When the word disco is bought up to most people, thoughts probably instantly turn to two things: revolving mirrored balls and the late 1970’s. Those two things taken by themselves are of no harm or consequence. Yet there are elements of the word “disco” that seem to inspire such a heated emotional state in some that it could easily bring on a heart attack if uncontrolled. My personal opinion is that this has a lot to do with the sexual revolution that coincided with the disco era as some call it. For much of my life growing up, even into my late adolescence, the term disco seemed to be the highest form of profanity. I remember two acoustic jazz DJ’s in the local era snickering with embarrassment at having polyester leisure suits during the 70’s “fusion” era of jazz. Another friend of the families,herself a country/western fan heard her husband playing Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher” and asked “why are you playing that disco music?”. This is something that seems so completely misunderstood. But I’ve taken some time to learn about it. And would like to offer my own opinions on the topic.
Basically the term disco is shorthand for “discotheque”,which was a type of dance club in emerging in the early 1970’s where the music was provided by a disc jockey spinning records on a turntable as opposed to a live band playing. Over time different bands playing soul, funk, rock,country and electronic music began adding heavier 4/4 time beats to their music,and entirely new and heavily choreographed dance moves began to be invented to accommodate this. So in the end disco is not actually a musical style, but rather a rhythmic style for different genres of music intended for disco dancers. There was a style that went with it too-very clean and sharp clothing. On the downside there was often a good amount of cocaine use involved,especially on the upper crust end of disco culture. Interestingly enough, the very African American and homosexual friendly disco-dance environment stirred up controversy during an era where the last days of segregationist racism was still ingrained in some parts of America.
As it turns out some country western and rock fans became deeply resentful that the music they love was beginning to adopt the “4 on the floor” rhythm for the disco dancers. They were frightened of the racial and sexual implications of the music. And they began a growing campaign called “disco sucks”. The black music community soon joined forces with them as well, when they began to notice that much of their radio format was being converted to “disco radio” and many of the most talented soul/funk/R&B artists seemed to have a hard time receiving airplay. This all ended culminated with the frightening and culturally disturbing Disco Demolition Night at Cominskey Stadium in Chicago on June 12th,1979 when attendee’s were let in for free to the game if they bought along a disco record to set alight. This was an anti musical, racist, homophobic and sexist display that in hindsight is equal to the burning of Galileo’s books being burned as punishment for his “heresy” of his astronomical discoveries. Now an popular art form had become heresy. And much of the public embraced it.
Still this particular style of dance music never came close to going away. It just couldn’t use the word disco to describe itself anymore. The enormously successful pop hits of Madonna,Billy Ocean,Pet Shop Boys,Rick Astley and just about all of the house/Hi NRG techno dance music of the early 1990’s was often a disguised and direct descendant of the disco-dance sound. It seems to me that in today’s musical world,disco is no longer a bad word. A number of modern dance oriented musical acts proudly use the term to describe their own music. Its a day that I’ve been waiting for my entire life. The term disco was often,as I indicated earlier,used as a pejorative with which to insult other forms of music. I suppose as society is at last starting to take a genuinely long and hard look at all the prejudices that went into its revile of the disco era,and are beginning to take serious steps to overcome them, it makes sense these people might look back at the anti disco backlash for the hateful display of cultural bigotry that it was and realize that was their real enemy, not the disco-dance records themselves.