What Is This Thing Called Disco?
Melbourne, Australian provocateur Philip Brophy, best known for his work with → ↑ → (pronounced with three clicks of the tongue), whose decade-long investigation into the aesthetics of punk and electronic and dance music began in the late 1970s. Created a fake disco band, Asphixiation, that played at Melbourne University’s George Paton Gallery in July of 1980. The ensuing exhibition presented paintings lifted from Italian Vogue, single instruments displayed on plinths, tape loops playing minimalist ambient sounds, and a synthesizer pulsing a loud thump throughout the space.
“What Is This Thing Called ‘Disco’?,” a 12-track no-wave/disco/not disco record that accompanied the installation, should be regarded as a classical feat, reflective of the emerging sounds at that time. It encapsulates the downward descent of “mainstream” disco and the uprising of new wave and post-punk, while borrowing certain elements from other dance-floor genres. There is an unruffled confidence and invisible seduction that runs through the locked groove of “Aural Risk.” The play between saxophone and xylophone lines coupled with gentle vocal musings by Maria Kozic and Jayne Steven make the song worthy of being placed someplace between the original Was Not Was project and the early incarnations of Kid Creole and The Coconuts. Essentially this 12 inch could be from the landmark Ze Records imprint from 1980.
The swirling horns and ethereal atmospherics of the instrumental opener “The Beat Aesthetic” or the quirky electronic musings that provides a back round to the hushed lyrics of “Feelings”…both selections call attention to a dissimilar appropriation of musical identities. That sonic duality theory continues further with “Innocent Rhythms.” A sonic confluence of Phillip Glass brainiac minimalism meeting the industrial strife of the band Suicide. Or the upright synth stomp of “The Crush,” which borrows a disco 4/4 bombast and matches it with a wonky keyboard line repeated ad infinitum.
Now “What Is This Thing Called ‘Disco’?” is recognised as one of Australian post-punk’s most iconic, playful and sought-after records. Chapter has lovingly remastered and reissued the album + 12″ single package, with new liner notes and photos.
“What Is This Thing Called ‘Disco’?” will be released Friday June 2, 2017.
Watch the video of “Aural Risk” by Asphixiation here: