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Deader Than Disco: Disco

For a time in the late '70s, the music genre of disco was the biggest thing ever. While it had its roots in the ethnic and gay club scenes of New York City and Philadelphia in the late '60s and early '70s, it burst into the popular consciousness with the blockbuster success of Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack in 1977. Clubs like New York's Studio 54 became the places to be and be seen. Then, even before The Eighties officially started, a backlash emerged from both white and black music listeners. Whites gravitated towards various forms of rock, specifically punk, prog rock (though that too was on its way out at the time), and assorted types of hard rock and metal (including Hair Metal, which itself became the Disco of the '80s), and rejected the genre's hip, urban image. Meanwhile, the black leaders of funk (e.g. George Clinton) actively led a campaign to "rescue dance music from the blahs," rejecting disco's fusion of "their" music style with mainstream pop structure. Not helping matters was disco's popularity (and continued Cult Classic status) in gay clubs, which added homophobia to the backlash. The European origins of the music and record labels also added xenophobia and nationalism to the mix. Many radio stations promised "Bee Gee-free weekends", and a novelty country song called "Disco Sucks" became a crossover hit on the pop charts.

It got to the point where, on July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox (whose South Side base meant that its fans were black and white in about equal measure) hosted a "Disco Demolition Night" promotion (see picture on main page, see The Other Wiki for more information), the brainchild of a White Sox executive and a spurned album-oriented rock (code for progressive) DJ. Fans could bring in their disco records in exchange for less than a dollar admission; since the game was a doubleheader (against the Detroit Tigers), the plan was the records would get blown up in the middle of the field between the games. Instead, the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game (the last time a game was forfeited in the American League) after the explosion led to a riot—fueled by another ill-considered moneymaking venture that afternoon: Comiskey Park had a discount on beer that day (whoops). It got so bad that even rock artists who were influenced by disco, like Rod Stewart, and African-American Motown record artists like Marvin Gaye were attacked and parodied.

Attacked on two sides and with a powerful image against it, disco was fading fast and completely dead in early 1981, and with it the fashions and styles related to or heavily associated with it (such as flared trousers). For the rest of The Eighties, admitting that you liked disco may as well have been admitting to cannibalism. While dance artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson continued to take influence from it (not to mention the influence it had on early hip hop), whatever remaining fandom the genre itself still had was restricted to gay clubs, which marginalized it even further. Disco would start to reemerge (or at least, come to the surface for fresh air) during The Nineties' wave of nostalgia for the '70s and its backlash against all things '80s, mainly in the form of sampling for rap and dance songs (it didn't hurt that most popular dance music, particularly house and its offshoots, can trace its lineage straight back to disco). Still, during this same time, The Simpsons had a character named Disco Stu who was used almost purely for comic relief, showing that the genre was still a ways away from returning to public acceptance.

Today, it seems as though the Trope Namer itself is becoming a subversion of its own trope. The newest generation of teenagers has grown up with no memory of disco or their parents' hatred of it; to them, it's simply a style of music that they will like or dislike on their own merits. The Sirius XM disco station probably introduced more than a few new fans, as seen by the surprisingly large reaction to its removal, which forced it to be Uncanceled. Similarly, the advent of the internet allowed some people to discover disco for the first time after terrestrial radio stations stopped playing it. Finally, music historians who have investigated why disco became so fiercely hated agree that overexposure wasn't the sole factor behind the death of disco, but that homophobia, sexism and racism also played into it (disco having succeeded, if only for a brief time, in uniting Americans across color and sexual lines). Many of the negative connotations associated with it have died out, and many of its enemies have toned down the vitriol and forgotten about it, and this can be seen on the pop charts; in 2013 alone, a number of "disco revival" songs by artists as diverse as Bruno Mars, Robin Thicke, and Daft Punk have been Top 40 hits.

Of course, the above only describes the United States. If you ask a Brit or a European about any anti-disco backlash, you will likely get a series of puzzled looks. Across The Pond, post-disco stayed popular well into the '80s, heavily influencing New Wave, synthpop and other styles of popular music such as Italo Disco. In Eastern Europe and in Russia, it lingered well into early 1990s, and disco is still very much alive in Poland (as disco polo, which became something of an Ascended Meme when used in a presidential election). For much of The Eighties, the global pop charts were dominated by derivatives of disco, post-disco and punk. Artists like Amanda Wilson and Laura White now carry its torch proudly into the present day.

And this isn't even taking into account disco's influence on underground music, especially Post-Punk bands like Public Image Ltd. and ex-No Wavers like Material, Contortions and Liquid Liquid. All operated under the basic premise of "take a disco beat and pile weird stuff on top of it", often to great and innovative effect. PiL even had a hit with a song called "Death Disco"... although who was singing probably had some effect. There was also the Industrial fascination with Eurodisco, but that's another matter entirely. This marriage of punk and disco later evolved into the Alternative Dance genre of the late 1980s and early 1990s and the more overtly disco-influenced Dance Punk genre of the early 2000s.


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