Black Devil Disco Club – Circus [REVIEW] (PRESS, EUROPE)

19 April 2011
Review of the Black Devil Disco Club album Circus featuring Jon Spencer on the track Fuzzy Dream.
“Black Devil Disco Club
[Lo; 2011]

In the often-faceless world of electronic music, a mysterious backstory goes a long way and can even make a virtue out of an artist’s low profile. Consider Burial, whose substantial initial buzz was fueled as much by his haunting South London nightscapes as it was by his initial anonymity. In 2004, Black Devil Disco Club’s eponymous EP arrived with a pretty fantastic history: Originally recorded in 1978 by an obscure French producer (and even then working under an pseudonym) who had released no other work, the record was picked up by Rephlex Records’ PP Roy at a fleamarket, DJed by the likes of Luke Vibert and Aphex Twin, and subsequently reissued to much speculation that the whole thing was just another alias for one of the label’s notoriously tricky artists. Helping to fuel such theories was the fact that Black Devil’s idiosyncratic sound– that metronomic disco beat, murky synth arpeggios, and slippery, scat-like singing– seemed simultaneously like a forward-thinking album frozen in amber and of a piece with the retro Italo disco streak that was just gaining speed in mid-2000s electro.

Bernard Fevre, the man in fact behind Black Devil Disco Club, returned two years later with the aptly titled 28 After, an album that stuck so closely to the debut’s template that many reviewers immediately started speculating again as to whether these were new recordings or another batch of tracks from the 70s. Circus, then, represents an unequivocal step into the present for Black Devil Disco Club, if one that still makes a virtue of Fevre’s relative anonymity– this time by hiding him behind guest stars. Reportedly consisting of all new recordings, at the very least each of Circus’ 10 tracks features freshly recorded guest vocals from current artists like YACHT and Cosmetics as well as acts closer to Fevre’s vintage, such as Afrika Bambaataa and Nancy Sinatra.

The results are mixed. Jon Spencer delivers a cosmic, slightly pompous-sounding sermon (peace, love, changing the world) on “Fuzzy Dream”. Claire L. Evans sings, with characteristically cool detachment, about Jesus returning to a modern world hostile to his ideas, in keeping with YACHT’s fascination with religious imagery. Bambaataa orates soulful and spooky on “Magnetic Devil”, boasting, “I know who is Black Devil/ Through and through the years we play the dark music together,” while maintaining that he is “suspicious” and “afraid”; occasionally, he is interrupted by a Mac computer voice. Cosmetics’ Aja Emma recounts the contents of a dream in her appropriately heavy-lidded, breathy voice. Throughout, Fevre occasionally interjects his own skipping singing behind his collaborators, and on “Pavement Opposite” he (or, it’s always possible, some other mysterious male vocalist) even rises to the level of duet, doubling and echoing Nancy Fortune’s indecisive refrains.

Beyond these appearances, Circus doesn’t do much to expand or update Black Devil Disco Club’s sound. Fevre still favors percolating synth bass lines, hand drumming, and steady hi-hat shushing beats, often treated with short slapback delays and dark, echoing reverb. There are a few piano keys here, and a little flute-like synth flutter there, but mostly Fevre seems committed to the sonic template he first laid down over 30 years ago. Nor does he meet any of his collaborators halfway– there’s no blues guitar from Spencer, for instance, or any other outside instrumental contributions. Black Devil Disco Club’s sound is durable enough to endure unchanged, but Circus feels like a missed opportunity for Fevre to open up his hermetic world and stretch things out a bit.

— Eric Grandy, April 28, 2011 “