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Disco Doesn't Suck
May 13, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Stayin in Black. What the hell just happened here?
posted by timsteil (42 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 


From thirty-plus years on, the whitest, mainstreamest of disco doesn't seem that different from white-boy hard rock. Which doesn't surprise me: as someone who likes both, disco hate has come off as a cultural signifier more than a matter of musical taste since I was old enough to figure out the difference.
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Here is Wax Audio's SoundCloud page, if you'd like to just listen to and/or download this and other mashups.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:31 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]




Previously.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:45 AM on May 13


This could be a really useful teaching tool for me, in the sense that its sometimes hard to get students who have no direct memory of the anti-disco backlash in the US to believe that anti-disco sentiment had much to do with race and sexuality. The stylistic overlap evidenced in this video says something about how similar vocal styles had vastly different reception histories in the 80s and 90s.
posted by LMGM at 9:19 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Wax Audio is really good at this.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:20 AM on May 13


that its sometimes hard to get students who have no direct memory of the anti-disco backlash in the US to believe that anti-disco sentiment had much to do with race and sexuality

hmm?

I'm sure that race and sexuality had something to do with the anti-disco backlash of the late 70s, but please don't imply that the overall musical/cultural experience of it very much did suck big time. By which I mean, in a very short period (1974-77), this fresh new sound went from being a nice part of the overall mix that made for the pop music stew of the time to THE OVERWHELMING DOMINANT ingredient, to the extent that you couldn't really taste anything else (kind of like a recipe with way too much cilantro). Add to this the fact that, as always with pop trends, the stuff that got the most exposure was usually the thinnest in terms of genuine quality, and you ended up with a perfect storm of SUCK by about 1978.

DISCO HAD TO GO.

As an example, in my town (Vancouver), the preeminent rock station in town went from a broad mix of styles in early 1977 to proudly 100-percent disco by early 1978. This in an age when there was no internet, no campus/community radio options. Seriously. When Bruce Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town, it barely got played on the radio at all. And good luck hearing any non-disco black music like Bob Marley, or Funkadelic, or James Brown. Or for that matter anything from David Bowie's two 1977 releases (Low and Heroes).

It sucked.
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


As an astute observer of American cultural history, I have long believed that America was at the pinnacle of greatness till the downfall of disco and the disappearance of the Rat Pack ...back then, we had no global warming that got into the papers; no nutter jihadists; Goggle et al tracking our every move, with the gift to NSA of our private meta data; no texting while driving and drinking, and on and on....what is to be done?
Why not a re-enactment at THIS PLACE?
posted by Postroad at 10:05 AM on May 13


My memory of "Disco Sucks" was that it came from rockers and wasn't, in any way, a mainstream backlash.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:22 AM on May 13


That which has been heard cannot be unheard.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:28 AM on May 13


My gripe with it is, it killed the era of classic soul. Artists like Little Beaver were, overnight, shit out of luck in the music business.
posted by thelonius at 10:32 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]




that its sometimes hard to get students who have no direct memory of the anti-disco backlash in the US to believe that anti-disco sentiment had much to do with race and sexuality

We all had Disco Sucks bumper stickers in middle school, and cards signed by Dick the Bruiser himself.

We were also country kids who didn't even know gay existed, and had know idea that disco had black roots. To us disco was variety shows with dorky 40-year old white men in polyester suits and bad hair. And "disco sucks" was a fun slogan for a season or two.

For us, anti-disco sentiment had almost nothing to do with either race or sexuality.
posted by kanewai at 12:03 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


In the rural area I lived in, the Disco Sucks sentiment was not about race, and if anyone was gay, they sure didn't talk about it.

It was just the utter pretentiousness of the scene. It seemed all the worst people embraced it. The jocks, and their makeup queen girlfriends would dress up and pretend they were in Saturday Night Fever.

Also, as a musician, disco just seemed so vapid. It wasn't about anything but mindless fun. I always expected a little message meat on the bone when it came to songs

In the years since I have developed a nostalgic fondness for it, and look at guys like Nile Rodgers as a damn near god. But back then, it just seemed like cotton candy for the ears.
posted by timsteil at 12:18 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


My Brain Just Broke...
posted by djdrue at 12:18 PM on May 13


I hated disco because I couldn't dance, but I could thrash! Now, that I can do neither, I enjoy more music.
posted by breadbox at 1:35 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


If you hated disco for reasons that are completely free of racial, gender, and sexual considerations: hooray for you, I guess. But the racist, homophobic (and often also genderphobic) dimensions of the US anti-disco backlash are there are very well documented by a number of historians at this point. The best reading on this would probably be Alice Echols's Hot Stuff, in which Echols closely traces contemporary American representations of disco in public culture while also uncovering how a group of rock-oriented radio DJs and music critics made explicit plans to exploit these sexual and racial associations to undermine the disco industry (which did not occur to anywhere near the same extent outside of the US, by the way). The choice of the verb "to suck" for the anti-disco slogan was not chosen at random by these radio disc jockeys. Later, disco was explicitly associated with derogatory representations of gay men in a number of early punk 'zines (in which disco was usually positioned as punk's mortal enemy), and that was just the tip of the iceberg. By the mid-80's, disco's downfall dovetailed conveniently with the AIDS crisis in a way that was picked up by politicians and cultural commentators alike, mixing together themes of cultural and biological sterility, artificiality, disease, and cultural decadence to form a political punching bag for America's post-70s hangover. Books by Tim Lawrence and Peter Shapiro also attest to this and document it in close detail. In addition, you can look to essays by Richard Dyer, Nadine Hubbs, Gillian Frank, Walter Hughes, Carolyn Krasnow, or Frank Rose for further historical analysis (all easily found on Google Scholar along with "disco" as a keyword).

So, I'd suggest some further reading before dismissing offhand the messy cultural politics of disco. Just because you didn't personally experience it, doesn't mean it didn't have very real, concrete, and lasting consequences for disco's founding communities.
posted by LMGM at 2:12 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


We were also country kids who didn't even know gay existed, and had know idea that disco had black roots.
posted by kanewai

In the rural area I lived in, the Disco Sucks sentiment was not about race, and if anyone was gay, they sure didn't talk about it.
posted by timsteil


You both realize that the 'disco sucks' meme wasn't born fully form in your rural areas like Aphrodite from Zeus' head, right? That it came to you from urban areas and that homophobia and racism where in fact parts of its genesis, and were reinforced by your transmission of the meme, whether or not you picked up on it?
posted by signal at 2:27 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


If you hated disco for reasons that are completely free of racial, gender, and sexual considerations: hooray for you, I guess

If you want to paint everybody who didn't have your exact same experience with the culture as you as some sort of ignorant racist homophobe, hooray for you. I guess.
posted by timsteil at 2:31 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Hooray for everyone!
posted by eykal at 2:55 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Well, I'm old enough to have lived AND worked in radio during "the Disco Era" (I assisted an L.A. DJ who more than once asked me "Do we HAVE to play the Bee Gees again?"), and to me, Disco was primarily an example of appropriation and watering-down of Black Culture, just as "Camp" was primarily appropriation and watering-down of Gay Culture (with the Village People at the epicenter of the two trends). There were certainly TWO different groups hating Disco Music, one which thought it was TOO Black and another considering it TOO White (with similar divides between the TOO Gay and TOO Striaght arguers).

So the real problem with Disco was that, by making something "everybody could like" (resulting in a temporary domination), it became something "everybody could HATE" (thus the strong backlash).

And that's everything you need to know about the '70s.

BTW, during my mid-80s association with seminal New Wave radio station KROQ, I also heard from multiple DJs - who had previously worked Rock formats - "most of this stuff is just relabeled Disco".
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:01 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The choice of the verb "to suck" for the anti-disco slogan was not chosen at random by these radio disc jockeys.

ummm, you're right. It was picked up by the DJs from the various punters who were mucking around hating what had happened to their cool rock radio. Disco "sucked" because that's what things did in those days that you didn't like. As for "suck" having a homophobic connotation, I remember being ten (in 1970) and my dad pointing out to me that to say someone "sucks" was to suggest that they were a male homosexual. But I kept saying it, not because I was homophobic, but because that's what everybody else said. It was common parlance at the time.

For the record, New Wave and Punk Rock also sucked, if you happened not to like them.

Later, disco was explicitly associated with derogatory representations of gay men in a number of early punk 'zines (in which disco was usually positioned as punk's mortal enemy), and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe. But bear in mind that everything was punk's mortal enemy, punk being a full-on negation of ALL mainstream culture. So it feels like cherrypicking to just focus on the disco suckage.

By the mid-80's, disco's downfall dovetailed conveniently with the AIDS crisis

disco didn't downfall in the mid-80s; that happened in 1978-80. But like every other relevant form of music, it never really died, just laid low, mutated etc. So by the mid-80s, you had monster gay disco hits like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax and Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy. Indeed, if anything the rise of AIDS through the early and mid-80s seemed to coincide with a powerful resurgence in big deal dance floor music ... which wasn't really getting called "disco" anymore, but it sure felt like it (in a mostly good way)

in a way that was picked up by politicians and cultural commentators alike, mixing together themes of cultural and biological sterility, artificiality, disease, and cultural decadence to form a political punching bag for America's post-70s hangover.

you quote a lot of sources which I don't have time to argue with, but trust me, I was there the whole time, and the sum total of your argument sincerely feels like it's massively missing the point.
posted by philip-random at 3:07 PM on May 13


You both realize that the 'disco sucks' meme wasn't born fully form in your rural areas like Aphrodite from Zeus' head, right? That it came to you from urban areas and that homophobia and racism where in fact parts of its genesis, and were reinforced by your transmission of the meme, whether or not you picked up on it?

Wow. I was offering my own experience not to say that there wasn't racism and homophobia, but that that wasn't the whole story. Dorky country kids never get mentioned in the essays, but we were the ones listening to Detroit rock stations and wearing the t-shirts. That seems to be left out of the essays and the new meme (Disco Sucks = Racist and Phobic).
posted by kanewai at 3:10 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


And for a touch of irony: we all agreed disco sucks, but a lot of us listened to The Electrifying Mojo on late night radio and watched Soul Train on Saturday afternoons. If someone had told us these things were connected we probably wouldn't have believed them.

And the video in the first link might have melted our minds.
posted by kanewai at 3:15 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


This is going to make CPR training a bit more challenging.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:30 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]




kanewai: "Dorky country kids never get mentioned in the essays, but we were the ones listening to Detroit rock stations and wearing the t-shirts."

I think this follows two general academic habits of 1) ignoring the countryside most of the time, and 2) of describing as -ist anything which is -ist in part. So if something is -ist for the majority, but not -ist for a minority, it's -ist. And if it's -ist for a minority, but not -ist for the majority, it's also -ist.

Also, since when was prog dethroned by disco as punk's mortal enemy?
posted by Bugbread at 5:06 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I'll tell you what happened here. One of the four thousand songs to appropriate the riff from Back In Black which goes with practically everything. Seriously. This rises to the level of let me google that for you.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:07 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


(oh yeah, and in the words of Mojo Nixon, Disco Still Sucks)
posted by lumpenprole at 5:07 PM on May 13


Uncle Ira: I'll leave this here to go with the other things that were left here.

That is amazing. I love that the language (ASL?) has signs for both the male and female varieties.
posted by mosessis at 6:18 PM on May 13


I had forgotten about that 50 Cent/Jehovah Witness mashup. It remains one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever, well, witnessed.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:02 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]




Yo I'm hella stoned but here's some shit:

I make a good part of my living in 2014 writing disco (or what the kids call disco house, but starting from nothing instead of sampling vinyls, so I'm writing and playing live bass and recording live string sections and lyrics from scratch and stuff) and its influences work their way into lots of other things I work on because... because it makes me happy :(

I guess it's uncool to like it without some kind of ironic detachment; I like rock and country and grindcore and AFX and Mahler and psytrance and Raffi and musicals and Iron Maiden and Hindemith and Bob Dylan and Beyoncé too, but I know I'm still a big dorkwad for genuinely enjoying this particularly cheesy genre and, heaven forfend, even making more of it!

You know, since it's scientifically proven to suck and be tasteless because it was crazy popular 40 years ago and it's too black and too white and too gay and too straight and too much and too little and why does the beard guy sing like a girl and oh god do you have to wear rollerskates to dance to this stuff?

Looking forward to 30 years from now, when I can read a discussion where people are talking about "the bad old days of '10s dubstep" from my couch where I'm snuggling with my future dog, who I will feed (unless it's a robot dog or something) by writing "retro oldies" Skrillex* pastiche, and having an absolute blast with screaming oscillator-sync wobble basses and half-time beats made out of shotguns and car accidents.

In conclusion: Music is awesome let's totally fight about it

More conclusion: Yes, B.i.B. is totally the Guile's Theme of rock, everything truly goes with it. But this REALLY goes with it, Wax honestly is a badass.


* Yes I know, Skrillex is "not real dubstep" whatever don't care still gonna do it
posted by jake at 11:57 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Write disco, get paid! Ask me how.
posted by thelonius at 4:35 AM on May 14


you quote a lot of sources which I don't have time to argue with, but trust me, I was there the whole time, and the sum total of your argument sincerely feels like it's massively missing the point.

You were there? The whole time? Everywhere disco was happening, even though you didn't like it?

LMGM is writing some of the most authoritative sources on this topic, based on over a decade of frankly impeccable research. Dismissing him out of hand like this only confirms his arguments.
posted by umbú at 7:34 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


umbú: "You were there? The whole time? Everywhere disco was happening, even though you didn't like it?"

I think by "there" he meant "the 70s", and by "the whole time" he meant "the entirety of disco becoming popular and then waning".

But, setting that aside, the issue is simply that you, and your sources, have certain parameters by which the sentiment of a group of people, both racist and non-racist, homophobic and non-homophobic, can be considered "much to do" with racism or homophobia. Some commenters here have different parameters. It's not really an "I was there, so you're wrong" or "Scholarly researchers have researched, so you're wrong" issue. Can we not just agree that perhaps the initiators of the anti-disco backlash were racists and homophobes, and many people later involved were not?
posted by Bugbread at 8:16 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


"You were there? The whole time? Everywhere disco was happening, even though you didn't like it?"

what bugbread said about "the entirety of disco becoming popular and then waning", but with regard to the "even though I didn't like it" part, it must be remembered that (as I suggested in an earlier comment), these weren't just pre-digital times, they were also pretty much pre-alternative media times. So yeah, unless you were going to just stay home and read books, you were going to encounter the music they called disco -- on the radio, on TV, in movies, playing in the background at the mall. It's difficult to even compare it to anything today, because the culture (and its many options for access) has become so much more fragmented.

Looking forward to 30 years from now, when I can read a discussion where people are talking about "the bad old days of '10s dubstep"

See what I just said about fragmentation and lack of options. Hell, in the mid-late 70s, we didn't even have Sony Walkmans yet. You were stuck with the soundtrack that the greater world was imposing whether you wanted it or not, and for an agonizing while, in my comparably progressive town of one million plus, that soundtrack was overwhelmingly disco.

LMGM is writing some of the most authoritative sources on this topic, based on over a decade of frankly impeccable research. Dismissing him out of hand like this only confirms his arguments.

it occurs to me I've got some reading to do, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm effectively being told that I didn't actually live through what I lived through, that it doesn't skew with the research. That's always going to get my back up, because where I come from, lived experience has to trump retrospective research.

Final thought. I don't for a moment want to imply that those times weren't horrifically homophobic. They were, and likely worse and more ubiquitously so than anyone living now in the so-called Western World could imagine.
posted by philip-random at 10:01 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


It's also helpful to remember that on the outside (which was most of the country), "disco" was exemplified by Deney Tereio and Dance Fever. Very white (I think I saw one woman of color on the stage, over on the right hand side), and assertively hetero-normative.
posted by kanewai at 12:46 PM on May 14


See what I just said about fragmentation and lack of options. Hell, in the mid-late 70s, we didn't even have Sony Walkmans yet. You were stuck with the soundtrack that the greater world was imposing whether you wanted it or not, and for an agonizing while, in my comparably progressive town of one million plus, that soundtrack was overwhelmingly disco.

Definitely. That's why I love revival stuff, because the people who are sick of listening to it nonstop in the greater context of "owning a radio or TV" are out of the equation, and it can become charming again. If I put on a disco CD in my car, people are like "haha awesome, DO THE HUSTLE!" instead of "oh god change the station I hate this shit" People are free to appreciate it for its musical qualities instead of having to put up a (totally understandable) social front and hating on something because of overexposure.

I'm just wary of falling in with the wrong crowd of cool kids, where they only like some old thing ironically, then when I "come out of the closet" as actually genuinely enjoying it and feeling it has legit redeeming qualities, they're like "you can't be serious". Oh, I assure you, I'm serious! Listen to those fuckin' bass grooves! Holy shit!

Then we can't be friends anymore because that's their Dealbreaker

So I need some friends who aren't elitist, closed-minded imaginary straw men
posted by jake at 5:08 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


then when I "come out of the closet" as actually genuinely enjoying it and feeling it has legit redeeming qualities, they're like "you can't be serious".

People usually think I play the intro to 'Wanted Dead or Alive' ironically. It's interesting to watch their faces morph as I play and sing the whole song, including the solo, with actual emotion.
posted by signal at 6:49 PM on May 14


I recall hating Disco for the music and no other reason. I graduated high school in 1978 right at the peak of Disco and race and sexuality had zero to do with my disliking it. It simply seemed weak and repetitive and I hated the ultra-ubiquitous (white,male) Bee Gees and wondered what happened to the Sex Pistols who released that cool record in '76. A couple years later the world swung over to my way of thinking.
posted by telstar at 12:32 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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