With their name firmly planted on line two of Friday’s 2016 Coachella lineup, and a long-anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Barking due out March 18th, Underworld are certainly vying for “Comeback of the Year” in a pack that includes headliners LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses. Releasing only two less-than-acclaimed albums over the last decade (plus an epic 2014 re-issue of “MK2” phase debut dubnobasswithmyheadman), and with rare stateside live performances, the Cardiff-bred collective have largely left their thrones in the high court of rave vacant since the scene’s stateside re-revival. As millennials and other digital natives search through the streaming catalogs of Coachella’s 2016 “unknown” talents, Underworld’s recently expanded and re-mastered Second Toughest In The Infants offers an enveloping route into the talents of Karl Hyde, Rick Smith and Darren Price. Once there, new fans quickly understand that the convergence of emotive melodies and hard, near-debilitating beats is nothing new to the world of EDM. But more importantly, disc four allows all listeners into the extended process behind this muscial creation.

This 20th Anniversary re-release is far more than some quick cash-grab to fund these other projects, it enhances on the legendary Underworld narrative in a way that wasn’t possible in 1996. With the advent of streaming services like Beatport, Soundcloud and Spotify, artists have an almost limitless ability to share edits, VIPs, b-sides and other non-album material with both their most fanatical and casual listeners. Two decades ago, only those with excess amounts of time and money could invest in securing limited-edition white labels, live bootlegs and/or international-only releases. Nearly five-hours in length, the Super Deluxe set doesn’t just offer audiophiles those rarities in higher quality, it showcases the then-trio’s (Darren Price has since departed the band) evolution of their own material (e.g. “Pearl’s Girl (Tin There)” and “Born Slippy (Nuxx”) as well as the motifs and scraps that were formerly abandoned.

Disc three, which contains 10 previously unreleased tracks, stands as a more complete body of work that the vast majority of 2016 EDM artist albums. While the acoustic work of “Bug” might be seen as far outside current mainstage standards (although the likes of Above & Beyond can certainly be heard developing songs within a similar framework), the impetus for each is quite similar: deliver the sounds of underground rave culture to mass audiences across the globe. The aptly titled “D+B Thing” and “Techno Thang” exemplify that transition. Just as Diplo and Skrillex are currently modifying the underground sounds of EDM for commercial appeal, those singles find Hyde and co. manipulating the boundaries of drum and bass and uplifting techno to potentially find some new ears for those textures.

However, “pop-appeal” mustn’t be read as “easily consumable” — the original album’s two lead tracks (“Juanita:Kiteless:To Dream of Love” and “Banstyle/Sappys Curry”) are as grandiose of progressive rave cuts that have ever been produced. So, while contemporary EDM producers are quick to recruit the biggest of Top 40 talents, as were the likes of William Orbit during the late ‘90s, Underworld have always been less about bending to current pop-standards and more about embracing and emphasizing the true nature of artistic spirit within unadulterated rave culture. Disc four provides a detailed account of this balancing act. Featuring seven (!) versions of their most celebrated single, “Born Slippy (Nuxx)”, it tracks the cut from ideation through to live versions and onto the final release. Taking on an increased viscerally-charged ambiance after the live performances, it’s easy to hear how Underworld responded to the earnest reactions. In essence, “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” wasn’t just a product of Underworld, it was crowd-sourced from the collective culture; adding even more weight when discovered via Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.

Aligned with the pre-production of Porno, the long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting, it’s only fitting for Second Toughest… to experience revitalization. And may it also serve as inspiration for Hyde and Smith’s forthcoming LP, for few have challenged their ability to craft the rave masterpiece! A fact that thousands will (re)discover live in Coachella Valley this April.

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