THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA-THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA.

THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA-THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA.

Between 1975 and 1979, disco orchestras provided the soundtrack to dance-floors worldwide. The greatest disco orchestra was, without doubt, The Salsoul Orchestra. Founded and lead by the late, great Vince Montana Jr, The Salsoul Orchestra featured some of Philly’s top musicians. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington and legendary backing vocalists, The Sweethearts of Sigma. With Vince at the helm of The Salsoul Orchestra, they released a string of successful album. Sadly, nothing lasts forever. When Vince left The Salsoul Orchestra, they never reached the same heights. It was a shadow of its former self. This allowed other disco orchestras to steal The Salsoul Orchestra’s crown.

One of the main contenders was John Davis and His Monster Orchestra. Lead by another Philly native John Davis, His Monster Orchestra featured a number of musicians from his home town. This included musicians who’d played on albums by The Salsoul Orchestra. John Davis, His Monster Orchestra released a quartet of albums, epitomise the disco orchestra sound. However, across North America the same could be said of a number of other disco orchestra.

Although some of the biggest and most successful disco orchestras were based in Philly and New York, across America disco orchestras were founded. Many orchestras were made up of session musicians and members of the city’s orchestra. Collaborations sprung up coast to coast. Some of the biggest success stories were Philly’s The Ritchie Family and n Canada’s THP Orchestra. Other disco orchestra’s included The Alan Silvestri Disco Orchestra, The New York Disco Orchestra, The Disco Light Orchestra and The Charlie Calello Orchestra. However, nothing lasts forever. Disco proved to be a musical bubble.

For a few years, disco was a phenomena. The charts were full of disco tracks. They differed in quality. For every Salsoul Orchestra or Chic, there were artists jumping on the disco bandwagon. Many of these artists careers were at a crossroads. They were desperate to rejuvenate their career. They’d do anything to get back to where they were. Including jump on the disco bandwagon. The results were disastrous. Before long, disco was becoming something of a joke. This lead to disco’s death.

Disco died a slow lingering death. This was no mercy killing. In just under a year, the Disco Sucks campaign succeeded in killing disco. Disco went from hero to zero in the space of a year. Disco’s downfall started on Christmas Eve 1978, That’s when Steve Dahl was fired by Chicago radio station WDAI. It had previously been a rock station, but switched to disco. Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He’d an inkling that disco wasn’t long for this world. 

Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.

From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before. WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby, disco died.

Following Disco Derby Night, disco’s popularity plunged. Disco artists were dropped from labels, disco labels folded and no further disco albums were released. Disco was on the critical list, and suffered a near death experience. It took a long time to recover. After disco’s demise, dance music changed. 

No longer were record labels willing to throw money at dance music. Budgets were suddenly much smaller. Gone were the lavish productions of the disco orchestras of the seventies. This is epitomised by The Salsoul Orchestra and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Strings and horns were now a luxury. Music would have to go back to basics. Replacing them would be sequencers, synths and drum machines, which during the last couple of years, had become much cheaper. With disco dead, it looked like we’d seen the last of the disco orchestra. However, that proved not be the case.

During the nineties and noughties, nostalgic producers decided to bring back the disco orchestra. Rather than concentrate on the music of the future, they were fixated by the music of the past. Essentially, this was the equivalent of vanity publishing. These albums never sold in huge amounts. No wonder. Music had moved on. The problem was, these producers hadn’t. Just like many remixers, they were lost in the past with their musical memories. Since then, the disco orchestra has almost disappeared. Replacing it was new and innovative music. However, recently, the disco orchestra has decided to make a comeback.

Recently, I read that The Far Out Monster Orchestra were about to release their eponymous debut album on Far Out Recordings. This was a project that began six years ago, in 2008. Inspired by the music coming out of Philly in the seventies, The Far Out Monster Orchestra was founded. Its raison d’être was to combine disco, soul, funk and Brazilian music.

To do this, The Far Out Monster Orchestra divided their time recording in Brazil and England. It’s not been easy though. Three producers and three engineers played their part in the recording of The Far Out Monster Orchestra. Joining them, were a cast of Brazilian and English musicians. Among them were some familiar names. 

This includes Jose Roberto Bertrami, one of the driving forces behind the project. Sadly, he died it 2012. He cowrote seven of the twelve tracks and played Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, Mini Moog, piano, vocoder and synths. Other familiar faces included Azymuth’s Jose Roberto Bertrami and Alex Malheiros plus Arthur Verocai and Paulinho Black from the original Banda Black Rio. They were joined by vocalists Mia Mendes and Marcina Arnold. Giving The Far Out Monster Orchestra its authentic sound was a full string and horn section. It was arranged by Arthur Verocai. Giving the track its pulsating heartbeat was a rhythm featuring some top musicians.

Providing The Far Out Monster Orchestra’s heartbeat were drummers Paulinho Black and Flavio Santos, Alex Malheiros played bass and guitar while Jose Carlos and Fabio Lima play electric guitar. Augmenting the rhythm section is percussionists Zero and Rafael Rocha. DJ Kuku seems to have the strangest role in The Far Out Monster Orchestra. He takes charge of scratching. Hopefully, we won’t make many appearances. Especially as The Far Out Monster Orchestra are trying to replicate the sound of a seventies disco orchestra.

To do this, The Far Out Monster Orchestra have used vintage equipment. Producers Joe Davis, David Brinkworth and Daniel Maunick decided to use an SSL desk, Neve compressors and and two inch Ampex tape. The idea was to replicate sound and feel of the seventies disco orchestra as The Far Out Monster Orchestra combined disco, soul, and Brazilian music on their eponymous debut album. However, it takes more than vintage equipment to create a modern day disco classic. Have The Far Out Monster Orchestra managed this?

Mystery opens The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. Drums provide the heartbeat, and cymbals crash, before a funky guitar sets the scene for swathes of sweeping, dancing strings. They dance with delight. All that’s needed is a disco diva and it’s a case of back to the seventies. In she struts, unleashing a sassy, feisty vocal powerhouse. Meanwhile, strings sweep and shimmer and the rhythm section up the funk factor, Urgent harmonies drift in and out, accompanying the strutting, diva-esque vocal. Sometimes, the song reminds of Masters At Work’s Nuyorican Soul project. Just like Nuyorican Soul, this track is funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. It also sets the tone for what’s to come.

The introduction to Don’t Cha Know He’s Alright is reminiscent of the previous track. Thunderous drums set the scene for a funky bass. Then the arrangement unfolds. Swathes of strings sweep in. They’re joined by a Fender Rhodes and the dreaded vocoder. It’s not overused. Instead, it exits stage left, leaving a soulful, seductive vocal to take centre-stage. However, when it drops out the vocoder returns. The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra seem to draw inspiration from Daft Punk on this genre-melting track. Everything from disco, jazz, funk, soul and Nu-Disco combine to create a track that’s good, but not great.

Freefall sees The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra draw inspiration from The Ritchie Family. As the the arrangement bursts into life, bubbling synths, dancing strings and a pounding, funky rhythm section join forces. The vocal is carried above the arrangement. It’s delivered with urgency, a mixture of power, passion and sass. When the vocal drops out, the rest of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra get their opportunity to shine. They fuse disco, funk and soul to create a track that’s a reminder of the disco orchestra’s heyday.

Straight away, The Last Carnival has real Latin sound. Braying horns, a myriad of percussion and keyboards join the rhythm section in driving the arrangement along. Harmonies drift in and out, adding a joyous sound. Sometimes, the track reminds me of The Ritchie Family’s album Brazil. That’s down to female vocalists Mia Mendes and Marcina Arnold. They scat and coo their way through the track. Later, a jazz-tinged Fender Rhodes replaces their vocal. By then, the arrangement veers between funky, to futuristic and soulful. One thing that’s omnipresent is the Latin influence. Especially when The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra jam. They enjoy the opportunity to showcase their talents during thus joyous slice of musical sunshine.

As the rhythm section provide the heartbeat to Keep Believing (Can You Feel It), strings sweep and swirl. Soon, a sweet, hopeful vocal enters. It’s joined by stabs of horns while the mellow sound of the Fender Rhodes adds a melodic wistful sound. By then, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra are in full flight. It’s a glorious sound. Then the track almost grinds to a halt. All momentum is lost. After that, the vocal becomes a soliloquy, and the arrangement becomes ethereal and floaty. As the tempo grows and the arrangement rebuilds, the track never quite recovers. Just like disco, it’s gone from hero to zero, and never quite recovered. This track is a real lost opportunity. The idea to reduce the tempo was good, but done too abruptly.

Futuristic and funky describes the introduction to A Disco Supreme. Soon, the arrangement unfolds and reveals its many surprises. Strings sweep and swirl, horns growl and synths bubble. The rhythm section provide an uber funky, futuristic backdrop. Boogie, disco and funk are combined. So is soul. It comes courtesy of a feisty vocal. It’s accompanied by swathes of dancing strings, bubbling synths, sweeping harmonies and the funkiest of rhythm sections. They play their part in a genre-melting, futuristic and dramatic track.

A haunting vocal opens Dead Dance. Stabs of keyboards join the rhythm section in creating an understated and hypnotic arrangement. Before long, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra are combining jazz and funk. Keyboards play an important role in this noodling track. So does a heartfelt female vocal. It makes a brief appearance, before disappearing. When it reappears, it breaks up the monotony. Part of the problem is the track is seven minutes long. That’s way too long. As a result, this is one of the most disappointing tracks on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra.

Drums pound, synths bubble and this Vendetta begins. Percussion joins cinematic strings and synths as the arrangement prowls along. It has a dark, dramatic sound. Strings add to the eerie sound. Before long, the arrangement takes on a Latin sound. That’s until the bass, guitars and bubbling synths join forces with sweeping strings in driving this arrangement along. At a breakdown, an acoustic guitar and strings provide respite for The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra on what’s best described as dramatic cinematic disco with a Latin twist. This proves a fitting way to close The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra.

So that’s the story of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, where the disco orchestra makes its comeback. Of the eight tracks on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, three disappoint. That’s nearly half the album. They’re Don’t Cha Know He’s Alright, Keep Believing (Can You Feel It) and Dead Dance. Don’t Cha Know He’s Alright is a genre-melting tracks. From the opening bars, it reminds me of the opening track Mystery. After that, disco, jazz, funk, soul and Nu-Disco combine. There’s even a nod to Daft Punk via the vocoder. However, somewhere along the way The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra seem to get lost. The result is a track that’s good, but not great.  Keep Believing (Can You Feel It) could’ve and should’ve been the best track on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. Sadly, when the tempo drops midway through the track, it’s much too abrupt. Try as they may, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra never recapture the track’s earlier heights. Dead Dance is a fusion of jazz and funk. It’s a track that doesn’t go anywhere. Again, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra loose their way and they noodle their way through Dead Dance. Maybe if the track hadn’t been as long, it would’ve worked better? The other five tracks on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra are much better.

That’s definitely the case. The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra showcase their musical prowess. This is what I’d hoped to hear throughout the album. The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra create music that’s funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. There’s also a Latin influence on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. These five tracks are best described as cinematic, dramatic, futuristic and joyous. Musical genres melt into one. Lush strings dance, horns growl, synths bubble and the rhythm section create a pulsating heartbeat. Elements of disco, electronica, funk, jazz, Latin, Nu-Disco and soul combine seamlessly. Given the quality of these five tracks, you wonder why The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra couldn’t have been more consistent? If they had, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra would’ve been the perfect homage to the disco orchestra.

Sadly, that’s not the case. The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra is a good, but not great album. As I said earlier, it takes more than vintage equipment to create a modern day disco classic. You can have the best equipment, musicians and vocalists and still create a disappointing album. The musicians and singers are only as good as the songs they’re given to play and sing. On a couple of occasions, The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra were let down by the material they were given. Then on Keep Believing (Can You Feel It), if it weren’t for such an abrupt change of tempo, the track would be a modern day dance classic. There’s the genesis of a great track there. The same can be said about The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, which isn’t quite finished.

Having said earlier that Vendetta marks the end of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, that’s not quite the case. There’s another four tracks. They’re instrumental versions. This includes instrumentals of Freefall, Don’t Cha Know He’s Alright, Freefall and Keep Believing (Can You Feel It). Just like all bonus tracks they’ll divide opinion.

For some people, they’ll be a welcome inclusion. They allow you to hear another side of the tracks. Without the vocal, other parts of the track grab your attention. Sometimes, you hear things you’ve missed. However, for other people the instrumentals will be seen as filler. They’ll be perceived as makeweights designed to pad out The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. For me, the inclusion of  the remixes on disc one spoiled the flow of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. If they had to be included, the instrumentals belonged on disc two.

Disc two sees eight remixers remix a tracks on The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. Each of the remixers, including John Morales, Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pitman and Jose Carretas reinvent the tracks. They attempt to breath new life and meaning into a track. The three tracks that disappointed on the album are given a much needed makeover. However, in these cases, the remixer’s hands are tied by the stems they’re given. As a result, the remixes vary in quality. The best remix comes from John Morales. His M&M Main Mix of Mystery is the best remix on disc two of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra. John’s remix and maybe one other remix would’ve sufficed?

The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra is a case of what might have been. It’s been six years in the making, but is still three tracks short of being modern day dance classic. Maybe The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra has been released too soon? Possibly, releasing The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra to coincide with the World Cup was too good a marketing opportunity? If that’s the case that’s quite sad. Marketing opportunities shouldn’t come into it. Instead, it should all be about the music.

In the case of The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, they should’ve drawn inspiration from the disco orchestras of the seventies. They never released sprawling double albums. Instead, albums featured eight to ten tracks. The emphasis was on quality not quantity. As a result, listeners heard only artist’s best work. Another advantage was that the listener doesn’t suffer from over-saturation. Nowadays, that’s often the case, with modern albums featuring upwards of fifteen tracks. That’s way too many. The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra would do well to remember this.  Maybe when The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra release their sophomore album, it’ll be a homage to heyday of the disco orchestra, rather than a case of what might have been. 

THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA-THE FAR OUT MONSTER DISCO ORCHESTRA.

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