I first heard Disco Inferno in 1993, when Festival Records (the Australian licensers of Rough Trade Records) released their “From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sky” single. A foolhardy move, given the nature of the record itself – if the English listening public couldn’t get to grips with its paradigm-splitting combination of post-punk songwriting and furiously futuristic sampler technique, Australia didn’t stand a chance in hell. But for a few of us, this single and the following album, D.I.Go Pop, flagged a group at a crossroads, burning through rock’s touch-paper with a creative radiance last heard, as observed by The 5 EPs’ liner note scribe David Howell, on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
The 5 EPs is the baldly descriptive title of a compilation of Disco Inferno’s quintet of singles from 1992 to1994. Released partly as satellites beaming to Planet Pop from the group’s bunker, partly as probes to test the parameters of their newly founded aesthetic and practice, they’re a breathtaking collection of songs. Taking the Joy Division-inspired songs of their first batch of independent releases (subsequently compiled on In Debt) and stretching them to near-breaking point by hooking guitar and drums to MIDI and samplers, so that the instruments were "activated" by sampled material, Disco Inferno created one of the few true examples of meta-rock. The songs were all there, structured beautifully, but now they were either strung together with the material of the everyday world (ticking clocks, rushing water, birdsong, shattering glass), or simply bursting from their seams.
With The 5 EPs, you can hear Disco Inferno’s thinking shift and change, mutate and blossom. The baleful vs. beautiful dialectic of the first EP, “Summer’s Last Sound” and “Love Stepping Out,” leads into the Wire’d not-rock of “From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sky,” only to run aground on the oil-soaked shores of “A Rock To Cling To,” their nine-minute masterpiece of rock-concrète. “The Last Dance” is Disco Inferno at their most wide-eyed and populist, like New Order taking a crash course in Marx, while “D.I.Go Pop” has Ian Crause’s half-sung rant perpetually fighting with an accelerating rush of engine roar, as though the song’s accelerator is welded to the metal. It’s like The Bomb Squad if they’d spent their youth shirking around inner London.
“D.I.Go Pop” is also one of the most accelerated examples of Disco Inferno’s political program. Unlike a lot of their supposed "post-rock" peers, Disco Inferno were fiercely political, taking in England’s post-Thatcher Tory malaise with the maladjusted spine and perpetual disappointment of a precocious adolescent (which, at the release of “Summer’s Last Sound,” Disco Inferno still were). Crause’s pointedly observed lyrics remind me of Green Gartside’s early efforts in Scritti Politti. Like Gartside, Ian Crause is adept at finding the critical core of the matter, capturing the minutiae of the political moment, and then panning out to paint the overarching meta-concerns of the day. Sung/spoken with Crause’s disaffected voice, submerged in the hurricanes of sampler detritus the group assembled around their songs, they make for pithy observation amongst a generation more interested in staring at their shoes.
By 1994, the group had started to re-think their approach, deciding to actually go pop. “The Last Dance” was signal enough, but the real pay-off is “Second Language,” still their most rapturous song, with a Durutti Column-esque, arpeggio guitar figure trawling the melody’s sample-dense undertow, building into a breathless and heart-rending wall of sound, with Crause’s guitar bending and buckling under the pressure. These later singles, as well as the much-delayed release of the final Disco Inferno album, Technicolour, proved the group could pen pop with the best of them, thus proving, in a roundabout way, Taylor Parkes’ claim from one of the articles reprinted in The 5 EPs’ accompanying booklet: "Disco Inferno were – you see – always a pop band." And one of the last two decades’ most forward-thinking, boundary-rupturing pop bands at that. Now’s time to catch up on a small clutch of singles that, had the world been a smarter place, should have ruptured modern popular song.