What Was Disco Dance Music, And Where Did It Begin?
Disco is a genre and subculture of music that was born in the US in the 1970s. The country’s thriving urban nightlife scene led to the birth of this genre. The music was meant to provide the best possible entertainment on the dance floor of a discotheque. Such music was usually loud and lively and often accompanied by colored lighting effects to create a combined audio visual appeal.
Disco music can be described as a genre of music which contains the elements of funk, soul, pop and salsa. It started in the US in the mid-1960s, and its popularity rose in the mid-1970s. Initially, it was popular among the American club goers especially gays, African Americans, Latino and psychedelic communities. The term disco was coined from a French word, discotheque, which means library of phonograph records.
It is around the same time where the words DJ and disc jockey came into use. One of the reasons why the disco music gained increased popularity was the free-form dancing as well as the loud, overwhelming sound from the live performers.
The disco genre returned dancing to the center of pop music. The disco sound is a mixture o a steady four-on-the-floor beat a 16th note hi-hat pattern with a prominent electric bass line and an eighth note quiver. The background music is usually made of string sections, horns, electric piano and rhythm guitar. Sometimes instruments like the flute and lead guitars are used.
Another characteristic of the genre is the use of flashy lights of different colors and use of musical drama. In the mid-1970s, the audience identified themselves with the DJ rather than the music. The sub-genres of disco include; Italo disco, Euro disco, space disco, disco polo, and nu-disco.
The origin of disco music can be traced back in the early 1970s and emerged out of an urban subculture. Some analysts have asserted that disco is as a result of a reaction against the dominance of the rock music as well as stigmatization of the dance music by the counterculture that emerged during that time. The initial disco-like clubs were held in New York where private parties were held. A city DJ,
David Mancuso held private underground house parties and was connected that no police raids were conducted in any of his businesses. He did this to create an ample environment for men to dance together without the fear of police action.
<26>Spread and Evolution
J David Mancuso played a pivotal role in development growth and spread of the disco music. In 1970, he established a member’s only club in his residence which attracted a huge number of gays who were being harassed in New York bars by the police. This act made the genre popular among the gay community. In 1974, disco radio show was aired in WPIX- FM.
Apart from Mancuso, there was also other DJS who helped in spreading the music genre including; Nicky Siano, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan, and Walter Gibson. The breakthrough of the disco music came in the late 1970s when disco songs started topping music charts. “Love Train” was the first song to top Billboard Hot 100. In the early 1980s, disco music was becoming very popular globally, and artists who were not primarily disco musicians made some disco songs.
The most notable disco artists had their career peaks in the 1970s. Topping the list is LaDonna Adrian Gaines who went by the stage name Donna Summer. She was also known as Queen of disco, First Lady of Love, Donna Gaines and Dona Sudano. She was active musically since 1968 to 2012 after she met her death.
During her long career, she produced 32 hit songs which earned spots in the US Billboard Hot 100. Some of her hit songs are Lady of the Night, cats without claws, and Crayons which she produced in 2008.
A band by the name KC and the Sunshine band was another big thing in the disco industry. It was formed by Harry Wayne Casey in 1973 and is still active to date. Their all time hit song is known as get down tonight. Other artistes include; Bee Gees, the Chic, Gloria Gaynor, and Boney M.
Cultural Significance and Legacy
Although the genre became less influential in the US in the 1990s, it left a huge impact. The minorities in the society such as gays, the black American, and the Hispanics could make it big in the Music industry. The great Sylvester who was a gay became a megastar who could even hire private jets to tour the world. The fashion taste of disco-goers is still felt to the present day. However, t is in this era that drug abuse and promiscuity hit an all-time high.
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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. But what happened before the 1970s to influence the style of disco that we are so familiar with today? Let’s go back in time and take a look………. The Days Before Disco 1900-1933: In the US, people dance in clubs to a piano or jukebox. Mulberry st.This nightclub scene goes underground with Prohibition until 1933 when nightclubs become popularised again with the use of big bands and swing music. Spring 1939 – The Swing Kids are a small middle-class German youth movement dedicated to jazz and the flamboyant fashion that accompanies the music. They come together to dance and to show off their latest moves and jazz clothes. The Swing Kids are reacting against the growing Nazi movement (which saw jazz culture as a bad influence with it’s ethnic and international culture). Despite being a non-violent refusal of the dominant culture, the group is closed down by the SS (try the movie Swing Kids – 1993- to see the story). In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music and the jitterbug dance are banned by the Nazis. They are labelled as degenerate influences. French Resistance groups meet at hidden underground dance clubs called ‘discotheques’. They dance to swing music played either on a juke box or on a single turntable. Dancers wear zoot suits just like the swing dancers in America. 1942 – La Discotheque, a basement nightclub with only one turntable opens in Paris. The term ‘discotheque’ is used in Europe to describe clubs where there is no live music played.Later in Paris (1947) Paul Pacine opens the Whiskey A-Go-Go club – one of the first ever nightclubs. At Whiskey A-Go-Go in 1953 DJ Regine uses two turntables with no breaks between the music. There is a dance-floor, coloured lights and no juke-box. Late 1950s. Meanwhile in London, coffee bars in Soho become the trendiest places to be seen such as was Les Enfants Terribles at 93 Dean St. However, these cafes are unlicensed. Frequented by French and Italian immigrants, they cater to the very young who want to dance in the afternoon. In 1950s London, the rock and roll hipsters prefer bars and taverns to nightclubs (the nightclub is not really mainstream here until the 1970s). It is early 1960s, and Mark Birley opens a members-only discotheque nightclub, Annabel’s, in Berkeley Square, London. 1961: the US goes Twist crazy. By 1962 New York’s Peppermint Lounge becomes the hip place to be seen twisting the night away on your own or with a partner or two – anything goes. So now people are dancing frequently without a partner. The Peppermint Lounge is witnessing the birth of go-go dancing. In the UK, Roger Earle DJs at The Twisted Earle in Manchester UK, and creates the foundation of the Northern Soul scene (which would have a big impact on Disco).
The Dawn of Disco It is 1965 and Arthur opens in New York City with DJ Terry Noel (the first DJ to mix records). Other clubs such as Regine’s, Le Club, Shepheard’s, Cheetah, Ondine also open in the mid-1960s. Meanwhile over in Europe in 1966 records such as Hold Me Closer and Baby Come Back become hits and kickstart the Eurodisco scene. The club scene in Paris hots up with new clubs named Chez Castel and Chez Regine. New York, 1969, and a club named The Contentinal Baths opens and the Sanctuary opens on West 43rd Street with now legendary DJ Francis Grasso. Jerry Butler’s Only The Strong Survive record is released. It pioneers the Philly Sound that would become one of the most important elements of Disco music history. Such clubs entertain and engage the growing confidence of marginalised groups at this time. African American, lesbian and gay, psychedelic, Latino mix with hipster heterosexuals in the New York City and Philadelphia clubs during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In a decade of growing social fragmentation and lifestyle choices, the reaction against the dominant white rock music and culture in America champions the dance music scene of the jazz heyday. Disco also appeals to women, newly liberated by the pill and feminism now a topic of the modern workplace. Women seek to go out unchaperoned, get dressed up, spend their hard-earned wages and dance the night away to funk, latin and soul music. Many disco sounds and sights also take inspiration from hippy culture elements such as psychedelia, free love, colourful clothing and drug-taking. It is the era of the counter-culture, the dawning of the age of Aquarius and emancipation and freedom. Meanwhile, back in Paris, clubs are playing erotic tracks like Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus and long, smooth tracks such as Isaac Hayes’s Walk On By. By 1970, DJ David Mancuso and his Loft parties begin in New York, becoming a foreunner of many more private clubs to come. His parties are members-only affairs at his home. Early songs hinting at a disco sound include Bla, Bla Diddly (Giorgio Moroder, 1966), You Keep Me Hangin’ On (The Supremes, 1966), Only the Strong Survive (Jerry Butler, 1968), Message to Love (Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, 1970), Soul Makossa (Manu Dibango, 1972), Keep on Truckin’ (Eddie Kendricks,1973) and The Love I Lost (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes,1973). 1971: Disco reaches television with the Soul Train music and dancing show. 1973: the first article about disco is written in by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone.
Disco Dancing 1973: Karen Lustgarten introduces her disco dance lessons in San Francisco. Her book, The Complete Guide to Disco Dancing(Warner Books, 1978), is the first to name, break down and teach popular dances from disco. The book is a bestseller and translated into several languages. Individual styles are choreographed to match the different disco sounds and vocals. The Hustle becomes a common name for a number of stylised moves. This partner-dance uses elaborate hand movements and funky twists and turns, influenced by swing dancing of the 1930s and 40s. Other dances also influence the style of disco dancing such as the Latino moves of Mambo and Salsa. Dancing in a line is popularised first in Florida and then New York City, during the early 1970s. From 1974 – 1977, disco music continues to increase in popularity as many disco songs top the charts. In late 1977 disco fever peaks with the release of the movie Saturday Night Fever. Seen as a marketing tool to broaden disco’s popularity beyond the counter-culture, it is a huge success and the BeeGees soundtrack becomes one of the best-selling albums of all time. In the late 1970s disco becomes firmly fixed into the mainstream pop culture. Existing non-disco songs are frequently given the disco treatment. The rich orchestral accompaniment that identifies with the disco era conjures up the memories of the big band era. In turn, several big band artists record disco arrangements including Perry Como.
1970s Disco fashion Disco fashions are very popular by the mid-1970s. Even Elvis is wearing a flared jumpsuit cut to the navel. Discotheque-goers of New York are wearing expensive and extravagant fashions for nights out: slinky, wrap dresses by Diane von Furstenberg; flowing Halston dresses for women and polyester, patterned Qiana shirts for men with pointy collars, preferably open at the chest. The leisure suit becomes popular with double-knit polyester shirt jackets and matching trousers. The trend for these ready-to-wear accessible couture styles quickly filter down into affordable high street fashion for this anything-goes era of fashion. Men become peacocks displaying bright colours, flamboyant patterns and showy jewellery. For women, 1970s fashion began with a continuation of the mini skirts, bell-bottoms and the androgynous hippie look from the late 1960s. But the 1970s trend for disco brings fashion to a new level of flamboyance. The fashionable turn away from the childlike look of the late 60s to a more sophisticated, sexually-aware and mature style. These styles become part of popular culture until everyone and their grandma is wearing them. Here’s a rundown of these distinct must-have items that have come to define the disco era of the 1970s: Hotpants: A Florida Marlins MermaidHotpants were popular among young women since 1971. These shorts were very tight and very short (as short and as tight as possible). Originally designed to be worn with thick opaque tights, the anything-goes attitude meant that hotpants would get worn any way possible – tights or no tights. Platform shoes: Appearing in fashion in 1971 platform-soled shoes elevated both men and women at least 2-4 inches from the ground. Despite helping to keep wide-long flares from trailing on the ground, there was little practicality in these shoes.
Flared jeans/trousers: Trousers were fast becoming a more popular choice for women in the early 70s. Labels became important as a fashion status symbol with Vanderbilt and Fiorucci jeans becoming must-have items. Trousers are practical and freeing for the liberated working woman. In a departure from the 1960s hipster trousers, styles were high-waisted and tight-fitting around the hips and thighs, flaring out to cover those lofty platform shoes. The width of flares got so silly that people were falling over them whilst getting their platform shoes caught in all the extra fabric. There was a choice of flexible man-made fabrics allowing for anything from the plain white satin look to full psychedelic colours and floral patterns. Flared trousers lost their fashion edge in the mid 1970s, however, and skin-tight trousers became the must-have item for dancing (women) and a more roomy/less structured trouser shape (for men). Three-piece suit: Popularised by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the white polyester suit with matching waistcoat was a new style choice for men. It was often teamed with costume jewellery such as an identity bracelet or medallion pendant worn under an open-to-the-navel shirt. Wide lapels, wide legs and high waists were required and suits could also come in various bright colours to suit the dance floor hues. White also looked great under the ultra-violet lighting that became popular in discos. Wrap dress: The simple stretch-jersey polyester wrap dress was introduced by Diane von Furstenberg in 1972 – also seen in Saturday Night Fever. It was worn with slingback sandals or knee-high boots with chunky heels. It could be worn to the office by day in a plain colour and transformed into a sexy shape by night.
Glitter: It was the decade known for introducing glam and glitter to the masses. Inexpensive man-made fabrics ensured that anyone could afford a bit of glitter in their clothing and people went mad for it. Metallic threads, satin-look, sequins, anything with sparkle and shine was great. Glitter also appeared in the make-up, with girls spreading a glitter gel on their cheeks, lips, eyes. Lip gloss was essential. Eyebrows were also plucked to a thin arched line. Boob-tube: Often sequined, the boob-tube was a stretchy strapless tube worn around the chest and torso, or baring the midriff. Halter neck tops were also a fashion staple at the disco. Dancewear/Leotard: Again this was seen in Saturday Night Fever. From 1974 the leotard became a popular fashion item for the discotheque. Body-conscious silhouettes and a sign that you are serious about disco-dancing and learning the latest moves. You could dress it up with a scarf wrapped around your hips or layer it up with contrasting colours. Much of this type of clothing was actually professional dancewear. Its flexibility was useful for rigourous moves and hot nights on the dancefloor. Polyester spandex clothing had made its way into popular fashion through the dancewear introduced in the 1960s and via the disco dancefloor of the 1970s. Dancewear also showed everyone that you were interested in keeping a fit and toned body – an obsession with it’s roots in the rise of fitness and health clubs and exercising regularly. Jogging and skating and other physical pursuits became very fashionable for those who wanted to look good. The Death of Disco The whole disco look was gradually replaced by Punk Rock anti-fashion in the late 1970s. The disco style was considered too escapist and flamboyant and out of touch with the politics of the day. In the USA anti-disco resentment grew amongst rock fans who began wearing anti-disco slogans on t-shirts. This peaked with the event known as Disco Demolition Night, July 12, 1979. An anti-disco demonstration at Comiskey Park in Chicago took place involving exploding disco records. It ended with a riot as the crowd ripped out seats and tore the place up. Some say the disco backlash was encouraged by music producers who wanted rock to become more popular again. Others have decribed the destruction of disco as a deliberate bigoted attempt to smash the popularisation of a music culture loved by many minority groups in society. However disco lives on in the hearts of many and there will always be a little piece of disco in the soul of everyone who steps into a nightclub today to dance the night away without having to pair up with a partner. Revivals and Eurodisco In the late 1980s, and throughout the 1990s, a revival of the original disco style was popular. By the end of the century many disco-influenced songs were hits. Eurodisco was always more pop-oriented, and less soul-influenced than American style disco. It remained in the pop culture throughout Europe and the UK with groups like ABBA and BoneyM enjoying great success. Such groups remained a significant influence in Europe and the UK throughout the 1980s with such acts as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys, and many successful records released through Stock, Aitken and Waterman in the UK. Disco will always remain popular in music even though the extreme fashion of its heyday has been relegated to history.