The closest thing music has ever had to a stock-market bubble popped in 1979. Two years after Saturday Night Fever came out and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was beamed down from whatever planet it was conceived on, music in America basically meant disco.
In the two years between 1977 and 1979, 30 out of 38 US No 1 singles were disco tracks. It was a fever that had swept from the basement clubs of New York across the US and out into a world waiting for its fast-tempo, four-on-the-floor rhythms and grooves so big that, in the words of the immortal Kool and the Gang, they seemed to “fulfil all your dreams”.
And then, with a sound no louder than a 12in single snapping, things changed. Rock music kicked back against a genre they said had grown puffed up, self-serving. Chicago DJ Steve Dahl organised a Disco Demolition Night at the White Sox baseball stadium. Dahl blew up a bag of disco vinyl. People ran on to the pitch burning records and chanting “disco sucks”. The game was cancelled. Shaking his head, Nile Rodgers of Chic called it “censorship”, comparing it to Nazi book burning.
You sort of hope that Rodgers (hopefully wearing flares) has been smirking into his champagne this week. For the song he produced and partially wrote for electro duo Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”, went straight to number No 1 three weeks ago. Spotify reports that it is its most-streamed new song on record. It also just happens to be a big fat, sparkly disco tune.
Rodgers’s guitar riff and Pharrell Williams’s falsetto combine to make a song that wouldn’t have the punters of the Eighties’ Studio 54 nightclub even look up from the line of cocaine they were about to cut. The sonic palette is all there – it is not a pastiche, though, it is disco crossed with pop and something entirely of itself. Not everyone will approve of it. But there is no denying that it is a Zeitgeist moment. Disco is now a word on the lips of the young.
Daft Punk didn’t invent Disco 2.0, though. For the past four or five years, there has been a growing underground scene playing New York classics alongside darker Italo (which originated in Italy) and German disco all around the UK. What started on the gay scene, in places such as Horse Meat Disco, soon osmosed out to mixed nights such as at the Electric Chair in Manchester.
Ben Pistor started one of London’s most popular nights, Disco Bloodbath, in 2007. Like so many trends in music, it began in opposition to another. “In 2007, London’s clubs were dominated by techno and minimal, it was cold. We wanted to do something different, create a party atmosphere.” And they did. It is not unusual for people to queue for an hour to get into one of Ben’s parties.
Hints of its traditional aesthetic are appearing on the high street. American Apparel’s £70 disco pants are as unforgiving as they are popular. Worn to death by Jessie J and fashion bloggers alike, they have been bestsellers for the brand for more than two years. Disco chic is also starting to be found on the catwalks. Jonathan Saunders’s spring/summer ’13 collection features iridescent, reflective panels and Burberry’s latest featured white flares and coloured metallic trenches.
You don’t need to splurge on a £1,200 jacket to go to the new disco nights, though. In fact, as was the case in New York in the Seventies, this is music which is emanating from times of uncertainty and economic chill. It seems almost redundant to say it, but the music offers an escape from that. Tim Fox, a regular at disco nights across the capital, sums it up thus: “People are tired of cerebral forms of dance music, the hard slog. Disco offers a laugh, a relief from tension. It is warm music for cold times.” It seems the beat really does go on.