14 Dec 2016

The Megatron Man: On Patrick Cowley, Disco's Lost Cosmic Shaman

Image result for patrick cowley
Hello friends, it's me, Calum. A couple of months ago I wrote a post on the B-52's, and how they're better than't Beatles and that their debut album is one of the greatest albums of all time. Here I am again, championing genius that blurs the lines between great art and novelty; Patrick Cowley, disco's forgotten astral voyager. Patrick Cowley was a disco producer active from the late seventies til his untimely death in 1982 that released 2 seminal full length albums, porn film soundtracks, and a litany of bangers, A look over his discography might reveal nothing special about the man; not a household name, is he? Our Patrick. But give his 1981 opus Megatron Man a listen, and you'll be blown away; left with a grin so wide you might dislocate your jaw.

Originally I fell in love with this for it's colossal sci-fi novelty, before further sonic examination revealed that one Mr Cowley was a pioneer, one of the most forward thinking men behind a set of buttons. A master of 8 minute space jams that thrust the tried and tested disco format into spacey realms you've never heard before. So simple, yet so transportative, so 80s, yet so fresh-sounding today, Cowley's music sounds like a perfect mix of 80s sci-fi futurism and Frankie Goes To Hollywood hi-NRG bangers. When two tribes go to dream of electric sheep, Patrick Cowley is born.

"I'm not suggested this one Patrick Cowley b-side from 1981 is better than all of Bob Dylan's back catalogue, BUT!" cried Quietus editor John Doran on hearing Lift Off on his Quietus hour radio show. Lift Off is the perfect introduction to the San Fran disco shaman. "Take a trip to another dimension", caws the distorted, oh-so-eighties voice of Carol McMackin - and for once, with songs with their lazy spacey allusions, this isn't crude hyperbole. The synth sound on this song is amazing, with its jarring PER-TERs and DADA-DA-DADAs breaking up some cosmic disco. Is there any song ever written more life affirming than this? I doubt it, so very highly.

But Cowley's repertoire extends beyond this. His 1981 full length debut (maybe not his debut if you count the 31 minute 5-track EP Menergy as a full length debut. I refuse to.) Megatron Man stands tall as one of the best albums of the 80s. Simple pounding disco given the spaced-out cosmotronic treatment, you can't escape that in the world of Patrick Cowley, gratification is instant and everything is brilliant. Teen Planet is a nugget of teeny-bopper pop, souped up with a brilliant synth sound, and probably some lasers and frantic childish vocals to make it sound like DEVO, from the future. The title track opens it with this spacey sprawl; Patrick's own heavily vocoded vocals bless it (not generally the case you see) with robotic cries of "MEGATRON MAN! MEGATRON MAN! THE WORLD IS WAITING, MEGATRON MAN!", whilst some classic pre-italo disco italo disco beats give it a beautiful kinda novelty feel. Oh - and the best bit? The synth that goes WAH-WAH-WAH-VA-WAH-WAH-WAH.

Delve deeper and you'll be blessed with gems. Funked up classic Do You Wanna Funk sees our Patrick team up with disco provocateur Sylvester, in his most honed, concentrated pop effort whilst his final album, Mind Warp sees Cowley sonically document his struggle to keep touch with reality as his battle with AIDS took hold. Full of many more thoughtful songs, and with tracks like the Lift Off-reprise Going Home, it feels like a really great endstop on Cowley's all too short career.

We're all on our way to the void, humble readers, but best way stave it off is with futuristic disco, right? Space disco, cosmic dancehall, science fiction fun. Patrick Cowley is the only escape you need from the banality of life itself, quell the void, and the only way humanity can get back onto the right track post-2016.

(Words: Cal Cashin)