Ian Crause’s Disco Inferno started out in the late ’80s, blending 4AD-style atmospherics with the side of New Order that wasn’t dance music, taking as its starting point Crause’s meticulous, chiming, echoing guitar sound. As the East London band grew, it discovered sequencing, electronic triggers and MIDI devices, and found its voice making almost-conventional guitar-pop songs out of unconventional sonic materials.
Disco Inferno’s first three records — the single “Entertainment,” the album Open Doors Closed Windows and the EP Science (all of which were later compiled, with an extra song, as In Debt) — reveal a band with a very big collection of Joy Division records and a very large suitcase full of effects pedals. (It’s tempting to think they should have called themselves We’ve Got a Digital Delay Box and We’re Gonna Use It.) You can practically sing either “Ceremony” or “In a Lonely Place” to half the songs, but some of them are powerfully expansive (“Set Sail” has an especially rich sound), and others, like “Freethought,” find the band already experimenting with layers of sampled noise. The EP’s “Waking Up” introduces another one of D.I.’s favorite tricks: letting a graceful treble-range bass guitar carry a song by itself.
The lineup for the “Summer’s Last Sound” single was Crause singing and playing guitars and samples, bassist Paul Wilmot, Robert Whatley (“drum triggers and bass patterns”) and studio engineer Charlie McIntosh. This last position was clearly essential to D.I.’s designs; think of engineer Gary Langan, who was counted as a full member of the Art of Noise. McIntosh is the only person named on 1993’s “From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sky” single (whose noisy, nearly abstract ten-minute “B-side,” “A Rock to Cling To,” was the first indication of the direction the band was about to take); he also produced D.I. Go Pop and half of The Last Dance, while different producers and engineers are named on other records.
The Last Dance, a four-track EP, includes two versions of the title song (on which Crause’s vocal recalls Daniel Treacy of the Television Personalities) as well as “D.I. Go Pop” (a guitar-and-MIDI barrage whose meter suggests an off-center 45) and the lengthy “Scattered Showers,” which is nearly consumed in an avalanche of sound effects.
The D.I. Go Pop album doesn’t contain the song of the same name; it also doesn’t really have anything that’s recognizable as pop. Crause’s guitar (if that is indeed his triggering device of choice) is almost always electronically transformed into something else: a horde of whining camera-shutters on “Starbound: All Burnt Out & Nowhere to Go,” a piano in the middle of a demolition derby on “A Crash at Every Speed.” The bass provides the only real melodic content, and Crause desperately shouts unwieldy lyrics that can’t quite be made out. It’s a hard record to adjust to, but it’s also unique and sometimes very refreshing, even pretty.
The album was followed by another EP, Second Language, which brought back the guitar while keeping the sound effects, though the epiphanic moment in the title track isn’t the sampled intrusions but Crause’s attack on his whammy bar near the end. “The Atheist’s Burden” has a drum machine that might even make it danceable if not for the wobble-toned instruments surrounding it. The real prize from this period (and the final of four releases, beginning with The Last Dance, unified by complementary waveform graphics), however, is the non-album single “It’s a Kid’s World,” a peculiarly calm assemblage of amorphous, atonal noises, sweetly ringing guitar and Crause’s buried-in-the-mix vocals, set against a slowed-down sample of the walloping drums that open Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” Bizarre, but highly effective.