Disco never dies or House always wins?

Words by Harry Colquhoun - @harrycolquhoun

Images by Rob Jones at Homobloc - @hirobjones

Disco is, and always will be, popular. It’s music that can get any lead-footed club-goer up and dancing. In the past decade, Disco music has steadily re-emerged into club and dance culture after a long period of dance and electronic music. Original Disco being played in clubs has come back around again as an extension of people’s interest in House music, exploring the original samples of the House tracks that they know and love. To call this popularisation, “a second golden era of disco”, as said by Edward Helmore of the Guardian, is not completely accurate. A true representation of a second era of Disco we would surely being seeing the emergence of new Disco bands, rather than a regurgitation of Disco through popular House music culture.

House and Disco are one-in-the-same, with intertwined DNA; House music was born from sampled Disco tracks. Created by the likes of Larry Levan and Frank Knuckles, their motivation was to fill the vacuum that had been created in dance halls and clubs with the demise of Disco, most famously at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois on Thursday, July 12th, 1979. The burning of Disco records symbolised the change in pop culture from Disco to Rock music.

House music continually expanded as a result of the sampling of Disco tracks, therefore sampled Disco is nothing new, and so what is the reason for why we are now hearing original Disco being played out in our clubs in 2019? An easy and simple answer is that it sounds good! It is a genre that gets people dancing and is purpose-built for the dance floor! Harking back to Dave Mancuso’s Loft party and the early discotheque parties, played by immigrants that had the best music taste. Disco evolved and was made for underground parties that included a whole host of various walks of life. Most notably it’s acceptance of gay relations, it was a powerful tool for social cohesion as well as great music to dance to.

Mr Mendel proposes the idea that the upbeat, melodic feel of Disco could be attractive to club-goers that have been experiencing the hugely popular hard-core, electronic genres such as techno for decades. Mendel suggests that there are always movements and counter-movements and that we’re hearing Disco more now as a result of people wanting something different and happier to dance to.

What has changed is that there is a new generation of club-goers and ravers that are re-discovering these original Disco tracks after hearing them sampled in House music. This change in culture is a leading factor spurring momentum that has brought about the demand for Disco in our clubs and festivals. This younger audience is inquisitive to discover tracks they have not grown up with. This younger audience is intrigued to learn more about the roots of music and with the information so readily available with developments in technology. Increased connectivity and sharing on online platforms such as Soundcloud and Mixcloud are the enablers of the exchange of music knowledge, meaning there is increased accessibility for more people to listen to original Disco tracks or their sample in house music which therefore increases a higher demand for them to be heard live. We can see this rediscovery of older tracks through the increase of vinyl sales. In an article for Rolling Stone, Elias Leight reports that vinyl sales were poised to out-do CD sales, with mid-year 2019 reports $224.1 million for vinyl, nipping at the heels of CD sales at $247.9 million.

In an interview for Skiddle, Graeme Park, renowned for his extensive knowledge of disco and for his thirty-year career as a DJ, said: “A lot of young producers were discovering Salsoul and Philadelphia international Records and sampling them, and then you fast-forward twenty years and a lot of young producers are discovering Salsoul and Philadelphia International and sampling them and reinterpreting them. It’s just a timeless type of music, and it’s made for dance floors, remember, that’s the thing.”

So, what is the future for Disco, and if House is the reason for Disco’s recent popularity with a younger audience, is that a problem? Lino Rodrigues (aka Akalino) believes that there is a revival of Disco every twenty years or so and that it’s popularity is because the genre was made for people to dance to as well as it’s a happy vibe that appeals to anyone. Lino goes on to link the new trend of Vinyl and collecting with wanting to know the roots of House music and enjoy the original samples, some of those being Disco tracks. However, Lino also says, “it will dilute” in regards to the future of Disco and predicts that people will look back in twenty years time and regard some Disco edit tracks as the originals.

Therefore, Disco’s popularity through House could pose the threat of dilution of Disco, people hearing what house producers want them to hear through sampled music. Disco music could never go through a 2nd golden age as it could never surpass the popularity of the electronic genres such as techno and house that were spawned from its own existence and demise. While DJs may play out Disco music in clubs, I believe this to be merely a combination of both what sounds good as well appealing to this underground culture of collecting and playing to original records and tracks.

There is a pattern that emerges of re-discovery and a new interpretation of how these original tracks can be sampled. Disco is here to stay, but not as many remember it to be. We see glimpses, however, it’s popularity will continue to be under the influence of House music. Ironically, Disco’s popularity has become shackled to the very genre that it bore. What we see in our clubs is a mitigated revival of Disco, viewed through the opaque tinting that is House music.

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