One of the most exciting ways to take the power away from naysayers is to appropriate one of their symbols, subvert it, and use it against them. So it is that when Arne Van Petegem, the Belgian producer who makes records under the name Styrofoam, decided to make his version of a disco record with vocalist Chantal Acda, he chose a name that had an acid bite to it.
Coho Lips was the name of the followers of a Chicago-based shock jock who created the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” that took place at Comiskey Park in 1979. Attendees gained admission by bringing in a disco record that was then blown up in center field. Riots ensued, bonfires were set, and disco began its hasty decline from the charts.
Lest you think that this new EP by Van Petegem and Acda is a horn-drenched, diva fueled kitsch fest, keep in mind that the chief inspiration behind this project was the late cellist/composer/producer Arthur Russell.
“The production that he did on those records,” says Van Petegem, “it’s so catchy and dance-y and also totally off-kilter and weird. That’s what we set out to do: some sort of weird disco record.”
The six tracks on Coho Lips’ debut EP are dance music viewed through his singular glitchy prism. Listen to how the drums on “Broken, Every Record” always feel like they’re lagging behind but manage to keep hitting on the one. Or the clamoring cymbal hits that ride underneath the sauntering beat of “Sun, Water.” Or you could try to keep up with every little blip and glisten spread across the epic closing track “Polynoise Cotonou,” but you’d probably just end up getting wrapped up in the beat.
Aiding Van Petegem’s vision every step of the way are the delicate, almost haunted vocals of Acda. It may seem a change of pace from the quiet folk she creates under the name Sleepingdog, but according to the vocalist, she has a long history with dance music.
“I came up with the hardcore acid scene in Netherlands,” she says. “The music really touched me. The darker and heavier, the better.”
Of course, Coho Lips isn’t dark music, but that deeply ingrained love of club sounds helped Acda find the right place to put her singular vocals and to find the perfect melody to complement her musical partner’s warped musical vision. Often that came down to one or two lines, but Van Petegem would take those elements, stretch and manipulate them, and turn them into new instruments for him to wend into these dense productions.
“I think we both felt that what was most important was to make it sound special to us,” Van Petegem says. “We both listen to a lot of different music, but the goal for us is to produce our favorite record that we don’t have yet. It touches on everything we’ve done before and all that music that we love. It’s all of that rolled into one.”