Sunday, January 11, 2009

True love, disco and herpes.

Just in case you can't read the quote under the heading 'Disdain' on this jpg, it says "I Feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes." Fightin’ words indeed from Hunter S. Thompson, and though I would definitely agree with the man on many points, especially his attitude towards Nixon, I have to disagree with him on this one. There are a lot of music forms that generate a similar feeling in me, but disco is not one of them. And though there is a serious glut of disco revival goin’ on at the moment, which essentially follows on from the attention paid to the genre all through the ‘90s, it’s influence on contemporary dance music cannot be diminished. And as much as the British music press has attempted to stamp a genre every single strain of beat driven music that emerges, in some ways all modern dance music is really just a continuation of disco.

There’s a famous quote by legendary New Jersey dj, Tony Humphries — whose residency at the Zanzibar club in Newark is as important to the formation of house. garage etc. as those of Larry Levan at Paradise Garage, Ron Hardy at Music Box or Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse or Powerplant — in which he states that he didn’t spin house, he played uptempo r&b. And really what is disco other than uptempo r&b, though not all great disco tracks are uptempo.

The thing that galls me the most about people bad mouthing disco is that the genre was killed off at the height of its popularity, when it was kicking rock n roll’s ass in sales and was popular in demographics where rock got a lukewarm reception at best. If disco got the chance to really flourish it may have become a monstrosity but it never got the opportunity as it had its life cut short by a cabal of paranoid, racist, homophobic and greedy radio djs, label execs and other misanthropes who couldn’t deal with the fact that it was more fun than Emerson, Lake and Palmer and had a strong appeal with women and gay men.

It’s these artificial ways of directing the music market that really annoy me, these ways of — to quote Chomsky out of context — manufacturing consent. I see the same thing with modern rap, and especially r&b. If you have the most recent copy of the SF Weekly, read Ben Westhoff’s scathing, yet accurate, overview of modern r&b on page 39.

The question is, how did black music get narrowed down to such specific and easily recognized genres, by musical evolution or by the stifling direction of the major labels? I’d opt for the second option. Isn’t Detroit techno a black music form? But it doesn’t get any attention as it’s too cerebral and hard to market, perhaps. Get it simple and keep it dumb (and crass, sexist, misogynistic and ultra materialistic).

Yeah, I know I’m missing the fun, irony and fantasy of the music and its message, but the whole gangster, pimp thing is getting very, very, very, very old. Like Outkast said, …”spittin all that bourgeoise, my watch, my car, I'm a star — I'd rather be a comet by far…” And perhaps disco offers what has been forgotten, the star gazing sci-fi element in black music that was espoused by Parliament and Funkadelic, Sun Ra, Model 500, Lonnie Liston Smith and X-Clan.

So even though we’re knee deep in disco revivalism, it ain’t such a bad thing at all, for sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward at a later date. And you don’t have to be R. Kelly to take those two steps.


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