Marshstepper's Swamp Disco Hums Deep in the Desert Underground

In this week's issue of Phoenix New Times, we profiled 10 new(ish) bands we expect to dominate Phoenix iPods and boomboxes this long, hot summer. We'll be focusing more deeply on those artists over the next couple of days on Up on the Sun.

See the entire list: 10 Phoenix Bands You Should Be Listening to This Summer

They say disco died in 1979, killed off my a mob of anti-disco protesters in Chicago, the snarling intensity of punk rock, and years of over-saturation (Disco Duck anyone?). But 2012 might be the year actually died, as disco icons Donna Summer and Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees shuffled off the mortal coil, long after their influence on popular culture, electronic music, and art rock was widely accepted. Brian Eno called Summer "the sound of the future," and as EDM once again rises from the underground to mainstream popularity, he sounds presciently correct.

The members of Tempe-based visual art/sound collective Marshstepper, call their music "swamp disco," and though decades of subtle influence and eradication of "disco sucks" rockism have validated the term "disco," the fact that three dudes firmly entrenched in the art-punk/DIY/warehouse scene of greater Phoenix tote the term still carries an edge of subversion.

Sharing members with hardcore combo Avon Ladies, psychedelic mood-warriors Desert Vibrations, and the controversially named Tempe SS, Marshstepper's doomy, EBM grind is a step in an other direction sonically, but comes from the same place internally, says J.S. Aurelius (joined by N. Nappa, and D. Pupillo in the band).

"It's weird -- for me, at least -- putting names on bands, because it all comes from the same place, regardless of sound. Marshstepper is a little bit weirder and little bit more eccentric than some of the bands we do. They're all different in sound, but they all come from the same place."

He admits that goals like "transcendence" might sound "New Agey," but insists that dark humor plays as big a part in the proceedings as any philosophical theory. "It's all done with as much humor as an aggressive pointed attack on anything," Aurelius says, "but it's all a means to an end, trying to transcend the bullshit."

Marshstepper is one arm of its members artistic output. In addition to other musical units, Aurelius also writes poetry and prose, issued by the small private press label Ascetic House. The label -- without a website or nearly any discernible commercial presence -- doesn't maintain its shadowy anonymity in the name of elitism or fetishism; instead, Aurelius explains that the material is out there for interested parties, and spending too much time promoting one item is less time spent conceiving and preparing the next.

As of yet, the band hasn't released music via traditional formats like cassettes, vinyl, CDs, or MP3, instead disseminating the sounds via grainy, spectral films of the band's pulsing meditations online.

"People can find it if they want it," Aurelius says, and while the flashing lights of EDM may take over the disco floors of yesteryear, its boggy, murky cousin is trying other things underground.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.