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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Disco Inferno – Summers Last Sound. November 19, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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We’re shifting into late November, so, as a result I thought it appropriate to look at Disco Inferno, for me one of the very few true – if unsung – greats of UK music in the 1990s and a group whose career ranged from guitar based indie to genuinely experimental post-rock. And why appropriate? Because truly if ever a band caught the sense, the tone, of Autumn it was them.

It was something in the melancholic atonal vocals set to many layered guitar and bass lines not unreminiscent of Joy Division, Wire and perhaps Durutti Column. And if Ian Curtis had sounded like a man raging against the dying of the light then for Ian Crause, the lead singer with DI, there was, by contrast, total resignation if not actual defeat – “Waking Up” opens to the line “A sky without a God is a clear, clear sky”.

Crause, Rob Whatley and Paul Wilmott might have thought the name was a pun, and of course it was. Their brand of music, drawing on Joy Division initially as their starting point, wasn’t – at first – in any sense disco, or at least not to most listeners… though… though… Instead it offered a reconsideration of late 1970s and very early 1980s post-punk that was inflected by shoegaze and layered echoing guitars, and with Crause’s vocal style which was often half spoken in some ways it sounded something closer to a Joy Division fronted by Bernard Sumner rather than Ian Curtis.

But, in a sense there were two Disco Inferno’s, the first being that Joy Divison like band that somehow transcended their base material, or perhaps added to it as exemplified by their first album/compilation appropriately entitled In Debt, and the other being the post-rock outfit [it’s worth noting that there was a cross-over of personnel with post-rock standby’s Bark Psychosis in the early days].

It’s not that there was no experimentation during that first phase, there was, at least to some degree, but as they developed later they interspersed it with a manic energy that drew on the techniques they were beginning to use to make the music. Samples, electronic beats, treated bass and guitar sounds and synthesisers combined to make something vivid and exciting. The technique used here was important. They used samples triggered by guitars and bass and pedals, rather than keyboards. And the samples were drawn from an array of sources – children’s voices, the sound of water splashing, whatever. This combined with the basslines and the melodies produced a curiously cathartic, albeit at times challenging, effect. Listen to “Starbound: All Burnt Out and Nowhere to Go” or “In sharky water” from the second album and you can hear the synthesis between their influences and where they were able to take them next. The bassline carries the tracks, but the samples and beats illuminate them.

In that respect some might argue that their second period was not dissimilar to the evolution of New Order, but while some tracks retained a sound positioned in electronic pop – EP track “The Last Dance” and third album track “Sleight of Hand” are definitively pop oriented – more broadly they moved towards something much more gritty and challenging that was influenced strongly by hip hop and electronica while sounding entirely distinct from those areas. Same band, different aesthetic. And if the template was not entirely innovative, the combination was somehow fresh [and has a certain longevity, I discovered writing this up that their 5 EPs have been rereleased this year – about time].

I heard their post-rock stuff first around the time the album D.I. Go Pop, the name of which was most definitely meant as a joke, was released in 1994 and then soon after that I managed to acquire their Joy Division like material from the In Debt compilation album. Added to that were the EPs that they released throughout the 1990s and in total they produced a very cohesive body of work.

When they broke up in 1995 they also had three albums to their name. And although Crause released two good EPs, and they collectively had an EP released around the turn of the millennium, no more has been heard of them (Crause I’ve read has been in South America).

It’s a pity. I think they managed to carve out distinctive spaces in both phases of their career in places that might initially have seemed overworked by others – and shows up the paucity of invention of a later generation of Joy Division/post-punk copyists in the 2000s.

One wonders where, given further time – and by the by there was a political strain running through them (check out some of the samples and lyrics and more particularly check out this interview with Crause and Paul Wilmott here from quite recently – a man after my own heart politically) they might have taken it… listen to the last track below, “Can’t See Through It” – also from 1996’s Technicolour and the track which kicks off MGMT’s mix album released this year – and there’s an hint in the overall arrangements. Magical.

Early period DI

Set Sail [In Debt – Album/Compilation from 1991 but rereleased in 1995]

Broken [In Debt – Album/Compilation from 1991 but rereleased in 1995]

Waking Up [In Debt – Album/Compilation from 1991 but rereleased in 1995]

Mid to later period DI.

Summers Last Sound [Summers Last Sound EP – 1992]

The Long Dance [The Last Dance EP – 1993, a version of theirmost overtly pop song ‘The Last Dance’]

Second Language [Second Language EP – 1994]

In Sharky Water [D.I. Go Pop Album – 1994]

Footprints in the Snow [D.I. Go Pop Album – 1994 – entertaining outro taken from a live gig]

Starbound: All Burnt Out and Nowhere to Go [D.I. Go Pop Album – 1994] (fan video)

When the Story Breaks [Technicolor Album – 1996]

Sleight of Hand [Technicolor Album – 1996]

Can’t See Through It [Technicolor Album – 1996]

Comments»

1. sonofstan - November 20, 2011

Well since this post is being ignored to the same extent as the band were in their lifetime, can I chime in with another vote for them. Really interesting how they took the sampler on board: they didn’t use it to do rhythmic loops and graft a ‘dance element’ onto their music – they used it as a extra instrument, but an instrument that could sound like anything at all. Sort of weirdly outsider-ish without be all faux-naif or folky primitive or whatever.

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WorldbyStorm - November 20, 2011

Thanks Stan. Glad to see someone else appreciates them. I genuinely think they were one of the very few ‘indie’ bands of the last twenty years doing anything particularly new or interesting, or anything coming close to – say – Wire or the first flush of post punk. Indeed they sort of detached me along with dance and electronica almost completely from ‘indie’ and into what I hope are more challenging/interesting forms. And I think it’s precisely what you’re saying there. They didn’t take an obvious route with the equipment but instead did something quite substantially different.

Listening to them again over the weekend I was actually struck by how much political content there was in the lyrics. Crause seems to be highly politicised himself.

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sonofstan - November 20, 2011

Yeah, from what I’ve gathered on their background, they’re sort of outer suburban non-student types – i.e. the last of a breed that would have been the archetypal post-punk musician, but, but the time DI were active had all but disappeared, as ‘indie’ bifurcated into public school/ grammar school boys being ‘clever’ and ‘ironic’ and working class boys living down to tabloid expectations.

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WorldbyStorm - November 20, 2011

Check this out… wow… even more political than I’d thought. There’s an interesting deconstruction along the lines you suggest by Crause of 1990s Britpop etc. I paricularly like the line about the singer from Kula Shaker’s social views making him suitable to sit in Franco’s cabinet!

http://thequietus.com/articles/07144-disco-inferno-interview

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2. EamonnCork - December 20, 2011

I’d never heard of DI before. However on your recommendation I sent away for the 5 Eps album. It’s terrific. I might have said this before but you’d get an education reading these What I’m Listening To … posts.
By the way, there’s a terrific book just out called Love Goes To Buildings on Fire by an American journo named Will Hermes. It’s a history of music in New York from 1973-1978. OK the CBGBs and birth of hop-hop stuff has been covered before but there’s also a lof of interesting stuff about Latin music, loft jazz (Dabid Murray, Sam Rivers et al) and Philip Glass/Steve Reich. I think it would be right into the barrow of anyone who likes this particular thread.

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3. This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Eleven for Autumn « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - September 22, 2012

[…] and something (well, quite a lot actually) of Disco Inferno about […]

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4. This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Spring Heel Jack, There Are Strings | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 25, 2013

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