Playing with Places

New albums by MY DISCO and Black Bombaim, the most radical in their discography so far, prove that what you play is as important as where you play it. MY DISCO have given up on rhythm to enter the sphere of industrial and musique concrète, while Black Bombaim engage in a creative collaboration with electronic artists. Yet what comes to the fore on the two records are the locations where they were created.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

Both bands have clearly departed from their previous sound. Australians MY DISCO have left their initial post-punk aesthetics behind to pursue sonic experiments on pretty much every single album they released after their debut. While Little Joy could still be pigeonholed into a single genre, with Severe you already had to resort to the ‘post-‘ prefix to account for the more metallic and industrial sound.

Environment, their latest full-length release, shines a different light on the band, also because Downards, their new label, is strongly rooted in the electronic scene. The classical trio of bass-drums-guitar is used in a non-standard way here, so there’s no clear distinction into what’s rhythmical and what’s melodious. The opening “An Intimate Conflict” is built around a whirring amp accompanied by metallic percussion noises and industrial, abstract forms – a raw and powerful intro. “Equatorial Rainforests of Sumatra”, in turn, seems more toned down in its tour-de-force of drums reverbing against the silence. There’s also room on the album for the drone-ambient “Exercise in Sacrifice”, with rattles dotting the background, as well as “Act” or “Hong Kong 1987”, both of which verge on metal. Yet the production of the album plays a crucial role here, referring to the title: environment, the surrounding space, which acts as the fourth instrument.

MY DISCO have not made a record that would be narratively and dramaturgically unambiguous – Environment is closer to a sound sculpture, both in terms of form and structure. In a perfect world, it would be a multi-channel installation – played on a quality sound system, it immediately gives an impression of interplay with the room in which the sound resonates and fills the space on more than one plane. The monotone, densely woven guitar forms often move to the foreground, while the background is filled with higher registers – that comes across brilliantly in the aforementioned “Hong Kong 1987”, mostly towards the end, when the metallic, acoustic miniatures are left to themselves in the empty room. A counterpoint comes a moment later with the synthetic and electrified ambient of “No Permanence”. The final display of playing with the place – resembling the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now – is “Forever”, where sound recordings are combined with fleshy guitars and quasi-rhythmical drumming backed by bass. MY DISCO are definitely at the top of their game here, even though this game is entirely new. They’re building a multi-layered musical story, emphasising textures and timbres as well as the dark, detailed atmosphere. Exploring the fuzzy border between musique concrète and industrial, they balance their sonic potential, unlocking it in a different form and environment than before.

Portuguese trio Black Bombaim (also with the classical line-up of guitar, drums and bass) have made half of their albums with other musicians, often representing very distant worlds – suffice it to mention Peter Brotzmann or Rodrigo Amado. This (more or less) stoner-rock band, capable of crafting an intense and powerful sound, is open about their music and unafraid to experiment and engage in new forms of collaboration or composition.

An interesting idea was to invite representatives of the electronic scene to make live music with the band in unique spaces: an old workers’ auditorium, a huge, empty post office hall and a university reverberation room. The musicians let the pieces play out – the title composition is 23 minutes long, and even if it’s not too innovative in terms of form, it still develops over time, in a slowed down, washed out manner, with individual sounds perfectly adapted to the postal hall. While guitar trails and dense bass attract the attention, it’s the percussion instruments that are best suited to start a dialogue with the acoustics of the space. Jonathan Saldanha (known from HHY & The Macumbas) beautifully decorates the first track with electronic sounds, which comes across brilliantly around minute 12, when the drummed out beat merges with the synthetic one. In “Three Axes”, Pedro Augusto almost dominates over the band – his electronic, pulsating beat covers ambient guitar patches, sometimes interspersed with muffled bass, which becomes more elaborate and dense as the song reaches its climax. “Refraction” builds a psychedelic wall of sound, a piece of sound-art that grows and accumulates instead of exploding, hiding the grinding guitars in an ambient texture created by Luís Fernandes. Sometimes slightly post-rock in nature, although at the end we get a pulsating beat supplemented with bass sounds.

Part two of the material is closer to the typical Black Bombaim style. The composition created with Fernandes explodes in a more classical rock formula of speeding krautrock, a whirring guitar extravaganza. The second piece with Pedro Augusto is much slower, swinging and heavy, but also dense with sounds – filled with powerful bass, spatial guitars and percussion, ranging from drums to hi-hats. The final piece with Jonathan Saldanha is perhaps the most distant from rock aesthetics – through electrified beat and space it also underlines the multi-layered, complex formula of the whole album.

If the first part of the record mostly shows how painstakingly classic rock tracks can be produced, here, in the finale, they are deconstructed, with a rare bass pulse, and a dominant, compulsive drumming repetition at the end. The first three tracks are key, though: Black Bombaim and their guests show a broad array of inspirations, creating a collage of genres inspired by the space matched by their music. The Portuguese trio broaden their rock fascinations with a taste for the electronic and a huge, majestic sound, influenced both by their chosen recording locations and guests showing a different side to their music.

My Disco, Environment, Downwards
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Black Bombaim & Jonathan Saldanha, Luís Fernandes, Pedro Augusto, Cardinal Fuzz/Lovers & Lollypops