House Music Gonna Set You Free, Part II


1980.

Disco is now a dirty word in America. Ronald Reagan is about to take office and send the world into a nationalistic, evangelical Dark Age. Strange times are ahead…

The haters were confident that Disco, their sworn enemy, was finally, and permanently dead, consigned to the musical and cultural scrap-heap. No longer would red-blooded, heterosexual, American men feel the need to dress up in garish polyester shirts, tight, crotch-hugging gabardine slacks, platform shoes, and engage in mindless casual sex and Himalayan mountain ranges of cocaine.

America was once again safe.

To be fair, Disco hadn’t done itself any favours. Like some of its loyal followers, Disco hadn’t been selective about mating partners. Like any musical revolution, once the popular market got its grimy hands all over the scene, doom was written on the cards.
Pop music is a cultural vampire. It latches on to whatever is hot at the time, sucks all the available creative juices, until all that is left is a dried out husk.

When Disco first started, the music was inspired, passionate, delightfully and deliriously over the top. Artists like Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band brought back 1930′s big band swing with disco hips. Silver Connection dropped a disco bomb in the middle of a classical orchestra, straight outta Munich. Even credible rock acts like Blondie, Rod Stewart, and The Electric Light Orchestra were getting in on the act.

Then Nile Rodgers got turned away by Steve Rubell at the doors of Studio 54. Chic started a revolution. When Le Freak dropped, it was the Never Mind The Bollocks of disco.

Of course, no musical revolution is complete without mind-altering chemicals. Jazz had marijuana. Psychedelic rock had LSD. Disco had COCAINE.

Lots and lots and lots of cocaine. Pure, white, fluffy, tasty….I’m sorry, where was I?

Cocaine was everywhere during the Golden Age of Disco. It was a cool time. You had to figure there would be snow…

Of course, the good times couldn’t last. By the late 70′s the musical output had deteriorated so much, Hollywood stars like Ethel Merman were making disco records. Google her, kids. She was a big star back in the day, trust me.

It would be hard to take a musical style seriously that didn’t take its shelf life into consideration. Disco wanted to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad (Thanks, Meat Loaf!).

Previously, I quoted the first Law of Thermodynamics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only become another energy form.

That law can also be applied to music. Music is a form of energy. Sound energy, to be precise. Vibrating waves that hit the eardrum, causing it to vibrate.

…And the beat goes on.

Disco was the amphibian taking its first steps on land. It was never meant to remain static.

It was as if everyone had forgotten that caterpillars form a cocoon. After a dormant period, a butterfly emerges.

Let’s hop into the DeLorean, shall we? (Sidebar: I love the fact that the DeLorean is such a cultural icon. Who else but a guy who funded his company dealing coke could come up with the idea of building a car out of stainless steel? You can’t make this stuff up, people!)

Fast forward five years to 1985. I’ll fill you in on the way…

People still wanted to dance. They just wanted to wear different stupid clothing.

Disco wasn’t the only casualty of the time. Rock had become a bloated carcass of 60′s bands getting rich and insanely high off of past glory. Punk emerged, a lean, mean predator that burned out even faster than Disco. It was meant to. Strangely enough, without either culture knowing it, Punk and Disco, which had flirted occasionally (See Heart Of Glass, by Blondie), now rutted with a savage intensity.

New York and London witnessed the carnage, first hand. In impoverished neighborhoods, where gang violence was rife, a gang leader named Afrika Bambatta heard a DJ spinning Trans Europe Express, by Kraftwerk, a German group of four men and their synthesizers. Around the same time, Martin Gore and Vince Clark were in Basildon, Essex, listening to German electronic music.

Although neither of the parties realized it, but they would go on to become pioneers in their respective genres, and also sow the seeds for another great musical leap forward.

New Wave and Hip Hop. Disco’s bastard offspring. Five lads in Birmingham were digging David Bowie and Roxy Music. Their bass player had an affinity for Chic, in particular, Bernard Edwards, the bassist.

Some eyeliner, and a few puffy sleeves later, Duran Duran was born.

Three guys and a DJ got together in New York, and started rapping over a break from Good Times by Chic (them again!)

Rapper’s Delight, by The Sugarhill Gang.

1985. Larry Levan was a DJ at The Garage, a nightclub in New York. Derek May was a DJ in Detroit. Frankie Knuckles had just arrived in Chicago. He would get a job as a DJ at a nightclub called the Warehouse.

And now, the fun begins…
TO BE CONTINUED…

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