This next instalment may not have quite as many direct references to horror movies as my last (‘SEND MORE PARAMEDICS
‘) but saying this band is not relevant or linked to horror is like calling yourself a horror fan but only watching the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, there are so many layers to horror and indeed this particular band. The band I am talking about is Dog Fashion Disco. Now to stay true to the subject I’m going to have to skim over the numerous line-up changes and talk mainly about their amazing musical style, ability and influences as I see it. Formed in 1995 in Rockville, Maryland USA, school friends Todd Smith (vocalist/songwriter), Greg Combs (Guitarist) and Jon Ensminger (Drummer) started off originally naming the band Hug The Retard, and then changed the name very early on when the line-up was complete to Dog Fashion Disco. Their Wikipedia page describes their musical genre as Avant-garde Metal which is a better description then I could come up with. I was going to go for 70’s & 80’s Psychedelic, Rock, Metal, Country, Circus, Disco music but Avant-garde Metal has a much better ring to it! Featuring keyboards, banjos and brass sections all their songs have a movie soundtrack base to them, they tell stories of murder, adultery, satanic worship, sex, slavery, witchcraft and drug abuse to name a few topics. Todd Smith is not only a lyrical genius but is also incredibly vocally talented with an astonishing range. Very similar to the great Mike Patton of Faith No More fame but doesn’t sound like he is trying to be him. Their first couple of releases were self produced and, in fact I have never even heard their very first release in 1997 entitled Erotic Massage so can pass no judgement.
Instead I will jump on to their next release Experiments In Alchemy first self released in 1998, then re-released in 2006 by Rotten Records. A nine track EP which introduces tracks that will later appear on their future full length albums. To try and give you an idea of their lyrics how about this line from The Satanic Cowboy “The root of all evil is the smile of a demon, an inebriated slob on gin and tonic, blood and semen, he’ll spawn his seed until the town becomes a petting zoo” about an alcoholic abusive parent and introducing Pogo the Clown a serial killer paedophile. Straight after this EP they signed to Outerloop Records and released another album called The Embryo’s In Bloom which again has a few tracks that went on the later albums but at this point were in their infancy. These albums lean heavily on a more Rock/Metal feel with Toothless Dream from this album still being one of my favourite songs of theirs, funnily enough mentioning vampires and zombies, and drawing on visions of nightmarish ghouls and sleep paralysis. G Eye Joe is a delightfully derogatory track about Army jocks. The fantastically odd and frequently changing God Crisis is a stand out track about religion that really starts to show their crazy arrangements and cement their sound.
In 2001 they got signed to major label Spitfire Records and released their first full length album Anarchists Of Good Taste. This is the album that got them heard across the pond. A lot more polished and well produced than the earlier releases. It features guest vocals from Serj Tankian of System Of A Down on their track Mushroom Cult, a psychedelic crazy metal cacophony. 9 to 5 At The Morgue, Corpse Is A Corpse and Vertigo Motel are dark and deranged tales of murder and mutilation. Pour Some Urine On Me starts with the line “Urine love with a robot with dysfunctional genitals and violent mood swings” sets a surreal tone to the rest of the album, which goes on to feature songs about decapitating Hollywood celebrities and hallucinating transvestites! I’m hoping you’re starting to see where I’m coming from with the horror influences now?!
Committed To A Bright Future was released in 2003. A bit less heavy and features a fair bit of brass section but incredibly addictive music and many more humorous song titles, for example Rapist Eyes, Dr.Piranha (opening line “He rose up from the toilet, bearing gifts and bleeding from his ass”) and not forgetting Nude In The Wilderness. This album features the re-introduction of Pogo The Clown finished and tuned to perfection. The Acid Memoirs is a glorious track about dropping acid and Timothy Leary. A brilliant cover of the theme song from Grease originally by The Bee Gees and a dancey little number called Magical Band Of Fools.
As mentioned earlier there have been a fair few hiatus’ and line-up changes. The time after Committed To A Bright Future incurred a few changes. Somewhere along the line their contract with Spitfire had ended, and after releasing a live CD entitled The City Is Alive Tonight (recorded in Baltimore in 2004 and released in 2005 on Artemis Records) features tracks from both albums and a brilliant cover of Nirvanas Breed. Things go a tad quiet for Dog Fashion Disco, until April 2006 (newly signed to Rotten Records) when they release Adultery their sixth studio album.
This is where things take on a slightly different feel. This album has a distinctly dark and sleazy feel like some kind of 80’s cop thriller that has violent, sexual predatory undertones (the track named Private Eye springs instantly to mind). The music has a definite, suspense filled horror movie type soundtrack feel to it. The sleeve and band photos have a sort of 80’s comic book/porno tinge to them. I love this album for different reasons to the others, its odd, bold and again very addictive listening and should have gained them much more acclaim then it did. It has an ongoing story throughout and the tracks are described as chapters rather than numbers. Stand out songs for me are Sweet Insanity, Moonlight City Drive, The Darkest Days and 100 Suicides. Desert Grave is a fantastic banjo driven track about burying your victims remains out in the desert, funnily enough. The song that shares the same name as the album Adultery is a beautiful thing. I’m bigging this album up more as it is so different but unfortunately due to their record label and line-up issues they were struggling to keep up morale and decided to announce their split. They played their farewell gig in Baltimore on Jan 13th 2007 to a huge crowd.
This was by no means the end of the band though; they all remained friends and involved themselves in various incestuous side projects whilst every so often reforming as Dog Fashion Disco. This is where majorly confusing overlaps occur, I will endeavour to simplify if I can. In 2007 Todd Smith and 2 other past members of Dog Fashion Disco teamed up to become Polkadot Cadaver. They released Purgatory Dance Party, on Rotten Records, an album which really does sound like a Dog Fashion Disco release from back in the day. They go right back to their experimental Metal style and bloody hell is it a belter!! Dark, very disturbing, humorous and very relevant again to horror but not quoting anything directly. The most crazy, trippy track is Bring Me The Head Of Andy Warhol. The best track by far is the mostly acoustic track Chloroform Girl which has the chorus line “Chloroform girl how have you been? Don’t let me catch you sleeping again; you’re only alive because I like you”. If you have ever seen the Zombie short film called Not Even Death you will find this track is featured in the end credits! The last track is called Sole Survivor about being the only person left alive after a plane crash.
It gets even more complicated because in 2008, they reunite as Dog Fashion Disco and release an EP on Rotten records called Beating A Dead Horse To Death…..Again. The reason behind the name being that no new tracks were recorded just some old tracks that never made it previously and some old faves. This is a marvellous little gem though and very much welcomed by fans missing the band. Baby Satan, Day Of The Dead, Devils Wife and Barely Breathing are brilliant tracks. Plus two questionable tracks at the end Turning Gay and Hank Steel The Real Queer Cowboy show that they haven’t lost their sick sense of humour!! Everything again goes a bit crazy and Dog Fashion Disco is once again shelved for them to concentrate on their side projects. As well as Polkadot Cadaver, Todd Smith and Jasan Stepp (guitarist in DFD) team up with members of Nothingface and Hellyeah to form Knives Out! another Alternative Metal band. As well as this Todd and other band members started up their own record label in conjunction with Rotten Records called Razor To Wrist Records in 2010/2011 and all future releases from their bands were released under this label. One of the first releases from the new label collaboration was Polkadot Cadavers second album Sex Offender which again takes a weird, dark, sexual deviant undertone. A totally awesome album hard to separate from Dog Fashion Disco expect maybe less brass. With songs about vampires, sea creatures and virgins the stand out tracks for me are Starlight Requiem, Slaughterhouse Striptease and Cake & Eat It Too. Their final album to date is Last Call To Jonestown in May 2013 shamefully I have not had the opportunity to listen to it as yet. Todd Smith also has a solo project El Creepo which came about in 2010 and he has released 3 albums under this guise. A self titled first album, Aloha and new release Bellissimo! Obviously similar to Dog Fashion Disco and side projects but in places a little quieter more acoustic, as I write this I currently have Cottonwood River from the Aloha album on constant repeat, unable to listen to anything else right now!!
With all this going on you would think there would be no room for more Dog Fashion Disco but in 2013 they announced another reunion and set about plans for recording a new album. Their first full length album in 8 years was titled Sweet Nothings and the release was funded by a huge Indiegogo campaign. The album was sweet, sweet music to our ears. It is a grower though, I remember having to give it a couple of listens before admitting to love it. Starting off with a 1920’s type feel it then has everything from anti war songs to crazy doctors and drug addled Alice In Wonderland type tales. I love the quirkiness of Struck By Lightening and the sexy title track Sweet Nothings the best. It ends with a brilliant predominantly acoustic (at the start anyway) song End Of The Road. Their final album to date is Ad Nauseam released in October of last year, and having said at the start of this article that they don’t make direct references to horror movies this is a slight exception as one track is called Lotion On Its Skin and the chorus line is “I’ll paint you a picture with my blood, it puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose. Paradise once lost, the second coming in your eyes. These are such godless days”. Other fabulously disturbing tracks are Last Night Never Happened, Covered In Blood and Watching You. The title track Ad Nauseam is a corker of an opening track too!
Spanning the years of their careers Dog Fashion Disco have done a serious amount of touring and released 2 live DVDs simply called DFDVD and DFDVD 2 with a bonus live DVD on The City Is Alive Tonight CD. They have toured with the likes of Mindless Self Indulgence, Lacuna Coil and Tub Ring. They did come over to the UK in the early days but possibly only once or twice. I didn’t get to see them live until Sept 2014 and then again just over a year later both times in London. Considering their production and the amount of different instruments their live show is very, very good. The first time I saw them Polkadot Cadaver were supporting them, so Todd Smith had to sing 2 sets in one night and his voice did not waver in the slightest. All the guys from the DFD family show amazing ability and huge commitment to their cause.
I really hope I have convinced you to give this band and the subsequent sister bands and solo projects a listen and if you already know about them then I really hope I have done them justice and not bored you all into a coma. They are a complicated band but I urge you to give them a go and I hope you find them relevant to the horror genre.
Article written by Sarah Budd
Live picture courtesy of Sarah Budd
1 Videogram Ident 03 (0:18)
2 Damien (1:47)
3 Cobretti (2:12)
4 Killer On Interstate 40 (2:31)
5 Camp Blood (3:26)
6 Horror Express (3:29)
7 Mangiati Vivi (3:01)
8 Dawn Of The Apocalypse (4:19)
9 Silver Sphere (2:45)
10 Voorhees Stomp (3:00)
11 Le Erotici Notti Di Emanuelle (3:45)
12 Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide (12:46)
13 Videogram Ident 04 (0:18)
This latest effort is a great listen and will have you thinking of all the films that the songs are inspired by. My personal favourite song on this album is track 12 Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide, a 13 minute epic song that will stay with you long after the album is finished. If I was a film maker and I wanted someone to do the soundtrack I would certainly put Magnus Sellergren high on my list of contenders.
Ortolani musical aspirations began when he took up up the violin at age four,he later changed to to the flute when a car crash seriously and permanently injured his left elbow. He was principal flautist in his hometown orchestra. He then went to study music at Conservatorio Statale Di Musica in Pesaro,Italy. At the close of World War II where he had served in the Italian airforce and played in the army orchestra he then went to be the musical arranger for the orchestra at the Italian network RAI.
In the 1950’s Ortolani had formed his own jazz orchestra which took various countries including the United States where perfomed at Ciro’s on Sunset Boulevard,he returned home to Italy in 1961.He scored his fist film in 1961, Ursus in the Valley of the Lions directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragalini. In 1962 Ortolani came to be known to international audiences when he scored his first film soundtrack for directors Gualtiero Jacopetti,Paolo Cavarra and Franco Prosperi’s film documentary Mondo Cane,a look at the world of strange oddities and bizarre rituals. The film’s theme instrumental “Ti Guardero nel Cuore”,lyrics were added by Marcello Cicciolini,subsequently British songwriter + producer Norman Newell arranged a version ‘More’ that became internationally known,covered by a host singers such as Andy Williams,Bobby Darin,Frank Sinatra,Judy Garland,Connie Francis and Perry Como amongst many.’Ti Guardero nel Cuore’ was nominated for the Best Song catergory in 1963 but missed out to Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s ‘Call Me’ from the film ‘pap’s Deicate Condition’ but did win a Grammy Award in the same year.His success with the theme tune from Mondo Cane led Ortolani to England where he scored the films, The Yellow Rolls Royce(1964),The Spy with the Cold Nose(1966),The Biggest Bundle of them All(1968) and The Valachi Papers (1972).He won a Golden Globe award in 1966 for the song ‘Forever Domani’ form the film The Yellow Rolls Royce which featured the vocal talents of actress and singer Katyna Ranieri who was also Ortolani’s wife.
Arguably the film score that is most closely associated with Riz Ortolani is for Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust,a film that is famous for it’s graphic gore, sexual content and for the depiction of on camera animal slaughter.Cannibal Holocaust is the first film to utilise the ‘found footage’ concept of which is now a common feature of many modern horror films,it tells the story of a film crew who venture into an unexplored area of the Amazonian jungle to search for a documentary film crew who have vanished whilst filming cannibal tribes.The young film makers recover the missing footage the original film crew had shot but their actions and treatment of the tribes people is so savage that it ultimately leads to their demise.The film is beautifully shot capturing the interiors of the Amazonian jungle and unflinchingly depicts the savagery from the tribes people and the film crew,Ortolani uses a lushly sweet orchestra score which it would almost lead one to believe that we are about to see a very different film to one that unfolds,the theme is reprised in various versions throughout the film,poignantly playing as the brutal violence is shown.Deodato specifically used Ortolani for scoring his film after hearing his work on the Mondo Cane,liking the rich orchestral feel that was used to back the bizarre imagery the film contained,the sweetness of the music against graphic violence makes for a film that lingers in the viewer’s mind and ears long after the final scene fades from the screen to the haunting theme.
In recent years Ortolani’s scores can be heard in various forms including Grand Theft Auto:London 1969(1996), Kill Bill:Vol 1 (2003), Kill Bill:Vol2 (2004), Drive(2011), Inglorious Basterds(2011) and Django Unchained(2012).
In 2013 Riz Ortolani was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy in Ghent,Belgium in recognition of his work as a film composer,arranger and conductor .Ortolani himself set up the Riz Ortolani Foundation which works to promote music via scholarships,exhibitions and concerts.
He leaves behind him a legacy of film music,having composed scores for 200 films spanning many genres,winner of 11 oscars and 16 nominations.
Riz Ortolani was laid to rest on the 25th January 2014 in the Church of the Artists of the Piazza del Popolo. He is survived by his wife Katyna, daughter Rizia ,stepson Enrico and two grandchildren.
Selected Filmography (Click the titles to go watch the trailers):
Article written by Bethany Venice Wiseblood
Edited by Peter ‘Witchfinder’ Hopkins