The Punishment You Deserve: My Disco’s effect on Bei Ruth, Berlin.

There’s a theory in this article I read about how music with certain complex stopped beats is believed to interrupt the natural rhythm of the heart; the listener’s heartbeats start to sync with the music, pausing when the music pauses. This may have been a reason for Stravinsky’s [in]famous ballet having been banned in its day, its odd time signatures clearly spelling “Satan” at every disobedience to the natural 4/4 beat. Recently, I found what might be the post-modern equivalent, in the clandestine bowels of Bei Ruth somewhere in the former Soviet Bloc area of Berlin… The venue is bit squatty, tucked behind some sketchy car repair shops and a secret silver door — pretty on-par with locations of some previous My Disco shows, which legend has it tend to take place in unconventional locations such as warehouses, sidewalks, or train stations.

Australian band My Disco are a 3-piece weapon of mass distortion. A slow burn simmering just beneath the surface, their latest full-length album Severe is a masterpiece of self-discipline whose subdued malice has its listener begging for sweet release, only to be granted satisfaction in moments when least expected. In the wake of their first album, Cancer, My Disco have become increasingly known for their distinct minimalism, to the point where some songs consist of one sustained note and repeated single-sentence vocals. The result is a deafening calm, intensely focused and testing the boundaries between post-rock and liturgy.

Equipped with an arsenal of fuzz pedals, mini modular synthesizers, and béton brut video accompaniment which altogether looks like more of an organism than a stage setup, the overall experience of their live sound ranges from seismic doom to what may be best described as someone trying to stab a rock with a bolt of lightning. It’s a close encounter with long stares of penetrating silence, rhythmic thrusts, and agitated yawns of darkness where only the bravest tonal masochists should go.

I was taken under immediately by the first note. They went in full-force opening with their last album track “Careless”, churning the bass levels to a point that set the drum kit on a steady vibration completely on its own due to the sheer physicality of the sound. This was the point where the drum kit and the spinal column become one in the same… There’s something about the unsettling vibration of the bones where the skull and spine meet that really kicks in the feeling of being a slowly rotting sheath of meat, with a skeleton thrown in there just to make things extra fuckin’ wonky. Punctuated by simultaneous bass and bass-drum notes, “Careless” struck hard from the outset, delivering simple yet damaging concrete blocks of bass, appropriately juxtaposed with background video images of rotating 3D-rendered block shapes in texturized grayscale. Bassist Ben Andrews is also the vocalist, a somewhat uncommon setup which in this case seems to help condense those hypnotic single-sentence chants within the overall rhythm for maximum minimalist effect. Rohan Rebeiro’s tenderizing drum progressions hint at a highly distilled version of breakbeat drumming with its similarly disjointed yet dance-like beats. I spoke briefly with Rohan beforehand about the impeccable chemistry of long-standing bands, and how the ritualistic atmosphere of their sound is a bit reminiscent of Om — notably 1991, their second track on the new record — and this is the point where that vibe really started to take shape in its raw live form.

Some of the brave souls attending the sacrificial rite found themselves kneeling at the front like these guys were about to unleash the hounds of Hell on them, preparing for a full-frontal attack… I found myself doing the same, although not for the same reason. Mostly, I just wanted to see what the deal was: maybe the bass notes or mids go over your head? Maybe the lights are less grating? Maybe it’s just to get a different vantage point to see these dudes as the King Dudes they are in their true form? Who knows… But right when “Successive Pleasure” started playing, my breathing became slower, and I started to feel my body do exactly what that theory was talking about: my heartbeat felt like it was already adjusting to the steady arrhythmia of the sound…suddenly, my body no longer belonged to me.

Another handful of audience members were closing their eyes, retreating inside of their heads to the only place they could find safety… So I did the same, this time having put myself in the direct middle of the crowd, a few meters behind the frontline. The next track, “Our Decade”, comes in and saws the audience in half with a ripping buzz, straight down the median plane of the back. At first, the bassist and drummer rested at the sidelines so only the guitarist was on — the majestically-bearded Liam Andrews. The sound this guy was getting from nothing but a small, beat-up grey modular synth/ distortion set sounded like nothing short of someone shooting a semi-automatic on full-fire at a sheetmetal raincloud. Sounding their first notes a couple minutes into the song, the bass and drums immediately sent those top spinal discs for a nauseatic spin – in the same vein as an amusement park roller coaster, except your skull drops instead of your stomach. At this point, I noticed my oesophagus beginning to collapse in on itself; constant reminders of the uncanny feeling of being meat.

“King Sound” then began by isolating the drums, delivering slightly arhythmic chunks of pure cement. It soon retreated into a calm that produced a semi-unpredictable, almost sexual hesitance of drum note after drum note; building up slowly, as the other two band members cued up to chime in simultaneously on the incoming first chord and there it was — the inclement storm finally arriving just in time to deliver those stone-stabbing lightning bolts of electricity. The guitarist then hammered straight down on the first pickup, then the second, then the neck, in neat succession…the kind of sound that staples anyone in earshot to the floor, fixated. It was more power-electronic than anything that could possibly be belted out of a string instrument. I honestly haven’t heard this bold of an approach to simple, metallic chunks of guitar cutting relentlessly into your brain since Big Black‘s Songs About Fucking. After a bit of research, it turns out their name is actually taken from a Big Black song of the same title, and they’d even recorded their second album, Paradise, with Steve Albini of Big Black/Shellac back in 2007. There’s this delicate cross-pollination between distortion and clarity that both My Disco and BB have, which seems pretty indicative of a combination between a very tight and intuitive sense of how to work with each other as a band, coupled with having just the right sound technician to play live with.

On tour promoting their fourth full-length studio album, after nearly five years in the making, My Disco continue to mine the mole hills of the post-punk scene’s most backstreet venues, burrowing straight into the vertebrae for a cathartic, decompressing spinal tap. Embodying the pure texture and temperature of raw shape, they’ve constructed themselves into the likeness of an ancient monolith — angular, striking, timeless, and brutally refined.

 

 

 

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