Disco Inferno: The Five EPs
nd just for a second I truly believed / Though I don’t know what in…”
Walking through the city, open-back headphones bleed the sound of life around you into the music; bleed the sound of music into the life around you. The muttering of a mad old tramp, vehicles reversing, the chatter of café tables on pedestrian streets, a suped-up Citroen pumping bass into the ether, bird song, church bells, motorbikes backfiring, constant whispering all around you, refusing to stay still, unsure what is real and what is real, a stream-of-conscious, someone else’s conscious, in your ear, all merging, coalescing. “The price of bread went up five pence today,” pause for breath, 6, 7, 8—“and an immigrant got kicked to death again.” A sense of modern, urban disgust and paranoia, mixed with faint echoes of hope and an appreciation of the beauty that emerges in the city from time to time like a pinprick of light piercing a blackout curtain. But this isn’t distanced, this isn’t the voyeuristic isolationism of Radiohead; this is in the heart of the machine, living, breathing, describing what it is and how it lives rather than what it observes and, by that note, necessarily avoids. There is no avoidance here, everything is everything, equal value if not equal importance.
It’s difficult to lift just one moment from Disco Inferno’s humbling career. After assured but inauspicious beginnings indebted to, but arguably better than, Wire, Durutti Column and Joy Division, the band released a string of five EPs of the most staggeringly experimental, uncompromising, and plain wonderful music ever dreamt of, alongside the album D.I. Go Pop, which most decidedly did not ‘go pop’. But those EPs, despite their furious avant-gardism, did manage to go pop, restructuring the very nature of what pop music is, realigning the materials from which it could be constructed.
“Summer’s Last Sound” made it clear that Disco Inferno were working well outside the parameters of their contemporaries, a delicate guitar strum emerging through legions of hazy birdsong, the tune carried only by a bass ululation, pointillist sounds of unknown origin dappling everything. Outside the permanence of the bass each sound uses its intangibility as a hook, melodies seeming to vanish before you can identify their source, tempting you to look for them even as they disappear. And in the centre of this bizarre, beautiful sound, part post-punk, part Bomb Squad, part gossamer, is Ian Crause, enunciating his fears with no veils of metaphor—“Mass graves uncovered / … I can sense real violence but I still don’t understand… / Foreigners get hushed-up trials / And you’re waiting for a knock on the door… / I’m scared for my life / For the first time in it…”, simile and proximity equalling and bettering metaphor and poetic distance. The other track from this EP (only two songs, but to call either a b-side would be an insult), “Love Stepping Out”, cascades guitar lines through infinite reverb, peeling church bells, and imperceptible moisture, again the tune guided by its bassline, everything else compellingly ephemeral. Despite the quality of their previous work (and the EP previous to this, Science, had been wonderful), nothing from their past had quite hinted at this level of strange beauty.
Repetition, alteration, divergence and recontextualisation are the essences of what Disco Inferno did across these EPs. Guitars are run through MIDI samplers so that individual notes trigger samples of anything and everything, common, everyday sounds used in bizarrely unfamiliar ways, half-melodies constructed from the noise of bursting fireworks, breaking glass, braking cars, chinking metal, the distant thrum of a crowd of children, ticking clocks, and dozens of other, less identifiable sounds, found, altered by position, given shape and transformed into the building blocks of pop. The delicate reverb of the spiralling riff to “Second Language” is offset beautifully by clicking camera shutters, the lyrics cursing an inability to communicate with just words, the tune exploding into an elevating guitar solo, still warped and weird but beautiful. The EP it led came out shortly after D.I. Go Pop, and “Second Language” made that album’s stark rejection of prettiness and accessibility even more pronounced. “At The End Of The Line” pushed it even further, more Durutti Column-style guitars and incandescent bubbling echoes anchored to another tuneful bassline and words from the depths of the urban sprawl, calmly accepting the dismay as factories vent gaseous blackness, while “A Little Something” explained fittingly that “When I was young I was taught a little song / I used to only sing it when things were going horribly wrong.”
Elsewhere across these EPs there is “The Last Dance”, straight-ahead post-punk pop music but re-imagined and reconstructed with added detail taken from the world outside, “A Rock To Cling To” which does the post rock trick of exploring and deconstructing a groove over an extended period of time, only this time the groove consists of multiple layers of melodic tinklings and smashings, metal being tapped by metal, glass being crunched. The ominous clouds of “Scattered Showers” are composed of a motorcycle race and a billion mosquitoes, “D.I. Go Pop” is My Bloody Valentine circa 1988 transposed into an entirely digital future where the interference comes from the sampled chaos of life rather than painstakingly constructed washes of guitar feedback, a harried vocal about “bastards” and trying to find somewhere to eat, noise like cars being overdriven through slamming gear-changes with no let up on the gas, bludgeoning and visceral but still touched with moments of sonic oddity so strange that it remains compelling.
The last of this run of five EPs floored Disco Inferno creatively. “It’s A Kid’s World” stole the drums from Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” and took them on a wilfully bizarre daydream trip through vague remembrances of children’s TV and fairground rides, a crazed alchemy governing what at first seems like a haphazard mess of parping squeaks and squeals and transforming this most unruly set of ingredients into a delirious pop buzz. Whistles, trumpets, those incessantly thumping drums, dizzing twizzles of guitar… it’s nothing less than extraordinary that it fits together as a song at all, much less Disco Inferno’s most unabashedly joyous and shamelessly pop song. The following tune, “A Night On The Tiles”, buzzes a Parisian melodrama through a litter of tiny animatronic kittens before dancing a psychotropic Charleston. And then the police come to put a stop to it all. Literally.
Taking this music outside into the hum of the summer city, where its points and spaces and concentric circles splash and seep over every contour and pore of life, makes it all the more apparent that Disco Inferno were not only the most imaginative band of the 90s, but probably the bravest too. Across the EPs, in D.I. Go Pop and Technicolour, they formed an entirely new way for music to exist. Ten years and more on and ‘alternative’ music still hasn’t caught up. In the hubbub and noise of urban conurbations their music becomes your experience of the people and buildings and activity around you in a way that little else can; not a distraction or an escape or even a soundtrack, but your sensations, reactions, thought-processes. It merges with the world around you and you merge with it, making each listening a different experience, and each second a perfect refraction.