Underworld return with "Tree and Two Chairs," an epic trancy house journey, as they approach the end of their Drift series!



So much of the best moments of dance music happen behind-the-scenes and off-radar. Some of the most innovative, cutting edge, exciting moments come from DJ sets, anonymous SoundCloud uploads (Aphex Twin, anybody?), pirate remixes, and whitelabels.

It could be argued that casual fans of electronic music never really get to truly know the genre if they're merely relying on major album releases. It's like someone only watching summer blockbusters versus a film afficiando who regularly picks over the listings at Sundance and Cannes.

Some of electronic music's more adventurous cuts simply wouldn't make sense in the context of a full-on LP. The unconventional long-form structures and mind-bending sound design that are the genre's strongest suits don't necessarily make for widescreen cinematic fare or fodder for big outdoor EDM festivals. They do make all of the forms of electronic music some of the most interesting music emerging from the underground like bubbling crude oil, however.

For the last 48 weeks, long-standing electronic pioneers Underworld have been releasing an on-going series of multimedia works to illustrate their creative process and share some of their apparently endless creativity. For those who aren't familiar, Underworld came to mainstream recognition with their rave anthem "Born Slippy" from the Trainspotting soundtrack, introducing a more mainstream audience to their euphoric 90s house-inflected techno meets synthpop.

This formula holds largely true for much of Underworld's discography, with Rick Smith's sleek, futuristic beats forming a foundation for Karl Hyde's emotional vocals.

That's part of what makes "Tree and Two Chairs" so striking. The 14-minute long epic features none of those things. Instead, it's a long-form meditation on squelching acid sequencers and light, loungey house pianos.

The accompanying music video shows that while, technically, "Tree and Two Chairs" is cinematic, it's a more experimental cinema. The video shows a business traffic intersection, shot from above, with the crosswalks being rearranged into a swirling kaleidoscope of geometric shapes and figures.

It's a decent illustration of the music, which seems to be a reflection on moving lines and the overwhelmingly complex shapes and forms they can become.

Is "Tree and Two Chairs" the best electronic single you're going to hear this year?

Not even close. For one, the breakbeats they favor in lieu of their more usual 4/4 fare sound sampled straight off of a Sony sample CD circa 1997, with very little attention paid to detail or variation. The bouncy house pianos sound tailor-made for dancing on white sandy beaches, much like any other balearic house track you'll hear this year. It's probably overlong, with its near quarter-hour runtime.

All of these factors, taken together, are in fact what make "Tree and Two Chairs" so great. Sure, it's not the most essential piece of music Underworld has ever produced. If you spend any time making music or hanging out with those that do, you'll know this is often the case. Instead, here you are hearing two of electronic music's most consistent producers pushing their envelope, trying new things, and expanding the scope of both their artistry and the genre itself.

It's part of what makes Underworld so great, so essential. They're not content to just keep churning out "Born Slippy" 2.0. Those looking for more big room EDM bangers are sure to be largely disappointed. Those passionate about either Underworld or electronic music in general, however, are going to be ecstatic!

With "Tree and Two Chairs," Underworld's Drift series is nearing its completion. It will culminate with the release of Drift proper, an album of the finest moments of the series. It'll be interesting to hear what all the tracks sound like strung together. We Are: The Guard can't wait!


J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.