(FABER £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Turn the Beat Around by Peter Shapiro

Disco, the glittering beast on sateen wings

While the period of dancefloor evolution which culminated in The Village People tends to be remembered for its "cheery music of air-headed levity", Shapiro portrays it in rather more formal terms. At once "the last gasp of the integrationist drive" and a sybaritic jig on the grave of unfulfilled Sixties dreams, disco was, he argues, "both utopia and hell". And while Shapiro is not immune to the temptations of writerly overkill which are opened up by such grand dualities (at one point he describes his subject matter as "this glittering beast that eventually rose on sateen wings from the burrows of the Big Apple's worm-eaten core"), the great strength of his fascinating and authoritative book is the extent to which it eschews such baroque flourishes in favour of meticulous specificity and the unfashionable urge to be objective.

Shapiro wisely opts to treat disco as a monument to be excavated rather than a blank canvas to be daubed upon. He first uncovers some entertainingly strange foundations, in the form of late-Sixties New York nitespots like Salvation! - where "women sporting Native American chic attempted to do the boogaloo to The Doors" under the watchful eye of a limbo instructor from Trinidad - and, better still, Cerebrum. On arrival at the latter unlikely pleasure palace, someone dressed in a space suit would ask to you to remove all your clothes before supplying you with a silken hooded toga, a glass of water and a large plate of marshmallows.

The temperature gradually increases as Turn the Beat Around moves smoothly from the dying embers of the hippie counter-culture to the white heat of gay liberation. Shapiro guides the reader with an admirably steady hand through the "coitus cloisters" of the sexed-up New York and San Franciscan undergrounds which provided the launch pad for disco's increasingly frenzied pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Even the arresting vision of Bette Midler performing salacious old blues numbers to an orgiastically inclined bath-house with her pianist (the young Barry Manilow) clad only in a towel, cannot faze him.

However amusing the potential distraction - from the wife of Canadian prime-minister Pierre Trudeau losing her underwear, to gay disco overlord Sylvester's formative years in a cross-dressing hippie revue called The Cockettes, whose bearded constituents attired themselves as "bizarre combinations of Carmen Miranda and Robinson Crusoe" - the music always comes first. While the wealth of technical detail Shapiro supplies about vari-speed turntables and experimental remix techniques at the Paradise Garage can sometimes be a little intimidating, it is certainly good to know that the unique sound of the Philadelphia International rhythm section was dependent on a rubber band wrapped around the bass strings and a wallet left on the snare drum. And the author's determination to ground such sonic developments in the sobering economic and social realities of the Seventies gives his musicological insights an additional kick.

The chapter tracing the development of the Smiley Face from morale-boosting initiative at the State Mutual Insurance company of Worcester, Mass, to stark emblem of repressive Nixonian consensus, recurring throughout the lyrical landscape of Seventies soul like some awful grinning spectre, is a particularly masterly piece of exposition. And once this book starts to tug away at the ironies with which disco's history is replete - such as the fact that Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers originally wrote glitterball anthem "Le Freak" as a protest after being refused admission to Studio 54, or the revelation that the original inspiration for the Nik Cohn magazine article which became Saturday Night Fever was actually a mod from Shepherd's Bush - they unravel faster than a pair of macramé hotpants snagged on a broken roller-skate.

Though he writes as a fan, Shapiro is by no means blind to the absurdities of his subject matter. Hence his memorable definition of Eurodisco as music in which "the nightmare vision of a unified Europe was realised: the Germans were the drummers, the Belgians were the bassists, the Swedes were the singers, the French and the Italians were the producers, and every- one but the British wrote the English-language lyrics."

Of course, there's no easier indulgence than laughing at the excesses of the past, but by boldly outlawing that ever-present "I" which currently underpins so much lazy critical writing, Turn the Beat Around also turns a much-needed spotlight on to the narcissism of our own times. And the fact that you don't know if Shapiro personally danced at all of the places he describes or none of them only intensifies the pleasure generated by the immediacy of those descriptions.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory