An Open Letter to Disco
Written by Toby Taylor on 16th February 2016
Disco has enjoyed something of a resurgence over the last couple of years back into the mainstream. Best exemplified by Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories, itself a nostalgic throwback to the hedonism and self-indulgence of the 1970’s, heavily influenced by collaborations with Nile Rodgers and Giogio Morodor, both pioneers of the genre.
Part of disco’s appeal was its inclusive nature and carefree celebration of universal love at a time when society often prevented the open expression of female and gay sexuality. This attitude is reflected in the music itself- disco is arguably the ultimate ‘feel-good’ music. Even tracks that have fairly bleak lyrics, such as You Don’t Want My Love by K.I.C, are tempered by ‘driving beats, grooving bass lines, funky horns, and harmonious strings’ (such as the infectious beat on this track) that you can’t help but groove to. Disco’s optimistic tone is its greatest asset, and it’s not hard to see why it has enjoyed a revival considering the current state of society, characterised by Tory cuts and the refugee crisis. To dismiss it as ‘cheesy’ is lazy and does disco a great disservice. Its hedonistic and joyful style offers a distraction from the tedium of everyday life and in fact offers a welcome contrast to the often aggressive and angry styles and sounds that characterise much of (albeit not all of) rock, DNB, techno and rap.
Stylistically as well, disco is such a diverse genre, encompassing the influences of funk, soul, jazz, blues, calypso and even salsa. Indeed the argument that ‘all disco sounds the same’ is again incredibly lazy and I’d even argue down right wrong. Anyone of the following acoustic instruments can be found in a single track: strings, horns, bass guitars, electric pianos, electric guitars, flutes, saxophones, bongos, trumpets- I could go on and I haven’t even mentioned the soaring, emotive vocals of singers such as Donna Summer, Jocelyn Brown and Gwen Guthrie to name but a few. John Gibbs and the U.S Steel Orchestra’s track Trinidad (Special Disco Mix) is a brilliant example of this. Essentially an instrumental, it effortlessly blends classic features of disco and funk with steel drums, bongos and congas to create a relentless beat. However, it is the serene string section that really gives the track the paradisiacal feel that it’s title alludes to, transporting the listener from wherever they may be to a tropical paradise. Considering the rather formulaic and generic composition of most current pop and (what’s now referred to as) RnB music, disco’s instrumental diversity is something to be celebrated.
Disco continues to be relevant today, both in the mainstream (Jamiroquai for example), the underground scene (through DJ’s such as MCDE and Todd Terje) and in the influence it’s had on the emergence of hip hop (Biggie sampling Diana Ross’s I’m Coming Out for Mo Money More Problems for example) and house music. Ultimately though it is disco’s uplifting and optimistic sound, combined with some truly incredible beats, that puts a smile on my face and keeps me coming back for more. Its ability to make even the most mundane situation (such as walking to lectures or revising) sound uplifting and full of joy, is cause for celebration.