(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
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?