The dingy days of Gay Disco
I don’t smoke cigarettes. I mean, I’ve smoked cigarettes. I know how to smoke cigarettes. But I largely refrain from said practice unless duty calls.
Perhaps then, you’re wondering what such duty could drive my marginally-sane adult self to light up? Journalistic integrity, namely. That and a reply to my interview request from Guerilla Toss drummer Peter Negroponte, inviting me to come out to their Monday evening gig at Charlie’s Kitchen and “conduct some sort of interview on the street while we smoke cigs and friends chime in to make us look bad.” With that, I made my way to the gas station across the street from my office, procured a pack, and hobbled along to the Harvard Square diner.
The reason behind our powwow is a new album from the Boston-based sprightly noise ensemble, out December 10 on NNA Tapes. It’s their most important release to date based on label precedence alone–the venerated Burlington, VT-based imprint has played home to efforts from underground deity like Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo–and Guerilla Toss have taken to the task justly, delivering 30-minutes of breakneck lunacy endearingly titled Gay Disco.
“I mean, this is going to sound a little ridiculous, but it’s more the ideology behind the disco ethos,” explains bassist Simon Hanes when I contest that there’s very little about their music that lends itself to the Paradise Garage heyday. “It’s part of finding out what we like to do musically and it turns out that we like to do things that are vaguely reminiscent of disco.”
And sure, taken individually, the basslines pop and the drumbeats kick with fervor. But when clumped together, it goes down about as smoothly as a hit of gutter-grade crack cocaine: gnashed and mangled and largely jarring thanks to the vocal contributions of Kassie Carlson. Equal parts Iggy Pop and Alice Glass, she’s the group’s secret weapon in their never-ending quest to unnerve the masses.
To hear Hanes tell it, Guerilla Toss makes “cartoony, but really angry, fucked-up party music.” The description in itself raises two eyebrows.
Firstly, the ‘party’ aspect. Formed in 2010, the band cut its teeth at Gay Gardens, having played the dearly departed Allston DIY haven over 20 times. A late 2012 crackdown on house shows by Boston’s most bumbling has left them (and many of their ilk) displaced, forced to legitimize their efforts in non-traditional overground venues like Charlie’s Kitchen and Roggie’s. It’s an inconvenient adaptation that they’ve taken towards congenially.
Perhaps most curious about Hanes’ categorization, however, is the ‘angry’ tag.
Speaking with three members on the sidewalk, they seem like generally upstanding and pleasant young people. Yet their recorded output is a sonic bludgeoning. When I note that stark tonal shift, Hanes perks up. It’s clearly a subject matter he’s given some extensive thought:
“I’m struck by the fact that we’re surrounded by societal things that aren’t particularly interesting, things that don’t ask a lot of thought of people. There are a lot of tenants of pop culture that deter people from having an honest experience. So far, I’ve found the best way to connect with people is to confront them with something that is so aggressive and primal that they have no choice but to have an equally primal reaction.”
315 MASS. AVE.