disco

   For every generation of music listeners, there is always one trend that is felt to have brought about the death of ‘real’ music. So it was in the USA in the 1970s, where with the onslaught of the disco scene, musicians everywhere began retiring to the nearest cabaret circuit. Mainstream disco music was scorned, even during its commercial heyday. ‘Disco’ originates from the word ‘discotheque’, meaning ‘record library’. Disco has three definitions: a type of music, a type of dancing, or a type of venue. The origins of the music itself can be traced back to late 1960s America, in clubs or taverns where youngsters would congregate to dance to records played on a jukebox. It was a shared social experience for poorer American youths. Disc jockeys were brought in to keep the dancers on the floor. In the predominantly gay and black clubs, Disc jockeys started to mix together various fast soul songs into one long track for prolonged dancing.
   Discos were cheaper than live acts or musicians and the music was easy to reproduce on a mass scale. Successful British acts in the late 1970s and early 1980s were Kelly Marie, Liquid Gold, Leo Sayer, The Real Thing and Hazel Dean. The main message of the music was to shake your body to the rhythm, to ‘get on down’ with the beat. The lyrics themselves were a mere counter to the beat, reinforcing its rhythm, sexualizing young people everywhere; pulsating rhythms and throbbing beats aroused the listener, inspiring in them a desire to move. It was largely categorized as black or gay music, eroticizing black women who became known as ‘disco divas’, and vocalizing their capacity for sexual activity (for example, Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’). Key phrases in the disco repertoire were ‘boogie’, ‘love’, ‘get down’, ‘funky’, ‘rhythm’ and ‘beat’. The 1980s saw a revival in the UK, thanks predominantly to gay artists like The Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell and Bronski Beat, who continued their success into the 1990s while developing into more sophisticated performers. Its transition into electro-disco in fashionable clubs in the early 1980s was due to influences from abroad, such as Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. Artists like Gary Numan and Ultravox realized the importance of the synthesizer and drum machine and produced introspective lyrics over electro-disco beats. Eventually, technological developments substituted musicians. Disco lost its original sensuality under mechanical studio conditions, but made an easy transition onto the dance music scene.
   See also: clubs; discos; rave culture
   Further reading
    Blackford, A. (1979) Disco Dancing Tonight, London: Octopus.
   ALICE BENNETT

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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