2021-01-07T15:37:45-05:00 2021-01-22T15:59:38-05:00

Listening to disco to survive a coup

2020 can be delineated in our future history books through its music, a year marked by a revival of disco not just in electronic music circles, but across all platforms. Disco, a culture of music that has been rooted in suffering and crisis, has origins in a time like our contemporary: soundtracking economic recessions, the AIDS epidemic, as the expression in the mainstream of strife of communities of color. Its birth in such circumstances is an obvious mirroring of our own time, through social unrest and the global COVID-19 pandemic, and we're collecting the fruit of those unfortunate events through music. And it's still the beauty of this music that glosses over those things that feel so dire and out of our control, packaging them into infectious, scintillating strings and danceable guitar riffs. Now, a week into 2021, we've experienced the President of the United States stoke an insurrection at the people's capitol, with subsequent deaths, calls for action, and further unrest. Looks like we can keep those record players out for a while, and continue to online crate digging for more Chic and Donna Summer throughout the upcoming year.

Earlier this year, I was listening to the prolific Lost Notes podcast from the great people at NPR, and couldn't help but draw on the similarities between the vitriol of the "death to disco" parties held in in July 1979, and the hateful partisanships we see now. But 2020 saw disco itself wave a fan of glitter across more than just electronic music. While the year saw incredible directly drawn releases like Engelwood's Yacht World, the collaborative project from Dance SystemWhere's the Party At?, and an expected disco foray from Disclosure in their ENERGY album, it also saw the return of artists like Duck Sauce, and a permeation beyond disco's usual comfortable situated position in house music and underground (virtual) party circles. Pop icon Kylie Minogue returned to put respect on a name that helped her to build an iconic career, of course, titled DISCO. Lady Gaga beckoned on "Stupid Love." Sam Smith deliberately did us in with a cover of the movement's anthem, Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." The collaborative effort on an already heavily disco-inspired album, on Dua Lipa & The Blessed Madonna's Club Future Nostalgia, was an impressive feat of mainstreaming of the electronic side of house and disco, putting the level of overlap of such music and the state of mainstream pop on display. Dua Lipa went on to call her virtual tour "Studio 2054."

Channel Tres's rise opened many eyes to the beauty of hip-hop when it meets the sparkly light of a disco ball, nonetheless serving as a reminder of the connection, at birth, of the two styles of music. Rising producers saw success with connecting the dots between styles in creating disco updates of classics, as roller disco skating sees a new revival, all on TikTok. This all seemed to say, we're ready for more. 

We were all ready to leave 2020 behind, start a new year fresh. While a numerical year can't stop a global pandemic, among other things, it was a unique moment to celebrate, take the opportunity to turn your own home into a disco (a disco ball and a phone app go a long way), if at home alone. DJ's celebrating through live streams turned to disco on this new year's eve. While house music has a direct connection to the sound, and constantly acknowledges such, it was noticeably  more prevalent in the music of this year's new year's eve. Artists like Annie Mac & Toddla T brought their homes to life, and disco was the main through line on streams like Beatport's. Deep down, we knew this wasn't over with the new year.

If I'm honest, disco has always gotten me through tough times. I look at Robyn's 2018 release Honey, Georgia's Seeking Thrills, artists like Sylvester and mixes from Fatboy Slim and Mark Knight. Turning to my social media today, the wave of thoughts from the artists who create this music is seemingly unanimous in its outrage against yesterday's events. And where there is a call to action, there will be music doing so as well. We'll be on the lookout for more music to distract us from this mess, giving hope for greater times in the future. For now, I'll keep dancing in my apartment.

Dance · Disco · Main Stage · Opinion


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