The return of disco

Dust off your medallions, sequins and mirror ball, disco is staging a comeback. By Marcus O'Dair

From supplement front covers to a breathless 9.1 out of 10 from otherwise austere webzine Pitchfork, the self-titled debut from Hercules And Love Affair caused something of a sensation upon its release this spring. In part, this was because it featured the voice of one Anthony Hegarty in a setting markedly different from the fractured torch songs he created with his Mercury-winning Johnsons. Yet a good deal of the fuss was simply because the album was picking up critical plaudits despite being, to all intents and purposes, a disco record. Wasn't this the wedding-fodder genre also called home by Gloria Gaynor, John Travolta, and even the Village People?

Indeed it was – and it's been a no-go zone ever since the genre's late 1970s. Consumed by a virulent "disco sucks" campaign, that decade actually culminated with the destruction of thousands of records at the so-called Disco Demolition Night in Chicago's Comiskey Park. "It went out of favour in an extreme way, in a way that you never really found in other musical forms. So as modern listeners, a lot of us were set up to write it off as cheesy, hokey whatever," explains Andrew Butler, the brains behind Hercules And Love Affair.

In fact, Radio 1 DJ and self-confessed disco-lover Rob Da Bank explains, there's a big difference between "your Sister Sledge disco and your pop, Kylie Minogue disco. There's disco and there's disco." Yet while the likes of DJ Harvey, Daniel Wang, Lindstrom, and Morgan Geist have kept disco's more eccentric tendencies alive underground, the genre lives on as the soundtrack to nights out in flares and Afro wigs. As far as contemporary acts go, it remains untouched outside the fluffy pop of Scissor Sisters, Mika or, indeed, Kylie Minogue.

It's easy to see, then, why Hercules And Love Affair came as a surprise. The greater surprise, however, is that their open-armed disco embrace is far from an anomaly.

Disco really began to lose its dirty word status last year, when credible, high-profile acts started to reclaim the term. Scottish 1980s fetishist Calvin Harris' album, I Created Disco, appeared at the same time as records from London producers Simian Mobile Disco and French duo Justice, who called their music "2007 disco". Truth be told, they were less rooted in disco than in electro, techno and even big beat, although disco was responsible for all three through its direct descendants: house and hip hop.

Subsequent artists, however, actually sound like disco, if rather edgier and less relentlessly upbeat than the genre's kitsch, borderline self-parody end game. The new album from Heloise And The Savoir Faire, for instance is tinged with punk and 1980s electro pop. Like Hercules And Love Affair, they hail from New York, as do the neo-disco Holy Ghost!. Indeed, disco fever knows no national boundaries, stretching from Australian intergalactic disco trio Midnight Juggernauts to the Norse disco of electro-loving diskJokke. In England we have hipster disco house acts like Mock and Toof and, most extraordinarily, Chromehoof, whose unlikely fusion of disco and progressive metal shows that disco's class of 2008 is also sonically varied.

Watch the video for Hercules And Love Affair's track 'Blind'

Fundamentally egalitarian music, disco united people in a manner rarely found in rock'n'roll. Jazz, Latin and even classical elements have always sat alongside funk and soul as disco's basic ingredients – though you might not guess it from Ottawan's hit "D.I.S.C.O.". Remember, there's disco and there's disco.

It's a sentiment echoed in the title of achingly hip compilation series Disco Not Disco, whose third installment, "Post punk, electro and leftfield disco classics 1974-86", arrived with the assertion that, after bands like LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture, "the compilation is more timely than ever in 2008 as a reference point for a burgeoning mainstream scene".

There's truth in this, and also a clue as to why now might be the time for disco's much-delayed comeback. Andrew Butler – whose Hercules and Love Affair are signed to the label that launched both The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem – sees the punk funk with which both those bands are synonymous as "a back door" to disco.

Strangely, at least according to this theory, this need wasn't readily met by contemporary dance music, largely because it has all too often lost sight of its most basic ingredient: fun. "Disco is really sexy within the dance music genre, it's not like techno: it's smoother and slinkier and there's a bit more sophistication to it. And the beat is fun to dance to, that's the bottom line," says Heloise, of Heloise And The Savoir Faire.

Though reluctant to be grouped under the "nu-disco" tag that is already rearing its head, Duncan of London's Mock and Toof concedes: "There appear to be a lot of records and a scene being firmly established around the 'disco' tag. There are great nights, zillions of disco re-edit 12"s and acts like Hercules and Love Affair gaining lots of attention."

Does he have any idea as to why this might be happening, or what might come next? "Probably best not to dissect and try to understand it," he replies, consciously or not, preaching the disco gospel like a true devotee. "Just dance."

Hercules And Love Affair's self-titled album and their new single 'You Belong' are out now on DFA. 'Trash, Rats and Microphones' by Heloise And The Savoir Faire is out now on Yep Roc. diskJokke's album 'Staying In' is out now on Smalltown Supersound.

Gavin Cumine: 'I think I'm tapping into forgotten genres'

We should be in a mirror clad club with glitter balls falling from a red velvet ceiling with fountains of vodka teeming down golden stairways. There should be drag queens, and asexual Andy Warhol lookalikes wandering around with cigarettes dripping from their white fingers. People should be getting lost in a jazz electro odyssey and the afrobeat infused brass duels, smouldering beats and spiralling synths as they watch furiously voguing dancers. Instead we are in an empty tent in Hyde Park, carpeted with mud, poppers and discarded bits of clothing waiting for people to realise they are missing the greatest disco on earth.

On stage transexual vocalist Nomi strides around in black lycra hot pants, high heels and a white leather basque as co vocalist Kim Ann Foxmann delivers soft and longing vocals. In the wings a brass section, bassist and drummer all play their respective instruments as Andrew Butler, architect of New York disco futurists hides behind a bank of keyboards and wiring.

Butler's pan-sexual project, Hercules and Love Affair's attempt to apply an intellectual aesthetic to disco, a brand of music with the simple intention of sustaining people's feet seems like a tricky pursuit. However, the pedigree of nerdy musical historians stuck in small rooms conjuring up addictive melodies and rhythms people across the world dance to is a long and glorious one.

Andrew Butler is one such person, whose musical career began at 15 DJing at a Denver leather bar run by a hostess called Chocolate Thunder Pussy and flourished in Brooklyn club scene. Butler's futuristic take on pop's most questionable genre, disco, has led to critical acclaim and a record that reconfigures the musical references alongside which Butler has evolved. "I think I am tapping into genres that may have been forgotten by the mainstream so it does feel that they are new, but also familiar which can be exciting for people," he says.

An aspect of Butler's music is his interest in minimalism. "The power of three of four notes and the placing of them over different harmonic progressions can make something fresh and new."

Towards the end of the band's set the tent is full, people are dancing and for a moment we could be in a debauched club in the East Village. This love affair is just beginning, so get ready for the birth of a new disco fever.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'