Thursday, February 07, 2008

Disco Inferno: The Five EPs
It's come to my attention that a bootleg Disco Inferno compilation has been circulating among discerning music fans. This CDR, called The Five EPs, seems to be the work of fairly prominent music blogger who is - by all accounts - an obsessive DI fan.

Whoever may be responsible, it's good to see these songs circulating again. For the most part, they were only ever available in that most ephemeral of formats - the UK CD single (at least some of them came out on vinyl but I only have the CDs). While DI's two classic albums (DI Go Pop and Technicolour) have remained in print fairly steadily since the band's early/mid-90s "heyday", there has never been an official collection of the singles and EPs from that same period.

This is a crying shame because the discs unofficially collected on The Five EPs represent the bulk of Disco Inferno's best work. While the albums are great, they don't tell the full story about DI. It's this compilation that presents the true, truly unique Disco Inferno sound, as such.

So while it's a shame that Ian Crause et al aren't seeing any royalties from the circulation of this music, it's wonderful that people are actually hearing it. The Five EPs doesn't only represent the creative pinnacle of the original UK post-rock scene, it also collects some of the most innovative and visionary music ever created in any genre.

Amazing, really, that DI emerged from East London in the early 90s as mere devotees of Mancunian bedsit psychedelia (Joy Division, The Durutti Column, The Blue Orchids...) The music they made after discovering the sample-based futurism of The Young Gods and Public Enemy remains without parallel or equal.

"Summer's Last Sound"/"Love Stepping Out" (1992)
And it all began here, with Disco Infeno's final single for the Cheree label. With "Summer's Last Sound", DI took a huge leap into the unknown, subverting the classic rock power trio set-up by employing MIDI gear that allowed them to use their guitar, bass and drums to trigger samples of environmental and musical sounds. All of DI's music from this point on was extremely innovative and utterly unique but it was never more beautifully realized than on the "Love Stepping Out" single.

"A Rock to Cling to"/"From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sky" (1993)
This single marked the band's debut as
Rough Trade recording artists. Confusingly, when you put the CD into a computer it tells you that the first (short) song is "From the Devil..." and that the second (epic) track is "A Rock to Cling to". I've always assumed this to be the other way around because Crause sings "I always need a rock to cling to" on the short song. Anyway, I've uploaded the short song for your streaming pleasure (see the player at the bottom of this post) and labeled it "A Rock to Cling to".

Either way, this song represents a partial, surprisingly effective step back to the band's gloom-rock roots, whereas the long track is their most ambitious piece of pure sonic sculpture (an approach reprised on the posthumously released EP The Mixing It Session).

"The Last Dance" (1993)
The New Order-esque "Last Dance" is probably my favourite Disco Inferno song. The words sum up DI's world-view quite nicely: "Small hopes flash by and wave/While foreign forces wait and pray/And the fear of the future eats so deep in our hearts/That we'll all but destroy ourselves/Like the centuries of feuds/Being updated with high-tech weapons/In the end it's not the future/But the past that will get us".

The rest of the EP is more experimental and hardly any less inspired. "Scattered Showers" is particularly brilliant and quintessentially DI - rather like discovering a lost stand-out track from the wildly avant garde DI Go Pop.

"Second Language" (1994)
Another great EP in the style of "The Last Dance". "At the End of the Line" reprises the cloudy ambiance of "Scattered Showers" to magnificent effect. All four tracks are fantastic and this EP is probably the most representative example of the classic DI sound.

"It's a Kid's World" (1994)
The title track from this EP was actually featured on Technicolour, so I'm letting you stream B-side "Lost in Fog" in the player below. "It's a Kid's World" is an oddly jaunty number that samples "Lust for Life" and the Dr. Who theme. Apparently, Crause derided Technicolour as "cartoon music" and this track could certainly be described as such.

"Lost in Fog", by contrast, is nightmarishly dark - so much so, in fact, that it found its way onto Kevin Martin's epochal dark ambient compilation, Isolationism. It really does sound like a commercially failing band dissolving into a state of utter despair.

Which is pretty much what was happening, I guess. The music they left behind will stand the test of time, though. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Disco Inferno were the Velvet Underground of the 90s. There will be a time - soon - when everyone who hears Disco Inferno will immediately go out and form a questing experimental rock band.

More precisely, Disco Inferno will be to the music of the coming decade what the Velvets were to 80s indie rock: absolutely the essential touchstone and visionary text.

I am only partly joking.


Anonymous said...

A really great DI article!

Glad to see some fellow DI fans still loving the music.

I am working with Ian Crause at the moment and am puuting a fairy big retrospective together.

Once it is finished it will appear on my site here:

christopher said...

ha..i had that same confusion with "From the Devil to the deep blue sky". I've got the 12" and i was left scratching my head.

love that band

Biggie Samuels said...

There's some dispute about this issue but I believe I'm right.

Take a look at this thread on the UK Post-Rock group: