The Disco Biscuits: Baking Through The Night

The Disco Biscuits, like all groups with life spans longer than five years, have gone through numerous changes their career—some for the better, some for the worse. Sure, some ideas could have been constructed a bit better, sometimes the execution wasn’t exactly what you would call flawless, but you have to give credit to a group willing to change not only themselves but also those around them musically, socially and commercially.

Since the group formed, fifteen years ago, as students at the University of Pennsylvania, things have gone up, down and all-around for the quartet, who will be appearing at New York City’s Terminal 5 three nights in a row starting Dec. 27 and for two nights at Philadelphia’s Tower Theatre, where the group will be playing a very special New Year’s eve set.

Beginning as a Phish cover band, The Disco Biscuits formed in 1995 in Philadelphia, where the four original members attended the University of Pennsylvania. As the band grew to know each other musically and personally, the group decided to expand their sound, and instead of simply hashing out Phish covers, began a personal exploration of a genre which is now known as Trance-Fusion, a genre the group themselves is credited as having pioneered in their early days, mixing jam-rock styles reminiscent of Phish and the Grateful Dead with trance and other forms of electronic music that were bubbling amongst urban youth at the time.

By combining “marathon dance parties” with “live improvisational journeys” the band’s sound developed into a distinct amalgam rarely heard before in the underground music circuit. It blended elements of rock and trance music, but was certainly not heavy enough to be industrial; nor did it have the same flower power, neo-summer of love pretenses as the “Madchester” baggy scene that had sprung up across the Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom. Instead, the band’s combination of various electronic styles such as trance and old-school jungle with American rock styles and spontaneous, improvisatory live sets allowed them to create their own little niche within the jam-band community.

Since this time, the band has accumulated a wide, dedicated fanbase, willing to follow the band on tour religiously for the sake of taking part in a “once-in-a-lifetime-event” every night. I’ve been to a couple of Biscuits shows myself, and I can contest that the energy you’ll find swimming through a crowd of loyal Biscuits fans is quite unlike any other audience I’ve ever encountered. Ravers, hippies, frat-boys and party-girls all stand united under the common banner of the Disco Biscuits, dancing and losing themselves within extended trances of improvised, live electronic music.

The band themselves run a tight ship live, yet somehow they always manage to keep the surprises coming. Tirelessly voyaging through every inversion of a song, the group is known for “turning a tune on its head to see what might fall out of its pockets.” Sometimes the band plays one part of a song before segueing into another and then back again.

Sometimes they go from the chorus of one song into the breakdown of another one. Sometimes they don’t even complete a song, leaving it in concert limbo until the next night when the band flawlessly melds the rest of the song into that night’s set list. The possibilities are endless with a band with such a vast discography and sets that can run up to three hours in length.

The Disco Biscuits are very much a live band, and for their next album, which as of yet remains untitled, have returned to their four-member, organic method of writing and recording music for their next album, as opposed to the open door of collaborators the group brought in for last year’s Planet Anthem. While writing and recording Planet Anthem, The Disco Biscuits worked around a revolving door of guest musicians, songwriters and producers to join the ‘committee’ to discuss “isolated ideas (be it a beat, a break, a bridge, a chorus or even just a sound) and assembling them into focused songs.”

This time that won’t be the case.

“It’s more just the four of us this time,” said guitarist Jon Gutwillig. “It’s a very onstage record. We just got off of the tour and set up our stage set-up in the studio.”

Gutwillig added that when the new album is released (which, sadly, will not be until 2011) some fans may recognize a few of these tracks from the road, since the group will be returning to its tried and true method of performing new material live before the album hits shelves.

In addition to recording new material and performing live, the Disco Biscuits have also been busy helping out their community. The Biscuits have a history of lending a helping hand in their respective communities, including bassist Marc Brownstein’s involvement in the civic action organization HeadCount and various other social actions programs such as Conscious Alliance, Rock The Earth and The Fund For Wild Nature.

This time around, The Disco Biscuits partnered with HeadCount and Philadelphia’s Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School on the volunteer initiative Bisco Power Mission, which raised $15,000 to install a solar power energy system in the elementary school. Gutwillig explains the band’s involvement as such:

“We wanted to have a keg party and we wanted to do some charity thing. We were like ‘Let’s do a charity that results in a keg party!’ Obviously, we wanted to help people. It’s still a charity and we wanted to be helpful and useful and good. So we were just sort of think-tanking it, and you know the school things is really cool, but at the end of the day you can’t throw a keg party there. And the school was like, ‘well, why don’t we up put some solar panels?’ We didn’t have a keg party there, but we did go take pictures and shake hands and meet the students. All in all it was a total success.”

Although the band did not do exactly what they wanted to initially, their actions serve as a shining example to musicians and fans everywhere that we can all make a difference just by doing what we’re good at. The group plans to take on another social service program in 2011, but at the moment they aren’t too sure what it will be. Chances are it will involve a keg party.

The past fifteen years of Biscuit history have been something of a wild ride, spanning 14 albums, including both live and studio recordings, and a crap-load of side projects. As the band continues to grow and develop, so too shall their music and their fan base. The next few years are sure to be filled with killer tunes invigorating live shows, complete with lights, fog and, most importantly, music.

The Disco Biscuits will be appearing on Dec. 27, 28, and 29 at Terminal 5 in New York City. The band will also be holding an after party at the NYC nightclub Touch after each show. On Dec. 28, Jon Guttwillig will also be performing at Touch as half of SUB:STATION. The band will also be performing at The Tower Theater in Philadelphia on Dec. 30 and 31.