You Can’t Kill Disco – NYS Music

In the world of music, Disco might seem like a distant memory or something your parents remember when they hear it on their local radio station. While the genre enjoyed a short but vibrant existence in the 1970s, its impact can be seen in every corner of modern music, from Silk Sonic to Harry Styles. As we enter the month of June, let’s take a trip down memory lane to celebrate the life, death and rebirth of Disco.

PC: David Redfern

Born in response to the rampant homophobia, racism and riots of the 60s and early 70s, Disco provided a safe space for the POC and LGBTQ communities. Some sources say Utica-born DJ David Mancuso gave birth to the new sound at his Valentine’s Day party at The Loft in 1972 (The Loft was more than just a club, it was a gathering place for LGBTQ people in the city, where they could meet and dance safely with those who look like them). Other sources say the sound originated in underground clubs, also known as discos, in Philadelphia and New York.

disco
PC: Tim Lawrence

Regardless of its specific origin, Disco quickly gained popularity across the country. Donna Summer couldn’t be wrong as tracks like “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” and arguably the genre-defining “I Feel Love” topped the charts week after week. The Bee Gees were practically unmissable as they reached a new high with songs like “Stayin Alive,” “More Than a Woman” and “Night Fever,” all of which appeared on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. The 1977 film starring John Travolta would further catapult the band and Disco as a whole into another superstar realm.

The obvious acts of the era were joined by lesser-known, but equally talented artists, including Candi Staton, best known for the 1977 release “Nights on Broadway”, Thelma Houston with her hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and even the bee. Gees’ younger brother, Andy Gibb with his song “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”.

Nightclubs have sprung up in every city from Los Angeles to Manhattan, including the famed Studio 54 and one of its only worthy competitors, Club Xenon. Similar to Studio 54, Club Xenon was an intoxicating escape from reality, for everyday partiers and celebrities alike. Opened in June 1978 and formerly located at 124 West 43rd Street in Manhattan, Xenon was home to some of the biggest superstars of the day, including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Mick Jagger. While living in the shadow of Studio 54, the club still had its own unique features, including several adult “play” areas, electronic games, and moving sets that rotated throughout the night.

Elton John, Andy Warhol and Jerry Hall at Xenon, late 1970s

Finally closing its doors in 1984, Club Xenon seems like a lost memory to those old enough to experience Disco in its heyday. However, let us remember Xenon not just as another Studio 54 clone, but as a testament to the love people had for Disco and all that that entailed. The dancing, the camaraderie and the romance, along with the occasional drug use and other seedy club activities, were real manifestations of the power that Disco wielded and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

As with all oversaturated trends, the general public has grown tired of Disco. After a quick and flashy peak, there was a quick and slightly dramatic fall from grace. Some cite Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” as their last straw while others resisted change and didn’t like the genre from the start. The biggest display of hate towards the genre happened on July 12, 1979 at an event called “Disco Demolition”. Joined by nearly 50,000 disco haters, disc jockey Steve Dahl destroyed hundreds of Disco records in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

disco
CP: Paul Natkin

However, this event did not mark the end of Disco, it simply pushed him underground. From the ashes of Disco, House music was born, along with the advancement of DJ techniques, independent music production and endless inspiration for generations to come. He popularized synthesizers, helped develop sound system technology, and showcased the greatness that comes from some of our nation’s most underrepresented groups.

The glitz, glamor and debauchery of the Disco era gave birth to many things we know and love today. His influence can be heard in pop projects like Harry Styles’ latest release Harry’s houseas well as more obvious lines like those of Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, shimmering and loaded with funk, An Evening with Silk Sonic. From Doja Cat and Kylie Minogue to Dua Lipa and Daft Punk, Disco’s aesthetic and sonic appeal is hard to escape.

It would be simpler to say that Disco is an amalgamation of many subcultures and minority influences. It is a genre constructed by and for those who have been discriminated against and ignored by mainstream society. It was, and still is, an escape from pain, stress and worry for anyone who dares to embrace it. Honestly, I think we could all use Donna Summer a little more in our lives.

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