Tasty Treat

The Disco Biscuits give fans of electro-jam fusion something to snack on

Worries of becoming passé shouldn't be too much of a concern for the Disco Biscuits, a group whose reputation was built very much from scratch. The four bandmates first met and started playing together at the University of Pennsylvania in 1995. The jam sessions led to frat-party gigs, followed by a climb up through the local club circuit. The Biscuits eventually branched out into New Jersey, then New York. And in 1996 the group self-released its first album, Encephalous Crime, which hints vaguely at the Biscuits' future electronic bent but is otherwise forgettable (with the exception of a curious cover of Frank Zappa's "Pygmy Twylyte"). Next came The Uncivilized Area, a record more aligned with Dave Matthews and Jerry Garcia than with the rough-and-tumble drum and bass of Squarepusher or Orbital's ambient trippiness. These days, though, you'll find more similarities with the latter two bands than with the former.

"They're trying to go in a different direction, away from the jam-band stuff," says Robert John at Megaforce. "But the further away [the band] gets from New York -- where there are a lot of ravers, the Moby set -- you see more of the hippie-ish kids."

In the past year, the Biscuits' word-of-mouth buzz has indeed achieved a fever pitch. The music business is taking note as well: The band made its industry debut at South by Southwest in Austin this year. (Altman's take on the event? "I drank a lot of Flaming Dr Peppers.") Prominent among the group's supporters are the blissed-out, back-scratching, dancing kings and queens who are perpetually in search of the rhapsodic one-two punch of music- and pharmaceutical-induced euphoria. (Some of the band's detractors insist that you have to be on something -- or just have a freakishly healthy attention span -- in order to actually enjoy the Bisco experience.) One might worry, though, about the implications of being associated with the rave/jam-band scene, especially recently, with huge concert-related busts being made and high schoolers fatally pickling themselves as a result of E-induced dehydration. Most club kids and hipster types know that "disco biscuit" is '70s slang for Quaaludes, co-opted today as a nickname for E. When asked about this, Altman alternates between being annoyingly coy and curiously defensive.

They make you feel like dancing: The Disco Biscuits.
Stefano Giovannini
They make you feel like dancing: The Disco Biscuits.

"Really? What is it?" he titters. "It just seemed like a good combination of words to me." When pressed further, his voice takes on a new edge. "Kids pretty much use drugs, they're looking for an escape. Maybe if people were better parents, kids wouldn't feel the need to do drugs." Somewhere out there, Nancy Reagan is shifting uncomfortably in her seat.

Concerns about D.A.R.E. aside, the Biscuits have found their calling playing to a youthful audience more likely to Just Say No to Britney Spears' virginal stripteases than to the rampant menace of mindless hedonism for which the Disco Biscuits just happen to provide the soundtrack. Who's to say which method of boredom alleviation is more "right" or "wrong" than another? At least kids are getting exercise at raves instead of spending their evenings parked in front of the boob tube or playing Tomb Raider. As Gutwillig says, "The bottom line is euphoria. It's all in how you choose to pursue it."

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