July 13, 2004

‘A Little Something’ – Disco Inferno

“When I was young
I was taught a little song
I only ever sing it
When things are going horribly wrong …”

Listen to the song here, for a Limited! Period! Only!
On every mix CD, I have a theory that there should be a little space set aside for a brief appearance by a Great Lost Band. I’m talking about those acts who stayed around for a few years, releasing albums that were raved about by the critics but completely ignored by the music-buying public. The reason for this sad state of affairs usually comes down to the fact that nobody knew what the hell they were trying to do; their music couldn’t be successfully categorised. Such bands usually end up going their separate ways after a few years, weary of trying to fight against massive indifference.
In their wake, they invariably leave a small but foolishly dedicated group of fans, most of whom eventually find each other via mailing lists on the internet. And there they stay, telling each other that nobody ever really understood their idols, and occasionally sharing gossip on what the lead singer is doing now (selling life insurance, working as a TV researcher, recording his long-awaited but never-to-be-released solo album, or being spotted buying meals for one in various branches of Safeway). They bond over their shared love of music that everyone else has long since forgotten (if they were even aware of it in the first place). It’s classic anorak behaviour, and it’s very, very tragic indeed.
For some reason, I seem to have a habit of liking such bands. Yes, I’m the person to speak to if you want CDs by The Bathers, the one and only album by Unsophisticates, obscure releases by the ex-members of Japan, or the complete back catalogue of Furniture (currently appearing on every ’80s compilation near you with their one and only hit, Brilliant Mind). And then there’s my next candidate for the Uborka Mix CD …

The three dour young men who made up Disco Inferno – possibly the most inappropriate band name ever, by the way – emerged quietly from east London in 1989. It immediately became apparent that they were displaying a painfully bad case of wanting to be Joy Division. They were almost heroically depressing, their music sounded like it was recorded in a deserted aircraft hangar, they probably wore overcoats in the summer, and their lead singer was even called Ian, for heaven’s sake. It was almost all over before it had even begun.
However, one Sunday afternoon in the early ’90s, the trio experienced a surge of hormonal teenage excitement when they heard some of the complex cut-and-paste noise collages that Public Enemy were using to soundtrack the rapping of Chuck D and his mate, that grinning moron with the big clock round his neck. The next day, they hurried out to buy some samplers and see what magic they could conjure out of them in the privacy of their suburban bedrooms.
However, nobody had told the three plucky lads that it might be a good idea to learn how to use these complex pieces of electronic equipment first. Fortunately, this turned out to be a Very Good Thing Indeed, because therein lay the genius of Disco Inferno.
What they did, in basic terms, was to plug all their standard indie band instruments – guitars, bass and drums – into their samplers, load up a selection of superbly odd noises (a glass smashing on one guitar string, a birdcall on the next string, maybe the sound of footsteps crunching through snow on the drums), and then use this artillery of sounds to play gorgeously melodic pop music that wasn’t a million miles away from the style of New Order.
It sounds like a simple format, yet everyone singularly failed to understand it. This was pop music, pure and simple – it’s just that it was made with a varied grab-bag of obscure sound sources. They should have been at no.1 in the charts, but instead they were being fawned over by chin-stroking muso intellectuals at The Wire magazine, on Radio 3’s Mixing It and, worst of all, by some of the most ridiculously pretentious journalists ever to grace the pages of the weekly music papers. Oh, you know the sort – they talk about “sonic cathedrals”, quote existentialist philosophers and discuss themselves and their glamorous drug habits more than they ever discuss the music. Terms such as ‘post-rock’ and ‘sampladelia’ were frequently dropped into the conversation too, thereby further nauseating anyone who happened across a review. Meanwhile, Disco Inferno probably wanted to be as far away from all this as possible, playing their music to impressionable twelve-year-olds on Live and Kicking.
And so, after a run of bad luck and a whole heap of indifference, Disco Inferno split up in 1995, leaving (from their sample-based years, anyway) two albums and five wonderful EPs. Oh, and about fifty fans at the last count, who seize on any little bit of info – like Ian Crause, the lead singer, managing to release just two rather underwhelming singles in eight years – and talk about it endlessly on certain messageboards and mailing lists. It’s utterly pathetic, and we would probably all be best advised to get over it after nearly a decade. But just to prove that I haven’t got over it, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to spread the gospel of Disco Inferno a little further. Very considerate of me, don’t you think?
The track I’m putting forward for the Uborka Mix CD is called A Little Something. It dates from 1994, but sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. Because I’m ever so generous, for a limited period only you can hear it here. It has wonderful world-weary lyrics – a trademark of the songwriter – but yet again it’s an exceptionally perfect pop song. It even features conventional guitar noises, for those of you who might be dreading some kind of atonal aural assault straight from the file marked ‘avant-garde’. Oh, and it’s reassuringly short too, coming in at just under three minutes – which I hope might endear it to the compilers if there are a few minutes to fill on the CD.
However, because I couldn’t quite decide which track to offer, you can also listen to Second Language, with its chiming guitars in the style of Durutti Column (Durutti Column, anyone? Should I shut up now?), as well as the utterly poptastic It’s A Kid’s World, which borrows the drums from Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and kicks them down the stairs to collapse on top of the themes from Play School and Doctor Who. Be sure to listen now, because my bandwidth won’t take the strain forever.
It’s the sound of the future, kids. Twenty-first century pop music, if you will. And yet, slightly disturbingly, it’s ten years old.
* Second Language and It’s a Kid’s World now removed due to web-space issues. So you’ve missed your chance – and Disco Inferno MP3s appear so rarely on the net, too.


9 thoughts on “‘A Little Something’ – Disco Inferno

  1. Speaking as both a chin-stroking intellectual and a ridiculously pretentious journalist (with the emphasis on the ridiculous) I can only say… DAMN… isn’t this your second choice? Or do we have to vote for your selections?
    I mightily enjoyed my Disco Inferno breakfast, but I wasn’t able to download “Second Language” (I’ve always had a problem with second languages, which is why I went straight for the eighteenth and learnt Hungarian instead).

  2. I’d be more impressed with your sense of esoteric musical knowledge if you had an album from the 90’s by a band called Soy Cowboy. I lost my copy, and even Google’s never heard of them…

  3. Link to ‘Second Language’ now corrected. Damn commas instead of dots.
    Yes, it is my second choice. Call me greedy. If the week were long enough, and I wasn’t so busy, I’d probably nominate at length each and every one-hit (or more likely non-hit) wonder in my CD collection. You should, therefore, count your blessings. 🙂

  4. Your final line is almost exactly what Chicks on Speed said before we booed them off the stage.
    “Better get used to this, its the sound of the future. Twenty-first century music!”
    And then what we said about them soon afterwards.
    “Pop music by ten year olds.”
    (Sorry Mike, know you like them, but they are *not* the sort of thing Chili Peppers fans want to see as a warm-up)

  5. No, Vaughan, I wasn’t the drummer, or any part of them.
    As for un-released, well, they had an advert in the back of NME, and I managed to get a copy by replying to it. And then lost the bloody thing when I lived in Oxford. Grrrr.

  6. D: Oh, that’s quite alright; I’d be the first to admit that Chicks On Speed were fairly crap live. And a hopelessly inappropriate choice of support act for Ver Peppahs…

  7. I’m still struggling with the mental picture of Disco Inferno on Live and Kicking…

  8. Jason – It’s where they wanted to be. I’m sure of it. I remember hearing them on ‘Mixing It’, and they sounded bored to tears.

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