Text: Digby Woods Images: © Warwick Baker
My Disco is not your traditional rock ensemble. Characterised variously as industrial, minimalist, barren, grunge, experimental, stark, reductive, repetitious, post-punk, indie-rock and art-rock abstraction, the band has managed to cement a firm reputation amongst not only the local scene, but also internationally, playing as far and wide as Mexico, South East Asia, Canada, the UK and North America.
Originally formed in 2003 in the self-described cultural heartland that is Melbourne, My Disco have steadily built upon their reputation within the Australian music scene, going from strength to strength with each album, despite a lack of radio play. “We’re not really concerned with radio play,” says lead guitarist Ben Andrews. “We’re not the sort of band who gets played on the radio anyway. We managed for nearly eight years without it.”
Judging from the difficulty people have in identifying their style of music, My Disco appear to defy genre, and have been described as having such musical ability as to be able to sidestep these conventions. Ben, however, believes it has more to do with perception and that perhaps our desperate need to label things can get in the way of our ability to simply enjoy them.
“I invited a friend come to see one of our shows once who wasn’t too familiar with this kind of scene and so I was really interested to know what he thought of the gig and of our songs. So I went up to him after the show and asked him, ‘What’d you think?’ He just said, ‘It was great, they’re really good songs,’ but I pressured him to be a bit more descriptive, like, ‘Does it remind you of anything, what does it sound like, etc?’ and he just said again, ‘I don’t know, they’re just great songs’.” I thought this was a really insightful point. Like I’ve seen Animal Collective a few times and I can’t really think what to call their music, it’s just amazing. We should just appreciate music for what it is instead of constantly trying to categorise it.”
While their name may suggest something from the French Touch or Italodisco scene, My Disco are at the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, while it may appear to be part of some ironic intention, the name My Disco was culled from the Headache EP of seminal ’80s noise-punk outfit, Big Black. And while most bands agonise over what name will suffice in appealing to the masses, how best to represent themselves to their fans in two or ten words, there was no such pretension with My Disco – they were simply squeezed for time. “We were just in a rush and we’ve been fans of Big Black for a while,” said Ben. “The song just seemed right, but I didn’t realise the lyrics were so full-on. They’re actually quite intense and savage.”
Little did they know, however, that these terms would prove quite appropriate in retrospect, following the discovery in 2004 that Ben’s brother and fellow band member, Liam Andrews, had contracted Hodgkins lymphoma. “It was quite a shock,” remembers Ben. “Liam actually kept playing shows while he was getting chemotherapy, so every alternate week he was getting two rounds of chemo, four a month, and on every week he wasn’t getting chemo we’d write music and actually play some gigs. When Death From Above 1979 came out in 2005 we played with them during one of Liam’s chemo rounds. It was as if the music sustained him through that period.”
The impact of this tumultuous period is obvious given the title of My Disco’s first studio album, Cancer (originally titled The Cancer Year), released in 2006, and is further driven home with track titles such as ‘Calling Cancer’, ‘Patterns Surgical’ and ‘Pale’. 2008 saw the release of the band’s second full-length effort, Paradise, “a reflection of leaving that year behind and moving toward something better, coming out of the darkness.” Certain tracks still give a clear indication of the previous album’s influence, namely, ‘ You Came To Me Like A Cancer Lain Dormant Until It Blossomed Like A Rose’.
Two years later and like a phoenix rising, My Disco have prodigiously released their third studio album, Little Joy. While some may wish to think that the title reveals an expression of tentative optimism for the future, they would be, in fact, be making a mistake (although the assumption is justified given the stoic cover art).
“[The album] is actually named after this bar in LA that I enjoy going to, Lil’ Joy. We went there on our day off during a tour over in the States, and now it’s the first place we hit whenever we land in LA, before we do anything else, we go there for a beer, just to unwind a bit, reclaim a bit of normality.”
Despite a strong want to continue with one-words titles, Ben felt that ‘Little Joy’ was too good to pass up, asserting, however, that “it’s not about the bar, rather the idea it conveys because it’s quite a pessimistic title, as if you don’t want to be too joyous, too happy. Joy seems to be a fragile concept, like a newborn infant. You have to nurture it and take care of it, love it, otherwise you could lose it.”
Solemn words from a band that has every reason to be wary of the future, and at the same, every reason to look forward to it.
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Text: Digby Woods Images: © Warwick Baker