In the lyrics to ‘Showroom Dummies’, Kraftwerk imagines an uncanny scene where humanoid figures break free from their storefront imprisonment, smashing the glass and comporting themselves out into the night. Then the dummies take their newfound autonomy and, of course, head straight for the night club, where they get down as heavily, one imagines, as is physically possible for semi-sentient beings made of inflexible plastic.
The French duo Zombie-Zombie takes up this image of an automaton dance party, subtracting the sleek precision endemic to a gang of robotic Germans and coldly injecting the infinite lurch of the brain-hungry undead. Call it horror disco, or Romero disco, after the genre-defining director, as long as it’s remembered that ZZ are equally in debt to another horror director, John Carpenter, who composed the soundtracks to his own 70s & 80s sci-fi/horror exploitation films.
Their new album, A Land for Renegades, is portentous synth-disco with live, militaristic beats. Not ‘disco’ as having anything to do with Village People or Donna Summer, but rather disco’s darker corners where it occupies a hazy border zone with Factory records, Bauhaus, and so on. The combination of jerky war drums and spare, lurking synths evokes something like Gary Numan taking Liquid Liquid as his backing band. I heard the lead single ‘Driving This Road’ a while ago and loved for its three-note ring-modded synth riff and general minimal sinisterism. I kept waiting for the album to stray from the formula that makes ‘Driving This Road’ so effective and it never did – it remains very much in the pocket, tight and concise, and content to explore the formal parameters of an aesthetic style that is as narrow as it is well-defined.
A Land for Renegades could easily be an imaginary horror soundtrack – not least because of the sonic elements which instantly recall Romero-Carpenter territory: on ‘What’s Happening in the City’, disorienting pitch-shifted voices make ominous statements about the state of things…they could very easily have been lifted from "Dawn of the Dead’s" panicked media transmissions: "I see all the people leaving in the city. Can you tell me what’s happening in town? You will feel pain in your body…Your nose will bleed every time you think about it."
The soundtrack character lies also in each track’s relentlessly steady pace and the album’s consistent claustrophobic air. The title ‘Driving This Road Until Death Sets You Free’ could serve be A Land For Renegades’ sonic blueprint: its velocities and tempos have a highly affective resonance – one needs to hide, one is being hunted at night in a large city by a shadowy multitude, one is being steadily followed down a dark, airless corridor. A few points off here for an unnecessary and slightly interruptive cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’, which if not particularly pleasant to listen to does further round out the contours of ZZ’s aesthetic territory – Iggy’s original version completes a triangle with Zombie-Zombie and ‘Showroom Dummies’, except that Iggy’s inhuman partiers are just Iggy and his friends hopped up, sleepless and making trouble, dancing this road until death.