky golf hotel for old money transplants. The reception area reeks with entitled cologne and perfumes. It’s a total blast to be catching up, but our chat is getting a little raunchy and loud for the rarified surrounds, so we decant to Iggy’s swamp pad, by the river in El Portal. (Jim lives in the ’burbs.) This ultra-cool spot was on the fringe of a ghetto when he bought it, but it’s now becoming gentrified white boy central. That he himself actually led this process is enough to elicit ironic giggles. He’s spent a few bucks on the place since I was last here, and a smart deck and Tiki bar make the spot a highly satisfying hang. The resident manatee isn’t around today, (“I don’t personally own him…”) but several large, fat ducks flock tamely around Iggy, who habitually feeds them shortbread from Harrods. I’m jealous, but our food soon arrives, and we’re as contented as our feathered comrades. Yes, there are worse ways to spend an evening than hanging out with Iggy, Karl and Rick, chewing the shit as the sun goes down. Back in the car, heading for “the beach” and my pad, Rick does roundtable Spotify requests: “Any song you like.” I choose Republic Of Loose’s Comeback Girl. He takes great delight in the song: “This is fantastic! Why have I not heard this before?” It’s that undying and infectious enthusiasm that explains the durability of both Underworld and Iggy Pop, and what makes this collaboration so compelling. It also reminds me why I’ve dropped a novel and an urgent TV script to write this.
“Nice shirts, guys!” Underworld and Iggy Pop, Iggy’s back garden, El Portal, Miami, 2018; (above left) author Irvine Welsh.