Genre of dance music and a subculture that emerged in the 1970s from the United States' urban nightlife scene
Top 10 Disco related articles
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Musical characteristics
- 3 Production
- 4 Club culture
- 5 History
- 5.1 First discotheques
- 5.2 Timeframe and social context for the rise of disco culture in New York
- 5.3 1960s–1973: Precursors and early disco music
- 5.4 1974–1976: Rise to mainstream
- 5.5 1977–1979: Pop preeminence
- 5.6 Late 1970s: Controversy and decline in popularity
- 5.7 1982-1988: Aftermath
- 6 Legacy
- 7 Revival and more mainstream success
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
The ceiling of an Arlington, Texas discothèque
|Cultural origins||Late 1960s – early 1970s, Philadelphia and New York City|
Disco is a genre of dance music and a subculture that emerged in the 1970s from the United States' urban nightlife scene. Its sound is typified by four-on-the-floor beats, syncopated basslines, string sections, horns, electric piano, synthesizers, and electric rhythm guitars.
Well-known disco artists include Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Giorgio Moroder, Boney M., Earth Wind & Fire, the Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Chic, KC and the Sunshine Band, ABBA, Thelma Houston, Sister Sledge, The Trammps, the Village People, and Michael Jackson. While performers garnered public attention, record producers working behind the scenes played an important role in developing the genre. Films such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Thank God It's Friday (1978) contributed to disco's mainstream popularity.
Disco started as a mixture of music from venues popular with African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Italian Americans, and gay men in Philadelphia and New York City during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Disco can be seen as a reaction by the 1960s counterculture to both the dominance of rock music and the stigmatization of dance music at the time. Several dance styles were developed during the period of disco's popularity in the United States, including "the Bump" and "the Hustle".
By the late 1970s, most major U.S. cities had thriving disco club scenes, and DJs would mix dance records at clubs such as Studio 54 in Manhattan, a venue popular among celebrities. Nightclub-goers often wore expensive, extravagant, and sexy fashions. There was also a thriving drug subculture in the disco scene, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine and Quaaludes, the latter being so common in disco subculture that they were nicknamed "disco biscuits". Disco clubs were also associated with promiscuity as a reflection of the sexual revolution of this era in popular history.
Disco declined as a major trend in popular music in the United States following the infamous Disco Demolition Night, and it continued to decline in popularity in the US during the early 1980s; however, it remained popular in Italy and certain European countries throughout the 1980s, and it was a key influence in the development of electronic dance music, house music, hip-hop, new wave, dance-punk, and post-disco. The style has had had several newer scenes since the 1990s, and the influence of disco remains strong across American and European pop music. A current revival, which has experienced great popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic for its fun and escapist nature (aiding the pandemic's mental toll), has been underway since the late 2010s, coming to great popularity with the new decade. Albums that have contributed to this revival include The Slow Rush, Cuz I Love You, Future Nostalgia, Hey U X, What's Your Pleasure?, It Is What It Is and the album by Kylie Minogue itself titled Disco.
Disco Intro articles: 60
The term "disco" is shorthand for the word discothèque, a French word for "library of phonograph records" derived from "bibliothèque". The word "discothèque" had the same meaning in English in the 1950s.
"Discothèque" became used in French for a type of nightclub in Paris, France, after these had resorted to playing records during the Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. Some clubs used it as their proper name. In 1960, it was also used to describe a Parisian nightclub in an English magazine.
In the summer of 1964, a short sleeveless dress called "discotheque dress" was briefly very popular in the United States. The earliest known use for the abbreviated form "disco" described this dress and has been found in The Salt Lake Tribune on July 12, 1964, but Playboy magazine used it in September of the same year to describe Los Angeles nightclubs.
Vince Aletti was one of the first to describe disco as a sound or a music genre. He wrote the feature article "Discotheque Rock Paaaaarty" that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in September 1973.
Disco Etymology articles: 3
The music typically layered soaring, often-reverberated vocals, often doubled by horns, over a background "pad" of electric pianos and "chicken-scratch" rhythm guitars played on an electric guitar. Lead guitar features less frequently in disco than in rock. "The "chicken scratch" sound is achieved by lightly pressing the guitar strings against the fretboard and then quickly releasing them just enough to get a slightly muted poker [sound] while constantly strumming very close to the bridge." Other backing keyboard instruments include the piano, electric organ (during early years), string synthesizers, and electromechanical keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, and Hohner Clavinet. Synthesizers are also fairly common in disco, especially in the late 1970s.
The rhythm is laid down by prominent, syncopated basslines (with heavy use of broken octaves, that is, octaves with the notes sounded one after the other) played on the bass guitar and by drummers using a drum kit, African/Latin percussion, and electronic drums such as Simmons and Roland drum modules. The sound was enriched with solo lines and harmony parts played by a variety of orchestral instruments, such as harp, violin, viola, cello, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn, tuba, English horn, oboe, flute (sometimes especially the alto flute and occasionally bass flute), piccolo, timpani and synth strings, string section or a full string orchestra.
Most disco songs have a steady four-on-the-floor beat, a quaver or semi-quaver hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a heavy, syncopated bass line. Other Latin rhythms such as the rhumba, the samba, and the cha-cha-cha are also found in disco recordings, and Latin polyrhythms, such as a rhumba beat layered over a merengue, are commonplace. The quaver pattern is often supported by other instruments such as the rhythm guitar and may be implied rather than explicitly present.
Songs often use syncopation, which is the accenting of unexpected beats. In general, the difference between disco, or any dance song, and a rock or popular song is that in dance music the bass drum hits four to the floor, at least once a beat (which in 4/4 time is 4 beats per measure). Disco is further characterized by a 16th note division of the quarter notes as shown in the second drum pattern below, after a typical rock drum pattern.
The orchestral sound is usually known as "disco sound" relies heavily on string sections and horns playing linear phrases, in unison with the soaring, often reverberated vocals or playing instrumental fills, while electric pianos and chicken-scratch guitars create the background "pad" sound defining the harmony progression. Typically, all of the doubling of parts and use of additional instruments creates a rich "wall of sound". There are, however, more minimalist flavors of disco with reduced, transparent instrumentation, pioneered by Chic.
Harmonically, disco music typically contains major and minor seven chords, which are found more often in jazz than pop music.
Disco Musical characteristics articles: 44
The "disco sound" was much more costly to produce than many of the other popular music genres from the 1970s. Unlike the simpler, four-piece-band sound of funk, soul music of the late 1960s, or the small jazz organ trios, disco music often included a large band, with several chordal instruments (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer), several drum or percussion instruments (drumkit, Latin percussion, electronic drums), a horn section, a string orchestra, and a variety of "classical" solo instruments (for example, flute, piccolo, and so on).
Disco songs were arranged and composed by experienced arrangers and orchestrators, and record producers added their creative touches to the overall sound using multitrack recording techniques and effects units. Recording complex arrangements with such a large number of instruments and sections required a team that included a conductor, copyists, record producers, and mixing engineers. Mixing engineers had an important role in the disco production process, because disco songs used as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments. Mixing engineers and record producers, under the direction of arrangers, compiled these tracks into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with builds and breaks. Mixing engineers and record producers helped to develop the "disco sound" by creating a distinctive-sounding, sophisticated disco mix.
Early records were the "standard" three-minute version until Tom Moulton came up with a way to make songs longer so that he could take a crowd of dancers at a club to another level and keep them dancing longer. He found that it was impossible to make the 45-RPM vinyl singles of the time longer, as they could usually hold no more than five minutes of good-quality music. With the help of José Rodriguez, his remaster/mastering engineer, he pressed a single on a 10" disc instead of 7". They cut the next single on a 12" disc, the same format as a standard album. Moulton and Rodriguez discovered that these larger records could have much longer songs and remixes. 12" single records, also known as "Maxi singles", quickly became the standard format for all DJs of the disco genre.
Disco Production articles: 20
By the late 1970s most major US cities had thriving disco club scenes. The largest scenes were most notably in New York City but also in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Miami, and Washington, D.C. The scene was centered on discotheques, nightclubs, and private loft parties.
In the 1970s, notable discos included "Crisco Disco", "The Sanctuary", "Leviticus", "Studio 54" and "Paradise Garage" in New York, "Artemis" in Philadelphia, "Studio One" in Los Angeles, "Dugan's Bistro" in Chicago, and "The Library" in Atlanta.
In the late '70s, Studio 54 in Midtown Manhattan was arguably the best known nightclub in the world. This club played a major formative role in the growth of disco music and nightclub culture in general. It was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager and was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon.
In Washington, D.C., large disco clubs such as "The Pier" ("Pier 9") and "The Other Side," originally regarded exclusively as "gay bars," became particularly popular among the capital area's gay and straight college students in the late '70s.
Sound and light equipment
Powerful, bass-heavy, hi-fi sound systems were viewed as a key part of the disco club experience. "Mancuso introduced the technologies of tweeter arrays (clusters of small loudspeakers, which emit high-end frequencies, positioned above the floor) and bass reinforcements (additional sets of subwoofers positioned at ground level) at the start of the 1970s to boost the treble and bass at opportune moments, and by the end of the decade sound engineers such as Richard Long had multiplied the effects of these innovations in venues such as the Garage."
Disco-era disc jockeys (DJs) would often remix existing songs using reel-to-reel tape machines, and add in percussion breaks, new sections, and new sounds. DJs would select songs and grooves according to what the dancers wanted, transitioning from one song to another with a DJ mixer and using a microphone to introduce songs and speak to the audiences. Other equipment was added to the basic DJ setup, providing unique sound manipulations, such as reverb, equalization, and echo effects unit. Using this equipment, a DJ could do effects such as cutting out all but the bassline of a song and then slowly mixing in the beginning of another song using the DJ mixer's crossfader. Notable U.S. disco DJs include Francis Grasso of The Sanctuary, David Mancuso of The Loft, Frankie Knuckles of the Chicago Warehouse, Larry Levan of the Paradise Garage, Nicky Siano, Walter Gibbons, Karen Mixon Cook, Jim Burgess, John "Jellybean" Benitez, Richie Kulala of Studio 54 and Rick Salsalini.
Some DJs were also record producers who created and produced disco songs in the recording studio. Larry Levan, for example, was a prolific record producer as well as a DJ. Because record sales were often dependent on dance floor play by DJs in leading nightclubs, DJs were also influential for the development and popularization of certain types of disco music being produced for record labels.
In the early years, dancers in discos danced in a "hang loose" or "freestyle" approach. At first, many dancers improvised their own dance styles and dance steps. Later in the disco era, popular dance styles were developed, including the "Bump", "Penguin", "Boogaloo", "Watergate" and "Robot". By October 1975 the Hustle reigned. It was highly stylized, sophisticated and overtly sexual. Variations included the Brooklyn Hustle, New York Hustle and Latin Hustle.
During the disco era, many nightclubs would commonly host disco dance competitions or offer free dance lessons. Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools, which taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing", "the hustle", and "the cha cha". The pioneer of disco dance instruction was Karen Lustgarten in San Francisco in 1973. Her book The Complete Guide to Disco Dancing (Warner Books 1978) was the first to name, break down and codify popular disco dances as dance forms and distinguish between disco freestyle, partner and line dances. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list for 13 weeks and was translated into Chinese, German and French.
In Chicago, the Step By Step disco dance TV show was launched with the sponsorship support of the Coca-Cola company. Produced in the same studio that Don Cornelius used for the nationally syndicated dance/music television show, Soul Train, Step by Step's audience grew and the show became a success. The dynamic dance duo of Robin and Reggie led the show. The pair spent the week teaching disco dancing to dancers in the disco clubs. The instructional show aired on Saturday mornings and had a strong following. The viewers of this would stay up all night on Fridays so they could be on the set the next morning, ready to return to the disco on Saturday night knowing with the latest personalized dance steps. The producers of the show, John Reid and Greg Roselli, routinely made appearances at disco functions with Robin and Reggie to scout out new dancing talent and promote upcoming events such as "Disco Night at White Sox Park".
In Sacramento, California, Disco King Paul Dale Roberts danced for the Guinness Book of World Records. Roberts danced for 205 hours which is the equivalent of 8 ½ days. Other dance marathons took place after Roberts held the world's record for disco dancing for a short period of time.
Some notable professional dance troupes of the 1970s included Pan's People and Hot Gossip. For many dancers, a key source of inspiration for 1970s disco dancing was the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). This developed into the music and dance style of such films as Fame (1980), Disco Dancer (1982), Flashdance (1983), and The Last Days of Disco (1998). Interest in disco dancing also helped spawn dance competition TV shows such as Dance Fever (1979).
Disco fashions were very trendy in the late 1970s. Discothèque-goers often wore glamorous, expensive, and extravagant fashions for nights out at their local disco club. Some women would wear sheer, flowing dresses, such as Halston dresses or loose, flared pants. Other women wore tight, revealing, sexy clothes, such as backless halter tops, disco pants, "hot pants", or body-hugging spandex bodywear or "catsuits". Men would wear shiny polyester Qiana shirts with colorful patterns and pointy, extra wide collars, preferably open at the chest. Men often wore Pierre Cardin suits, three piece suits with a vest and double-knit polyester shirt jackets with matching trousers known as the leisure suit. Men's leisure suits were typically form-fitted in some parts of the body, such as the waist and bottom, but the lower part of the pants were flared in a bell bottom style, to permit freedom of movement.
During the disco era, men engaged in elaborate grooming rituals and spent time choosing fashion clothing, both activities that would have been considered "feminine" according to the gender stereotypes of the era. Women dancers wore glitter makeup, sequins, or gold lamé clothing that would shimmer under the lights. Bold colors were popular for both genders. Platform shoes and boots for both genders and high heels for women were popular footwear. Necklaces and medallions were a common fashion accessory. Less commonly, some disco dancers wore outlandish costumes, dressed in drag, covered their bodies with gold or silver paint, or wore very skimpy outfits leaving them nearly nude; these uncommon get-ups were more likely to be seen at invitation-only New York City loft parties and disco clubs.
In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving club drug subculture, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud, bass-heavy music and the flashing colored lights, such as cocaine (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite ("poppers"), and the "... other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and gave the sensation that one's arms and legs had turned to 'Jell-O.'" Quaaludes were so popular at disco clubs that the drug was nicknamed "disco biscuits".
Paul Gootenberg states that "[t]he relationship of cocaine to 1970s disco culture cannot be stressed enough..." During the 1970s, the use of cocaine by well-to-do celebrities led to its "glamorization" and to the widely held view that it was a "soft drug". LSD, marijuana, and "speed" (amphetamines) were also popular in disco clubs, and the use of these drugs "...contributed to the hedonistic quality of the dance floor experience." Since disco dances were typically held in liquor licensed-nightclubs and dance clubs, alcoholic drinks were also consumed by dancers; some users intentionally combined alcohol with the consumption of other drugs, such as Quaaludes, for a stronger effect.
Eroticism and sexual liberation
According to Peter Braunstein, the "massive quantities of drugs ingested in discothèques produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of 'main course' in a hedonist's menu for a night out." At The Saint nightclub, a high percentage of the gay male dancers and patrons would have sex in the club; they typically had unprotected sex, because in 1980, HIV-AIDS had not yet been identified. At The Saint, "dancers would elope to an un[monitored] upstairs balcony to engage in sex." The promiscuity and public sex at discos was part of a broader trend towards exploring a freer sexual expression in the 1970s, an era that is also associated with "swingers clubs, hot tubs, [and] key parties."
In his paper, "In Defense of Disco" (1979), Richard Dyer claims eroticism as one of the three main characteristics of disco. As opposed to rock music which has a very phallic centered eroticism focusing on the sexual pleasure of men over other persons, Dyer describes disco as featuring a non-phallic full body eroticism. Through a range of percussion instruments, a willingness to play with rhythm, and the endless repeating of phrases without cutting the listener off, disco achieved this full body eroticism by restoring eroticism to the whole body for both sexes. This allowed for the potential expression of sexualities not defined by the cock/penis, and the erotic pleasure of bodies that are not defined by a relationship to a penis. The sexual liberation expressed through the rhythm of disco is further represented in the club spaces that disco grew within.
In Peter Shapiro's Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound, he discusses eroticism through the technology disco utilizes to create it's audacious sound. The music, Shapiro states, is adjunct to "the pleasure-is-politics ethos of post-Stonewall culture." He explains how "mechano-eroticism," which links the technology used to create the unique mechanical sound of disco to eroticism, sets the genre in a new dimension of reality living outside of naturalism and heterosexuality.
He uses Donna Summer's singles "Love to Love You Baby" (1975) and "I Feel Love" (1977) as examples of the ever present relationship between the synthesized bass lines and backgrounds to the simulated sounds of orgasms Summers echoes in the tracks, and likens them to the drug-fervent, sexually liberated fans of disco who sought to free themselves through disco's "aesthetic of machine sex." Shapiro sees this as an influence that creates sub-genres like hi-NRG and dub-disco, which allowed for eroticism and technology to be further explored through intense synth bass lines and alternative rhythmic techniques that tap into the entire body rather than the obvious erotic parts of the body.
The New York nightclub The Sanctuary under resident DJ Francis Grasso is a prime example of this sexual liberty. In their history of the disc jockey and club culture, Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton describe the Sanctuary as "poured full of newly liberated gay men, then shaken (and stirred) by a weighty concoction of dance music and pharmacoia of pills and potions, the result is a festivaly of carnality." The Sanctuary was the "first totally uninhibited gay discotheque in America" and while sex was not allowed on the dancefloor, the dark corners, the bathrooms and the hallways of the adjacent buildings were all utilized for orgy like sexual engagements.
By describing the music, drugs and liberated mentality as a trifecta coming together to create the festival of carnality, Brewster and Broughton are inciting all three as stimuli for the dancing, sex and other embodied movements that contributed to the corporeal vibrations within the Sanctuary. This supports the argument that the disco music took a role in facilitating this sexual liberation that was experienced in the discotheques. Further, this coupled with the recent legalization of abortions, the introduction of antibiotics and the pill all facilitated a culture shift around sex from one of procreation to pleasure and enjoyment fostering a very sex positive framework around discotheques. Given that at this time all instances of oral and anal gay sex were considered deviant and illegal acts in New York state, this sexual freedom can be considered quite liberatory and resistant to dominant oppressive structures.
Further, in addition to gay sex being illegal in New York state, until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as an illness. This law and classification coupled together can be understood to have heavily dissuaded the expression of queerness in public, as such the liberatory dynamics of discotheques can be seen as having provided space for self-realization for queer persons. David Mancuso's club/house party, The Loft, was described as having a "pansexual attitude [that] was revolutionary in a country where up until recently it had been illegal for two men to dance together unless there was a woman present; where women were legally obliged to wear at least one recognizable item of female clothing in public; and where men visiting gay bars usually carried bail money with them."