A Bullshitter’s Guide to Cosmic Disco
How Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas and Todd Terje showed us the coldest reaches of the cosmos.
Having given you the low down on microhouse, italo disco, electroclash, filter house and dub techno, this time round we're turning our attention to slightly chillier climes. Welcome to the world of cosmic disco.
When you think about disco, what comes to mind? Is it the pomp and circumstance of Studio 54? The robust glitz and glamour of the the eternally-in-our-hearts-and-minds Paradise Garage? A bunch of rednecks smashing up Bee Gees record with hammers while monster trucks breathe fire and stampede over stacks of Salsoul compilations? Maybe it's a slightly haunting memory of one of the 1978 Disco Dancing Championship contestants leering at you in a dream. Whatever it is that brings the synapses together—stacked heels, Alcazar, "Wiggle That Wotsit"—the chances are it probably isn't a load of beardy blokes from Scandinavia.
But that, strangely, is where we find ourselves today, because today we're exploring the nether regions of the disco milky way: this is cosmic disco, and cosmic disco's not exactly "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie." Stemming from the afro-cosmic sound pioneered by Daniele Baldelli back in the 80s, by the mid-00s clubs the world round were swept away by elasticated, elongated, massively arpeggiated ten minute bongo, bass, and bleep workouts by blokes from Bergen.
If traditional disco is a hot and sweaty affair, all silk shirts and unbridled sexuality, it's cosmic cousin was, due in part to it's popularity in Europe's most northern reaches, a chillier affair. But after all, it is pretty cold in space, so it all sort of makes sense. In a nutshell, imagine disco slowed down a bit, and then whack a load of icy synth patterns over the top. That's it. That's pretty much the basis for an entire genre, but what a genre it was!
The scene's heaviest hitters were a pair of Norwegians: Hans-Peter Lindstrom and Prins Thomas. Their work, both in solo pursuits and as a duo, is still what comes to most people's minds as soon as you utter the phrase "cosmic disco." Albums like Reinterpretations and singles like "Turkish Delight" are still fantastic statements of a moment in time when it seemed like the future of clubbing was going to be big spangly disco records that nearly sunk under the weight of their own Moog Little Phatty arpeggiators. But, you know, you're reading THUMP so you probably don't need me to tell you much more about Prins Thomas and Lindstrom in 2016.
The scene wasn't confined solely to Scandinavia, though, and compilations like London based Lo Recording's Milky Disco series were essential releases that took a more globally minded approach to the nooks and crannies of cosmic disco.
In recent years things have slowed down a tad, and you're less likely to walk into a record shop and see a rack of Full Pupp releases and Mungolian Jet Set edits than you once were, but that doesn't mean you won't still find yourself desperate to hear "Mighty Girl" before embarking on a six hour Claremont mix binge.
If you want to splash out on just the one physical cosmic disco artefact, we've got your back. Ok, so the beardo-weirdo purists out there, in their yellow anoraks and their expensive trainers and their nice sweaters from those menswear shops that sell really high end versions of really basic staples, and their snake-oil tuned stereos and their crippling marijuana habits might object to this, but well, let them drift into a cloud of irrelevance: the best cosmic disco mix ever is Prins Thomas' Cosmo Galactic Prism. Why's it the best cosmic disco mix ever? Because we don't know of any other cosmic disco mixes that feature Boards of Canada, Joe Meek, and Todd Terje.
Cosmo Galactic Prism is an ambling, shaggy run through detour after detour, stuffing more good music into two hours than most DJs do in a lifetime. It sounds like emerging from the woods on a misty morning, traversing an alien landscape at lunchtime, and ending the day in the best club you've ever been to. Oh, and it features "Saphire" by Zombi which is arguably one of the best things mankind's ever done.
Isn't that fantastic? Go and buy the mix now. Right now. Then come back and listen to the following records. Here, for the really lazy of you out there, are the ten best cosmic disco singles of all time.
1. Hatchback - White Diamond
This is cosmic disco that literally sounds out of this world, as if it couldn't possibly have actually been crafted by a mere mortal. It must have beamed down from somewhere in the far reaches of a universe where everyone smokes really good weed and has a massive collection of private press new age records and the self-titled La Dusseldorf album.
2. Sorcerer - Surfing at Midnight
Imagine if lava lamps weren't the corniest thing in the world. Try and imagine that. Try and pretend for just a second, just one second, that the next time you go round a mate's house the pair of you will earnestly lie back on a beanbag and watch the lava lamp in full flow. Got it? Right, now imagine this playing on a loop. Isn't that nice?
3. Dolle Jolle - Balearic Incarnation (Todd Terje's Extra Doll Mix)
There was a good few years when Todd Terje could do no wrong. Remember "Eurodans" and "Kul I Pul" and every edit he ever did? Then the lads got hold of "Inspector Norse" and Terje became the kind of artist you might see at a festival which bigs up the food popups over the musical acts playing. Still, we'll always have the memories: if you've never not felt like you might overdose on endorphins while this is playing you've never lived.
4. Icasoul - Ongou
The thing about synaesthesia is that it sounds like total bullshit when you hear other people talk about it ("U2 taste like falafel! David Dickenson's skin sounds like a hot water bottle full of piss being used as a baseball! The colour pink feels like stinging nettles!") but all of us, really, think we've got it. When I hear this song the world becomes a perfect blue. De-icer blue. The best blue.
5. Sally Shapiro - He Keeps Me Alive (Skatebard Remix)
For a minute or two back then it really did feel like Sally Shapiro was going to be a star. I remember going out and buying a hugely overpriced import copy of Disco Romance and being utterly convinced that her slightly saccahrine take on sadlad italo was going to fire her up the charts and we'd see "Anorak Christmas" on TOTP. That never happened, and no one's spoken about Sally Shapiro since 2012, but this is still a perfect little tearjerking cosmic classic.
6. Tensnake - Tavira
Yeah, we know, "Coma Cat" got played so much that Tensnake doesn't really mean anything to anyone anymore, but this absurdly exciting slice of house-inflected cosmic-romanticism is a sadly forgotten masterpiece that deserves endless rewinds. It sort of sounds like Haribo Tangfastic's taste. Sorry, I forgot about semi-invented synaesthesia being a dullard's hobby.
7. Heroes of the Galleon Trade - Winter Island Romance
Don't give me any "but this isn't remotely like a disco record in any way and even though cosmic disco is more of a mindset than a set of aesthetic criteria that have to be adhered to, this is a bit of a strange record, are you sure you want to include it" BULLSHIT. This is the real deal right here. Listen right to the end for a 10/10 shock ending, too.
8. Aeroplane - Whispers ft. Kathy Diamond
This one's so monumentally incredible that we'd include it on a list of The Ten Best Doom Metal/Ambient Folk/Another Unexpected Genre Records Ever Made without a second thought. You know how we think that cola served in paper cups, or photos of abandoned shopping malls are the GOAT? We're wrong. It's this song.
9. Quiet Village - Desperate Hours
Well, after that Aeroplane track I think we all need to chill out a little. Have a breather. Pour ourselves a cup of tea and an orange juice and get a chocolate digestive or nine out of the cupboard and sit back with some downtempo British cosmic disco courtesy of Quiet Village. That's what we'll do.
10. Lindstrom - I Feel Space
We couldn't leave this one out, could we?