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Published: 2009/07/10
by Mike Greenhaus

Camping Out, Biscuits Style (In Studio and at Their Festival)

In certain ways, one can track the Disco Biscuits evolution by looking back at its annual multi-day festival, Camp Bisco. Since its humble beginnings in the late 1990s, Camp Bisco has blossomed into one of the Northeast’s preeminent electronic music festivals. In the past four years, especially, the event has helped foster the band’s relationship with British psy-trance superstar Simon Posford and his Twisted Records ensemble: in 2005 Posford brought his Hallucinogen and Younger Brothers DJs project to the festival; in 2006 he performed on his own and sat in with the Disco Biscuits and by 2007 the groundwork had already been laid for a new band featuring members of the Disco Biscuits and the Twisted Records family (this year will see a return performance by the Younger Brother live band boasting Psford, Marc Brownstein, Tom Hamilton, Joe Russo and others). Camp Bisco has also served as original drummer Sam Altman’s swan song, a testing ground for new Disco Biscuits songs and an annual destination for the group’s national fanbase.
This year the band will arrive in Mariaville, NY shortly before the release of its new studio album (the disc is tentatively due out this fall). Below, guitarist Jon Gutwillig discusses the new album, how the Disco Biscuits got James Murphy to curate a night of music and why he needs an intern to keep him focused.

If you look at the Camp Bisco schedule, it says that each night one tent is going to be curated by a different label or group like STS9, Twisted Records and DFA. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect from those late nights and how you came up with that concept?

One night is the DFA crew which is really LCD Soundsystem’s other name. James Murphy is the leader of that group, and he basically has carte blanche. He’s going to get up there, and he has all night to do whatever he wants in the tent. It’s hard to get James Murphy to do a concert right now because they are not coming out with the next LCD Soundsystem album for a while.

They are the type of band that is allowed to disappear for three years and then come back with another album.

Exactly. But we call them up and we’re like, “Dude, what’s you problem man? You’ve got to play a concert, bro.” And he’s like, “Well, I can’t do LCD Soundsytem because we don’t have an album out.” And we’re like, “Why don’t you just come and play, just do whatever you want—we don’t care what you do, just do something.” I mean, the guy is very good at everything that he does. So we’re just excited about that. We went back and forth with him about that on a personal level, not on a business level, and he finally was like, “Alright, well if you give me my own stage, I’ll do it.” And so that was how the whole curator thing happened—James Murphy sort of invented the concept of the curator tent because that’s what he wanted.

So then we took that idea and were like well if we are going to give James a stage and all the DFA guys a creative outlet, then there are some other guys that are of that extremely high caliber that would also do really well under that situation. So we gave Simon Posford, Benji Vaughan and the whole Twisted Crew a night and then we gave the Sound Tribe guys a night as well because they have a lot of musical incarnations, and we thought it would be interesting to see what they came up with in a similar situation. So that’s basically how that all happened, and then we just splurged and bought another tent for these curated evenings.

In addition to multiple straight-ahead Disco Biscuits sets, the band is also playing a set billed as Tractorbeam vs. Perfume. Can you explain to readers both what that set will entail and how you come up with those alter egos?

They are both little interesting ideas. The Perfume is a Disco Biscuits cover band with all the members of the Disco Biscuits in it. We play Biscuits songs but we play them all totally differently—we might do one song country or another song like a U2 rock song— everything is done in a totally different genre, but the lyrics are the same and the vibe is the same. You know, we have been doing that for years, we just decided that for one of our sets we would do a project where all the songs were like that. So that’s what The Perfume is. Tractorbeam is the DB if they were just strictly a techno band. There are no lyrics—we don’t even set up vocal mics.

The first time you played under the name The Perfume was at the Wetlands, correct?

Yeah, it was something special to do for the Wetlands when they were closing down [in 2001]. [Author’s note: the original Perfume gig at Wetlands was just a stealth Disco Biscuits show; shortly after the group came up with the cover song concept]. We did it a couple of times after that because the fans really liked it, and, artistically, we were into how can we play our songs differently. So we just got into it for a couple months and did a bunch of different songs that way. And then we just sort of buried it and then a year or two later we came up with a different concept which is Tractorbeam which is basically the Biscuits as an all techno band.

An interesting thing is we don’t have jamband song transitions. We actually change the way that we strategically look at music and playing. We play all of our own songs but we do instrumental versions of all of them. Also, all our transitions are more rooted in dance music transitions than standard jamband transitions. We pull those out. It’s like a basketball team that just goes out with a different strategy. The first time we did that was, I believe, in Chicago and then we did it a few other times. But that first Chicago show and one Tractorbeam show we did in Lancaster, PA are the two that I felt were most authentic. We did it once or twice more but those two were like, we rehearsed as Tractorbeam for those and I thought we did a really good job of staying authentic to what Tractorbeam is supposed to be. Sometimes we get jamband-y on everything

So at Camp Bisco there is going to be a set that mixes both those ideas together?

Yeah, we are just going to do a little bit of both. We will have a Perfume styled song and then jam on the Tractorbeam style for a while and then go into another song and do it Perfume style and then go back and forth. People want to hear both so we just figured we’d mix them up.

Can you elaborate a little about how a Tractorbeam song transitions differs from normal Disco Biscuits transitions?

Well, a jamband transition is more of a flow thing. Like everybody is playing together and everybody is communicating into the jam and talking in the jam. An electronic transition is more based around a break and a pause in the energy and then a recreation of a new vibe and then a full introduction of the new vibe where they bring in the drums and the kick drums and everything. It’s more like a stop and start thing like a DJ would stop and start two songs next to each other. A DJ doesn’t have the ability to warp one song into another too much. He’s got to sort of match them up, make one drum, mute one drum, you know what I mean, just DJ. With Tractorbeam, we are going for more DJ transitions.

Speaking of new sounds, you recently debuted the new track “You and I” off your new studio album on the radio.

Yes, we played it on the radio in Colorado, and then we played it again instrumentally…and now obviously with the Internet everybody has the song already. It’s not like in the old days when you could do something on the radio and then release it later.

The second you do it, it’s released in this world so we decided to start playing it. We toyed with it once and then we played a full on Tractorbeam version of it and then last night we played a full on version of it.

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