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[Guest Post] On Disco Inferno’s The 5 EPs by Vaughan Simons.

September 14, 2011 \pm\30 5:04 pm

“In the end it’s not the future, but the past that’ll get us” –Disco Inferno

Summer’s Last Sound

I’ve got tons of music. Too much of it, if I’m honest. And that’s not just as a result of entering the era of the easily obtainable (and thus easily disposable) MP3 a few years ago, because before that I had too many cassettes, then too many CDs. Yet despite the fact that I have thousands upon thousands of songs to choose from when I listen to music, if I were to tally up the numbers I’m almost certain they would show that for the last eighteen years, I’ve listened to the extraordinary sounds of one particular band more than any other – even though they only existed for about five years in the early ’90s, produced a relatively small musical output in that time, and made virtually no commercial impact.

In 1992, after three years producing music that was clearly in thrall to Joy Division and early New Order – with all the grey Mancunian skies, serious young men in overcoats and Goth-tinged guitars that implies – the frankly appallingly-named Disco Inferno suddenly discovered sampling, previously the preserve of dance music, electronica and hip-hop (they were particularly inspired by The Bomb Squad’s production on Public Enemy’s records). They plugged their none more conventional gloomy indie band set-up into cheap, off-the-shelf samplers and then started writing beautiful, emotionally affecting songs, but where the rhythms were provided by drums beating out the sounds of footsteps in snow, flittering camera shutters or heels on a pavement, where the guitar strummed babbling voices, waves crashing on the shore or pianos falling downstairs, while a booming bass kept the whole glorious noise tethered to terra firma and prevented it from drifting off into utter chaos. This wasn’t sampling as we’re familiar with it now – where a song is built on the foundations of another famous hook, or where the sampled sources are so carefully interwoven into the complete recording that you can’t spot the joins. These were everyday noises, environmental or mechanical sound effects, instruments mangled beyond recognition – all of them made into music not thanks to the sleek, robotic precision of multiple sequencers, but via the unpredictable responses you get from human interaction.

Crucially, though Disco Inferno – perhaps regrettably – were briefly lauded by the chin-stroking experimental music crowd, their songs certainly weren’t impenetrable. No, this was still pop music in all senses: full of memorable melodies, hummable riffs, choruses and hooks; the lyrics, meanwhile, spoke of world-weary alienation and even contained, unusually, elements of political and social comment (which, at that time, was rarely heard in the songs of all the Britpop bands blasting out of the UK’s indie discos). Despite their unusual production methods, Disco Inferno didn’t just want to be listened to in rarefied circles – they wanted to produce bright, shiny pop music, but pop that was all about the future rather than the ’60s-obsessed past of floppy-fringed guitar bands.

Second Language

Apart from their three albums, between 1992 and 1995 Disco Inferno produced five EPs, each of which showed a startling new take on their desire to seek out new ideas and take huge strides in different directions. I’m lucky enough to own these five CDs, though they sold very few copies at the time. Since then, the fifteen songs they contained have found their way to a limited number of new listeners – initially (before torrents and MP3s became the norm) through the zealous efforts of music journalist Ned Raggett in burning CDs and sending them out to people following pleas on various music messageboards – but the audio quality was obviously less than perfect, which is unfortunate considering the intricate soundscapes at the centre of DI’s music.

Now, after far too long a wait, the five EPs have been remastered and are being reissued on a single CD called, imaginatively, The 5 EPs. I don’t really need to own this CD, and I haven’t actually bought a compact disc in almost three years, but I pre-ordered this one as soon as it was announced. While it’s well over a decade old, this music still sounds like the future; a future that – despite post-rock, electronica, dubstep and any other supposedly trailblazing musical style that’s come and gone in the meantime – is still Disco Inferno’s own unique vision. This should have been what the 21st century sounded like. Since it clearly doesn’t, even eleven years on from the dawn of the new millennium, that’s even more reason to retreat under headphones and listen to The 5 EPs over and over again.

Disco Inferno split up in 1995, tired and disillusioned by their lack of commercial success and their clear failure to drag the record-buying public away from the Beatles/Kinks revisionism of Oasis and Blur – not to mention a run of bad luck with record companies and even having all their precious sampling equipment stolen. Ian Crause (guitar and vocals) put out a couple of singles at the start of the last decade, but they seemed weighed down by his sense of disillusionment following his experiences in the music industry, while the sound had undoubtedly retreated a little towards more conventional guitar/bass/drums territory. Then, instead of wasting years in rehab or becoming an unconvincing film actor, he did what every ex-rock musician should do. He moved to Bolivia. Yes, really: Bolivia.

There are vague rumours of Crause producing new music and once again following his own unique – some would say crazy and impractical – ideas on sound production. I dearly hope so. Perhaps one way to encourage him to re-enter the fray would be for The 5 EPs to sell thousands upon thousands of copies. You know what to do.

The Last Dance

Vaughan Simons is not afraid of the future. He is also not afraid to call a spade an implement with which to facilitate the act of gardening. He often grabs a bull by the horns and shouts “Sorry, wrong bull!” Find him here, there and everywhere.


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