FEATURE: Stayin’ Alive: Why We Need to See a Disco Revival



Stayin’ Alive

IN THIS PHOTO: Diana Ross at Studio 54 in New York City in 1979/PHOTO CREDIT: Bettmann/Getty Images 

Why We Need to See a Disco Revival


I have mused before…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

how there are genres from the past which are making a bit of a comeback. If you think about Punk and how it has been adopted by Post-Punk bands, it is interesting seeing how artists of today are updating and revisiting older music. I think there are some styles that have been left in the past but warrant some revitalisation. Britpop has been left in the 1990s and, when the country is divided, I think there is potential for some new form of the genre. I feel Dance, Trance and the big sounds of the 1980s and 1990s have not really been adopted today. It is a shame to see, because we do need a lift and music is lacking a spark. There are some happier songs around, although there is a bit of an absence. I feel we could see something akin to Britpop coming back, but there is a genre of music that is synonymous with its togetherness and oomph: Disco. The reason I am spotlighting Disco, is because some feel it was born in 1970 – next year would be its fiftieth anniversary. I think Disco became popular towards the middle of the 1970s and, on 12th July, 1979, the anti-Disco sentiment reached a fever pitch when the Chicago White Sox held a ‘Disco Demolition Night’ during a double-header at Comiskey Park. That was sort of when Disco was ushered out and laid to rest.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That said, you can listen to Pop music of the 1980s and realise that Disco never truly went away. Artists like Madonna were very much Disco-inspired in their early days – listen to her eponymous 1983 debut album to see what I mean! Disco influenced so much of the 1980s’ best music and the 1990s’ finest. You can draw a line from countless albums and artists and arrive back at Disco from the 1970s. Maybe Disco died because it lost its sense of inclusivity and diversity; it started out embracing everyone and became more white, male and straight towards the end of the 1970s. As this article explores, the glory days of Disco were a sight to behold – locations like Studio 54 became temples where people could congregate and unwind:

The heyday of disco fashion blossomed from the music played at gay underground New York clubs such as the Loft, Tenth Floor,and 12 West in the early 1970s. Other clubs such as Infinity, Flamingo, the Paradise Garage, Le Jardin, and the Saint launched a disco culture that brought with it an anything-goes attitude and all-night dancing.

Studio 54 became the place to be seen in disco clothing such as boob-tubes, platform shoes, flared trousers and body-conscious shapes dressed in lurex, glitter and crazy patterns or colours. Studio 54 played an essential role creating the nightclub scene that is still with us today – a place where people dress to be noticed and in the latest fashion.

The successful movie Saturday Night Fever (1977) ensured that disco hung around for a few years before becoming very unfashionable when Punk Rock and New Wave became the new anti-fashion fashion”.

Like so many genres and movements, the music captured a spirit and a desire. These movements form through evolution: other genres being expanded upon or someone noticing something missing that needs to exist. I think, as we look towards a new decade, I think there are really no genres or great scenes now. Music is very wide-ranging and exciting, yet there is not this concentrated sound that could grow and build into something wonderful. Like Punk, artists could not just replicate what went before, as the world has moved on and artists will want to update and personalise. I think Disco arrived at a hard time and, had it started in the 1960s, it might well have survived longer. As it is, it burned brightly for a short time but was taken to heart by so many artists through the decades. One can say that, in some way, it is encoded in the music of today. You have to look hard, but there is a slight Disco element to some modern Pop. I think Disco could find a new purpose because, in 2019, the world is more divided than ever. There is still massive discrimination in terms of gender, race and sexuality; nations like the U.K. and U.S. are split and troubled and there is a lack of proper punch and explosion in music – in a happy, sunny way at least!

I think many people get this view of Disco being a bit naff, of its time and non-inclusive. Perhaps there were corners of Disco that were a little cheesy, but that was part of the charm! As this BBC article from last year explains, Disco allowed a togetherness and sense of community:

Disco was never designed to grow old gracefully – instead, it has endured with brilliant defiance. More than four decades have now passed since its heady sound and style became a global phenomenon; its life so far has involved joy and pain, inspirational anthems and attempted murder (at 1979’s 'disco demolition night' stunt in Chicago’s Comiskey Park). Disco isn’t instantly afforded the same cultural reverence as rock 'n' roll or punk, yet its revolutions have been far-reaching. It continues to inspire music, movies and fashion, as well as events like London’s Brixton Disco Festival (28 April); these aren’t retro trips but a recognition that disco still does something for us.

Disco enabled female, gay, black and Latin artists to define their identities in increasingly fluid ways. Even kitsch hits could prove subversive: the Village People brought macho gay imagery to prime-time entertainment. Disco also fuelled the global collaborations that we now take for granted in modern music, whether it was the epic Eurodisco of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder (I Feel Love, 1977), or British Indian producer Biddu. As Alice Echols writes in her book Hot Stuff: Disco And The Remaking Of American Culture: “Promiscuous and omnivorous, disco absorbed sounds and styles from all over, and in the process accelerated the transnational flow of musical ideas and idioms.”

The primary voice of disco was female (or at least, not conventionally male) – and one of the most soul-charged disco voices remains Jocelyn Brown, who developed her talent in US gospel choirs, before singing with acts including Musique, Inner Life and Cerrone, and co-writing her own hits including Somebody Else’s Guy (1984).

Disco may have been a victim of its own success (and rampant “cash-in” marketing) – but its pervasive influence remains impressive. It pushed the transformative power of nightlife onscreen – in the gritty Saturday Night Fever (1977), but also the 1978 musical comedy Thank God It’s Friday (featuring Donna Summer and The Commodores), and the British gay drama Nighthawks (1978); more recently, Baz Luhrman’s Netflix series The Get Down (2016) depicted disco’s impact on the birth of hip hop”.

Popular culture has this changes and waves, so it is understandable why a Disco scene like the one in the 1970s would seem jarring and odd as we head into 2020. Pop has lost its sense of hook; there are fewer big choruses and so many tracks today struggle to get out of third gear. Some people say that music today should carry a universal message and, as the world is in a difficult situation, does it seem right providing a cheery and unifying statement? I think Disco anthems are just what we need right now!


 PHOTO CREDIT: @matthewlejune/Unsplash

There is an argument that music needs to be fairly serious and artists need to write how they feel and what feels natural. More powerful than any sort of revolt would be a community-led, all-include revival like a new form of Disco. Not only would that join nations, genders and races, but it would provide a soundtrack that could provide timeless memories; maybe new clubs and spaces that would allow this release that we all know. It is obvious something needs to happen in music that has inclusivity and harmony at its core, rather than distance or anger. I have nothing against artists who rally and react to what is happening now. We need that energy and voice. What is sorely missing is a counteraction or any genre/wave that can provide optimism and, yes, escape. Disco served its purpose in the 1970s and its legacy remains. Whilst music is not defeated and lost, one cannot say it is in an especially positive mindframe. Returning to the threads and look of the 1970s would be throwback and weird; I think there is a way to bring Disco into the 2020 without it seeming nostalgic or repetitive. I think many people are yearning for big anthems, a sense of delirium and swagger that Disco provides. I know Disco has produced some heartbreaking songs but, even when artists were revealing pains of the heart, they were injecting some passion and energy. I think now is a good time to remember what Disco gave us (and still does) and take it into 2020. Not only could we get some much-needed lift; we would ensure that the dancefloors are filled and teeming…    


IN THIS PHOTO: Hush Hush, Coachella’s Secret Disco/PHOTO CREDIT: Koury Angelo

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