It’s been a little over eighteen months since we released a ‘single edit’ version of ‘Death by Discothèque’ as a free download in December 2013, backed with the stomping synthpop remix from one of the great pillars of European electro-industrial dance music, Leæther Strip. The single’s release commemorated twenty years since I first persuaded a couple of mates to start fucking about in a garage in Hamilton, New Zealand, and called it Disjecta Membra.
In tandem, the release of ‘Death by Discothèque’ and the band’s anniversary got a decent bit of press coverage, from the usual underground fansites through to higher profile music magazines like Rip It Up here at home, and Independent Music News in the UK. Craig Hayes of Six Noises and Radio New Zealand has called it “fantastically wry and brooding”; Terra Relicta (Slovenia) heralded the band as “one of the most respected names in the gothic rock genre”; and the indomitable Mr. Mick Mercer introduced the song on his live webcast by calling us “living legends”. Takes one to know one, I suppose.
Exclusive remixes from South African goth rockers Ankst and UK post-punk/industrial pioneers Attrition followed, emerging through V/A compilations in mid 2014, namely ‘This Is Gothic Rock: Vol. I’, from Finland’s Gothic Music Records, and ‘21 Cage’, produced at The Cage studios, UK. At least one version or another of ‘Death by Discothèque’ has since graced the decks of just about every well-known goth, post-punk, deathrock (etc) radio show, webcast or specialty club around the world. If we could name-check and thank all the DJs and promoters who tirelessly devote themselves to getting new music from underground bands like ours heard by international audiences, then we surely would.
As the ‘single edit’ part of the title might have signalled, however, the version now well known to all of these people was in fact never intended to become the definitive version of the song. Countless alternate mixes and remixes had either been produced or were in production at the time, with the original plan having been to release the definitive full-length version of the song, alongside three of the best unreleased remixes, as a 12” vinyl EP in early 2014. But early 2014 has now become mid 2015, my best efforts have failed to secure the funding and/or label backing required to release the 12”, and so here we are.
‘Death by Discothèque’ was written and first demoed in 2007, inspired by a DIY street zine I stumbled upon called Sex, Stress, Suicide, made by a young Wellingtonian calling herself Dead Lissa. In one issue, Lissa had written an emphatic little diatribe concerning a certain local club scene that she wasn’t especially fond of, titled “Die! Die! Goth Discothèque!”. I asked her to record a reading of it for me, which she kindly did at home with a headset mic on her PC. Sampled and spliced, that reading provided the impetus for the song, and has reappeared on all subsequent recordings and remixes. The rest was a fairly hastily assembled collection of disused riffs I’d left lying about, and some throwaway lyrics, which attempted to re-imagine Dead Lissa’s vision of the maligned Goth Discothèque as a sort of ‘Thriller’-meets-‘Hardware’ style of brain-dead zombie apocalypse. I wanted it to sound like Zodiac Mindwarp or Fields of the Nephilim doing a walk on in ‘The Young Ones’.
Most of the band’s performances comprising various ‘official release’ versions of the track were recorded back in 2009. Dan Smart’s drums were captured by Troy Kelly at STL Audio on Webb Street in Wellington, while guitars from our then guitarist Vivian Stewart and I were recorded in Viv’s bedroom, along with my vocals, and Isobel Te Aho-White’s bass. Izzy’s performance is absent from this EP, but her bass did eventually find its way onto both the ‘single edit’ and Martin Bowes’ Attrition remix. In the meantime, however, amid the throes of a gig collapsing into drunken chaos in Wellington shortly after the sessions at Viv’s in ‘09, he and Izzy both stormed offstage, vowing never to return. It was to be another three years before I was able to persuade Vivian to relinquish the master recordings to me.
Additional synths, programming and sequencing were created by Raymond John Ross (Ankst, Sine Division) at his home studio, Spookhaus Audio, in 2013. The idea for a sort of EBM/synthpop breakdown had been suggested to me by Josh Wood from The Mercy Cage, on hearing the original demo back in ’07. Vivian and I took a stab at it, but Ray was much better suited to producing the sound that it called for. The Sine Division remix grew out of that; Raymond extrapolating that breakdown section to an entirely new conclusion. There are some interesting ‘hidden’ messages in there, too.
Jaz Murphy recorded his bass at my place around the same time; not long before Izzy rejoined the band in late 2013. Jaz has played with Disjecta Membra on and off since 1998, and had been slated to stand in as Izzy’s replacement for a couple of shows opening for Peter Murphy in December 2013, until other commitments intervened. At length, and more than a little uncertain as to how she might respond, I swallowed my pride and asked Izzy if she might consider rejoining the group. Perhaps, “We’re supporting Peter Murphy from Bauhaus” had something to do with it, but I was surprised to find her perfectly amenable, and we’ve never looked back. Izzy produced all of the artwork and design for the original single and this remix EP as well.
So anyway, with the song having been mixed, mastered and produced for release around the same time as all this to-and-fro over who would ultimately play bass in the band, that’s how we ended up with both Izzy and Jaz on the different versions of the song that have been released. I liked both performances, and more than anything, for sentimental reasons I preferred the idea of documenting both members’ contributions, rather than supplanting one with the other.
Another curious by-product of this EP having resulted from such a protracted process between first recording and final release, and so much of that process having occurred while the ‘band’ side of Disjecta Membra was effectively on hiatus, is that the EP now documents a performance from a band that never actually existed – me, Viv, Dan, Jaz and Ray – some of whom have never even been in the same room together. This is all made even stranger by the fact that (notwithstanding that period of inactivity) my current bandmates Izzy, Kane Davey and Matthew Scott have all been more-or-less constant throughout that process, and yet all managed to somehow escape appearing on this record at all. Given the single and EP’s alarming casualty rate, I think I’m actually quite pleased about that.
It was also Josh from The Mercy Cage who suggested there should be a bit of a drum solo in the full length version of the track. In fact, any notion of an extended, full-length version of the song differing from what had ended up on the single edit is pretty much entirely Josh’s fault, now that I think about it. The trademark sounds of The Mercy Cage will be immediately recognisable here to anyone familiar with their output, and of all the blindingly good remixes produced by everyone to get caught up in this mess, The Mercy Cage Mix is by far my favourite. The man’s a genius.
Besides being an anagram of Non Strap On, Non Op Trans is really another name for Kitty Lectro, whom I knew of through her remix portfolio featuring work for the likes of The March Violets, Kommunity FK, Strap On Halo and The Angels of Liberty. And as I later discovered, she was also known to spin a bit of our stuff in her DJ mixes, and just happened to be working closely with Ray on Ankst, Sine Division and Non Op Trans material around the same time that Ray and I collaborated on a couple of things. Kitty’s remix sounds almost as though she had been made to listen to that same fucking sampled rant as often as I have.
The real star of this EP, though, is Dave Lowndes. I bumped into Dave eating his dinner on Karangahape Road in Auckland on the day of our first show with Peter Murphy; it was the first time Dave and I had seen each other in about sixteen years. My companion at the time, an ardent fan of our first demo release and first album (both produced by Dave), took it upon herself to insist that Dave should produce our next project as well. “Okay then”, said Dave, without batting an eyelid. She’s quite good at that sort of thing, this erstwhile companion of mine. She told Mick Harvey that he should have us open for him as well, despite my frequent protests that I ought to be left to handle these things myself, and that seemed to pan out quite well too.
So Dave has provided two different mixes here. The ‘Extended Version’ is ‘Death by Discothèque’ finally realised exactly as I’ve envisaged it all along (or at least, since I took on Josh’s ideas for it). That’s not to say Dave didn’t also have a creative role in mixing and producing the ‘Extended Version’ – he certainly did. His treatment of the mix features far fewer guitars soloing and feeding back all over the place than would have been present if left entirely in my hands, for instance. He’s probably one of the only people I’ve ever worked with who can suggest that I might like to try something differently, and succeed in convincing me that his idea works better than mine.
Which brings us to the ‘Putrefying Corpse of Rock & Roll’. Where the ‘Extended Version’ represents my own vision for the song, this one is Dave’s. He’s managed to strip it right back to its core elements and bring out something else that he was able to hear in the song; a raw, gritty, garagey essence that was perhaps becoming swallowed up by some of the more elaborate arrangements and mixes. Admittedly, the Putrefying mix is a little toonaked for my own personal comfort, but objectively I daresay it’s probably superior on many levels to the ‘Extended Version’ (and ironically, slightly longer too).
Indeed, the only reason I haven’t made Dave’s Putrefying mix the lead track on the EP is precisely because I do now lack any real sense of objectivity. The Extended Version is the sound that I’ve been hearing in my head for eight years now, and when you’ve spent that long trying to make a sound audible to everyone else, by the end of it, there’s absolutely no question of substituting it with anything else. Instead, the Putrefying version was going to be an exclusive remix for a compilation, but after the release date for that project kept getting pushed back months at a time, I eventually got frustrated and withdrew it. This has gone on long enough.
And people wonder why it’s been so long since we released an album. I couldn’t tell you why I’ve let myself get so distracted by one fucking throwaway song idea, except to say that I’m stubborn, and having conceived of a complete and final extended version, backed with its various remixes, there was never any moment subsequent to that point wherein I felt as though I had any choice but to see that through.
Suffice it to say that ‘Death by Discothèque’ is no longer a part of the band’s current set; around 95% of which constitutes new/unreleased material. This EP is the song’s final, definitive iteration. ► by Michel