[[Sound off]]: Love to Love You, Disco.

By Maurice Long

 

Disco is a genre that rarely appears to be taken very seriously and, in the present day, often seems to be disregarded as novelty music that people do not genuinely believe to be of supreme quality. However, during its emergence from the late 1960s to the 1970s, it represented a very important outlet for a lot of people who, away from the dancefloor, were the target of much discrimination at this point in history. As well as this, revisiting a lot of disco music is an enjoyable thing to do because, despite how it sometimes tends to be perceived today, it is a genre that produced a considerable amount of very good music. It went though something a crisis with the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign and the film Saturday Night Fever, which seemed to ignore so many of the important themes that were at the centre of the disco movement but, through a retrospective look at the disco scene, it is clear that it deserves a lot more respect that people have often been willing to give it.

The origins of disco and its initial popularity are usually traced back to the DJ David Mancuso and his parties at The Loft in New York in the early 1970s. An Alex Petridis article in The Guardian after Mancuso’s death in 2016 says: “The crowd Mancuso’s parties drew were pansexual and racially mixed – about 60% black and 70% gay, according to one estimate – a gathering of ‘the disaffected and disenfranchised’”. This was in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which had empowered communities who had been consistently targeted by police and oppressed for so long and had led to the formation of groups like the Gay Liberation Front. The music and nightlife were important as a means of exercising that liberation and as expression for racially and sexually diverse groups of people. Musically, what Mancuso played was dance music that had its origins in funk, with distinctive basslines and horn sections. These characteristics can be heard in songs like Manu Dibango’s 1972 jazz-funk hit ‘Soul Makossa’

Donna Summer
Grace Jones’ Portfolio

Artists such as Donna Summer and Grace Jones emerged as standout stars of the genre. Particular highlights from their respective discographies include Summer’s 16-minute disco epic ‘Love to Love You Baby’ from 1975 and Jones’s irresistibly funky bass-driven 1977 reworking of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose’ from her first album, Portfolio. The sexual liberation that disco fans were enjoying was reflected in the music. The lyrics to ‘Love to Love You Baby’ are punctuated by moans that are clearly there to emphasise the intensity of the sexual experience the song appears to be referencing.

The early years of disco were characterised by freedom and diversity, and also by musical innovation. Nicky Siano, a DJ who opened his club The Gallery in 1973, is acknowledged as the pioneer of various new DJing techniques, such as beatmatching and the use of multiple turntables. As an interview on the Vinyl Factory’s website highlights: “In the history of DJ culture, Nicky Siano’s presence looms large. His club The Gallery was instrumental in forging the disco culture of the 1970s in New York, while his technique on the decks helped further the art of mixing records as we know it.” In terms of the history of dance music as a whole, Siano’s innovation that was central to the disco scene in New York has been very influential.

It was not just in the USA where disco took off. It was also prominent in European popular music. Boney M, made up of four vocalists from the Caribbean but formed in West Germany in 1975, were particularly successful. Musically they had unmistakably disco elements but also took inspiration from reggae. Their live performances were characterised by the energetic dancing and costumes of Bobby Farrell and they enjoyed chart success throughout Europe with singles such as ‘Daddy Cool’ and ‘Sunny’ as well as the uniquely unforgettable 1978 track ‘Rasputin’.

ABBA were also involved with eurodisco and remain one of the most successful bands of all time. The disco tracks that these acts put out may be a bit poppier and perhaps less interesting than the music of Donna Summer and Grace Jones but they are still fun to listen to and the early days of disco were all about people having the freedom to express themselves and have fun in a way that had previously not been so open to them.

The release of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, brought disco very much into the mainstream. However, what was represented in the film was not a particularly accurate depiction of the disco scene. It centred on white, heteronormative characters and was soundtracked by the Bee Gees. It would be difficult to describe it as a celebration of the racial and sexual inclusivity that was so fundamental to the development of disco music and dancing.

While Saturday Night Fever’s portrayal was perhaps unhelpful for how disco was received, the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign, started by rock radio DJ Steve Dahl, was to prove more damaging. As a Hadley Meares article for Aeon describes: “Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air.” He had a lot of fans who agreed with him and the movement kept growing. This culminated in the 1979 public demolition of many disco records and subsequent riot at a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Dahl distanced the movement from racism or homophobia but it did involve many young white men who appeared to find the disco scene, which welcomed so many marginalised people, threatening to their notions of constructions of masculinity.

Disco did slow down and the scene became less prominent into the 1980s but it is impossible to deny the influence that it has had on popular music styles since then. It undoubtedly deserves to be loved and appreciated for what it represented, and for the joy and freedom that the music communicated.

(1014 words)

Music mentioned can be found here:

[[Sound-off]] Post-Punk: The Big Bang of Modern Music

By Daniel Holstead

After the dust cloud of the Sex Pistol’s implosion had settled, there was no time for Punk’s eulogy as our dear music culture at the time wasn’t particularly into grieving for the era that has just been and gone. And so with that mentality the music scene had decided that an almost page-one-rewrite was needed for the coming era.

 

Gone was the righteous hegemonic masculinity of punk rock where men were Neanderthals in expressing a deep rooted rage at the establishment and everything it stood for. These punk rockers were unprepared for the likes of Joy Division and the kind of earnestness that Ian Curtis would bring to dark dystopian guitar work and tribal drum beats figuratively exploded the heads of those who once engaged in the slamdancing and spit fights of the mid-to-late 1970s. Where punk had been the liberation of a generation, post-punk was the rising of underground music to a mainstream that needed a new direction.

 

The post-punk moment in music was one which ignored the doctrine of the time before it and raided the pre-punk chest of the whole of prog rock, the androgynous sexuality of Roxy Music and perhaps most importantly balls-to-the-wall all out craziness of Captain Beefheart. While this type of music had been viewed as stale when the likes of The Ramones and The Clash set fire to them in the mid 70s, it was the new pioneers of the Talking Heads and The Cure who found in this the key to a new future. Whether it’s David Byrne reciting Captain Beefheart’s ‘Well’ or getting former Roxy Music member Brian Eno to produce the pivotal post-punk album Remain In Light, it is easy to find the fingerprints of pre-punk all over post-punk.

 

While 1977 had been the year that gave us Never Mind The Bollocks which had become the holy scripture that the Sex Pistol’s brought down from the mountain top of counter-culture, David Bowie and Brian Eno were putting out what Bowie described as “new language” what was particular interesting, about these release in hindsight is how the experimentation of Low and Heroes had been unprecedented.  On one hand it was being described as “alienating” by a Dutch journalist and on the other was being regarded by the New York Times as “a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Brian Eno’s own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan”.

 

With this response to Bowie’s Low, it is easy to identify how post-punk was melting the minds of a music audience whilst feeding them the conventions of the early 1970s rock music which punk had attempted to erase from the archives of popular culture. While we could of course talk at great lengths about the krautrock influence on David Bowie’s work in Berlin and how he appropriated the sounds of Neu, Can and Kraftwerk for his very western and very large cult following, it is important to accept that David Bowie is to this day being cited by contemporary pop artists such as; Lady Gaga, St. Vincent, Calvin Harris and Lorde and it is this period of work that is time and time again referenced as his greatest imprint on music.

There is also a separate discussion to be had on Brian Eno’s influence on the colourful landscape of modern music.

Eno and U2 as part of the Passengers project (1995)

Whilst Brian Eno began his career as a producer by working on the various cornerstone records of post-punk and new wave, it was from this that he became the master of turning big bands into great bands. When it came to U2, he turned them from the biggest cult post-punk band into THE biggest band of the late 1980s and 1990s. This was evident in the various reinventions in U2’s career that begun Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire and had continued through until the late nineties. U2 of course also being a product of early post-punk influences courtesy of the sounds of CBGBs with Television and Talking Heads having a large influence on the Irish band along with the dystopian experimental sounds of British bands Joy Division and Wire. Then there is the sequel to U2; Coldplay who enlisted Eno as producer on their Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto which spawned a variety of anthemic pop songs that topped worldwide charts. None of this could have possibly happened without Eno’s beginnings as a member of glam rock outfit Roxy Music and the subsequent genre fusing that led to post-punk.

Of course there is the highly influential feminist post-punk bands such as; Au Pairs and The Raincoats who can share the acclaim of heavily influencing nineties alternative rock acts such as; Nirvana and Pixies. It is documented that Kurt Cobain had high praise for The Raincoats and went as far as to listing their self-titled debut in his top 50 albums of all time as well as being credited as being a reason for their mid-nineties reformation. The Raincoats’ amateurish punk sound had been the framework for the sound of Nirvana, not only in its bare bones approach to a defiant rock sound, but in its both personal and often self-celebratory spirit which is reminiscent of the few and far between almost joyous moments of Nirvana’s short career, a key example being ‘Silver’  and ‘Been A Son’.

So while it is only quietly, you will find admission of post-punk’s wide ranging influence on the music of today and a lot of what has transpired since it faded into the early 1980s, once David Bowie’s work with Brian Eno is considered as being a sort of genesis for post-punk and those whom took influence from Low and Heroes in this period, it is easier to find how the roots of post-punk led to a portion of the popular music of today. And perhaps the most key example of this can be found here