Music

Disco Inferno: D.I. Go Pop

Adrien Begrand

Disco Inferno

D.I. Go Pop

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: 2004-03-09
Amazon
iTunes

If you read British music magazines around 1994, there was a good chance you probably came across a small article or two about a young band called Disco Inferno. You'd read quotes about how their album was unlike anything anybody had done before, how utterly incredible it was, but if you lived in North America, far away from a good record store, the only thing you would know about Disco Inferno's album D.I. Go Pop would be its distinctive cover art. That photograph of a pastoral English setting, bluntly obscured by a white circle in the center, with three arcs extending outward, looking like monstrous sound waves emitting from the middle of a lake, was one of the most indelible album cover images in the '90s, yet so few people actually heard the music inside. As ignored as Disco Inferno was in North America, the band, surprisingly enough, didn't get heaps of press in the UK, either, as the album was completely shut out when the major publications made their year-end lists. Two years later, despite releasing some of the most beautiful, jarring, and innovative music of the '90s, the band would be no more.

The Internet can be a wonderful thing, though. With the arrival of online music stores and auction sites, not to mention the explosion of file sharing in the late '90s, it's become much easier for curious music fans to learn more about obscure acts like Disco Inferno, but unlike the availability of the MP3s, it's still been difficult for people to find reasonably-priced copies of the real product. Finally, One Little Indian Records has caught up, reissuing D.I. Go Pop and the band's second album Technicolour in North America for the first time, as part of its new "Crossing the Pond" series of UK albums that have not seen domestic release Stateside. A full decade after D.I. Go Pop's initial release, it's the perfect opportunity for people to discover one of rock's most innovative, tragically overlooked bands, and might I add, it's about bloody time.

When they first got together in 1989, Disco Inferno was a strictly post punk outfit whose sound was influenced primarily by Joy Division and Wire, but beginning with their 1992 single Summer's Last Sound, the group began to experiment a little more, the music inching toward more electronic sounds. Their first two EPs for the Rough Trade label, A Rock to Cling To and The Last Dance, were even bolder, as Disco Inferno made the leap from post punk to post rock, as the songs began to feature more and more samples, loops, ambient sounds, and most noticeably, a combination of jolting noise and entrancing melodies. The band was quickly moving toward something big, and it would all come to a head on their 1994 album.

The cheeky title of D.I. Go Pop could not be more misleading. Just like the band's highly tongue-in-cheek name, this music is anything but pop, as Ian Crause, Paul Wilmott, and Rob Whatley created an album so audacious, its unique beauty still resounds strongly today. Utilizing MIDI samplers which were triggered by guitar, bass, and drums, the band was able to go beyond the limitations of a mere guitar rock group (Crause once said he had six samplers hooked up to his guitar, one per string). One would expect that the end result would wind up being nothing more than a chaotic, noisy, haphazard, cut-and-paste attempt at musical assemblage, and yeah, there is a fair bit of cacophony on this album, but like My Bloody Valentine's timeless classic Loveless, underneath the din is an album of such startling beauty, and even more surprising structure, that once you notice it, it seems like a huge revelation.

Just listen to that sample of dripping water in the opening seconds of "In Sharky Water"; at first, it sounds like the kind of white noise you'd find easy to ignore, but it doesn't take long before you notice that there's a mellifluousness and a rhythm to it; on this album, the band clearly has a John Cage-like knack for hearing music coming from what would be normally perceived as non-musical sources. You hear examples like that throughout the album, ranging from crashes, glass breaking, and whistling, to samples of camera shutters clicking and a frenetically-repeated sample of children singing on "Starbound: All Burnt Out and Nowhere to Go". Aside from "In Sharky Water", actual drums take a backseat on this album, as rhythms are provided by various samples, and most notably, the bass playing of Paul Wilmott. "New Clothes For the New World" alternates from crashing sounds and chiming samples, anchored by a smooth bassline that sounds swiped from the Happy Mondays catalogue, while the more sinister, intense "A Crash at Every Speed" is driven by a low, rumbling bass vamp. "Next Year" features a melodic, upper-register bassline that's very similar to Peter Hook's work with New Order.

Vocalist/guitarist Crause, an admitted misanthrope, often served up a very bleak, Morrissey-esque worldview in his lyrics on the band's early singles, and though you do hear bits and pieces of a similar sentiment on this album ("Chameleon skin/Is what you need to be in/When nothing's as it appears/Why should you be?"), his vocals are buried so deeply in the mix, it's impossible to tell just exactly what he's singing most of the time. The plaintive, melancholy "Even the Sea Sides Against Us", one of the more instantly accessible songs on the album, revisits the Joy Division/Echo & the Bunnymen sound of their earlier material, as Crause's lyrics sound as charmingly morose as ever ("We're waiting for a future to come and sweep us away").

The album comes to a gorgeous climax on the final two tracks. "A Whole Wide World Ahead" sounds like a Nick Drake song recorded outside in a raging thunderstorm, nothing but acoustic guitar, Crause's spoken lyrics (which are almost understandable... almost), and a swirling, siren-like harmony in the background, all underscored by various whooshes, rumblings, and crashes. "Footprints in Snow", on the other hand, sounds gloriously innocent and optimistic, as you hear little crunchy-sounding samples that actually do evoke images of someone running in the snow, with a gentle bassline provided by Wilmott, more chiming samples that sound like glockenspiel, and Crause's oddly affecting vocals. Then, just like that, after 33 fleeting minutes, it's all over, save for the bizarre insertion of a recording of the band being told to be quiet by their landlady.

D.I. Go Pop sounds even more interesting when heard in context with the band's five great EPs, released between 1992 and 1994. You hear Disco Inferno evolve from the straightforward post punk of "Summer's Last Sound", to the all-out post rock of D.I. Go Pop, as the band gets more and more daring. It's also fascinating to hear the band's two EPs that followed D.I. Go Pop, Second Language and It's a Kid's World. Hearing the absolutely gorgeous guitar work on "Second Language" (arguably the band's best song) echoing The Durutti Column's Vini Reilly, and "It's a Kid's World"'s brilliant combination of the drum track from Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" and samples of various children's TV show themes, you hear the band focus more on melody, while utilizing sampling technology, and still creating some stunning pieces of work. If there's any justice in this world, the band's pivotal EPs they recorded for Rough Trade will be compiled on one CD someday.

Still, it's the band's irreverent genius and the meticulous arrangements on D.I. Go Pop that stick in your mind the longest. As current artists like Manitoba and Four Tet have the technology to assemble albums much more easily these days, the painstaking lengths that Disco Inferno went to perfect their sound in those pre-folktronica days is only occasionally duplicated today. Disco Inferno has long since departed, and were sadly overlooked by most people (including yours truly) a decade ago, but now, with this new re-release, it's high time we all gave this most innovative band the recognition they so dearly deserve. And unlike that grouchy landlady, you'll be wanting to turn this music up, not down.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.