Disco and Cultural Envelopes

In an interesting post by Serdar Yegulalp on how the cultural impact of music scenes is often only apparent decades later, he talks about the impact of Disco in the late 1970s.

In the 1970s, disco culture was pooh-poohed because it was seen by rock fans as straight America’s attempt to be hip. The way it legitimized gay culture went almost totally unseen at the time, in big part because gay culture itself was unseen — and, in my opinion, somewhat deliberately, by a lot of rock fans. I remember how Queen and David Bowie were, for a big part of my youth, seen by my compatriots as campy weirdos (read: “fags”), but then folks like Prince came along and pretty much knocked everyone’s sensibilities on that score into a cocked hat.

Nowadays the reaction against Disco is generally painted as a racist and homophobic backlash by straight white male rock fans. But that’s a revisionist narrative as well, playing today’s identity politics with the music of a generation ago, over-simplifying a much more nuanced reality.

As Serdar says, the urban gay subculture was hardly on anyone’s radar screens at the time, and Disco frequently came over as a corporate commodification of black soul and funk, which were seen as legitimate genres in the way disco wasn’t. And many of the disco era’s worst crimes against music came from white rock musicians who should have known better; Rod Stewart, I’m looking at you.

Today the tides of time have washed away the dross and we only remember the good stuff, like the funk of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, now deservedly recognised as every bit as talented musicians as any of their classic rock contemporaries. Or the things so exuberantly cheesy they get filed under the ridiculous label of “Guilty Pleasures”, like Boney M’s gloriously silly “Rasputin” which get covered by Finnish folk-metal acts.

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2 Responses to Disco and Cultural Envelopes

  1. Stephen says:

    Have you heard of the record burning “Disco Demolition” riot? If I wasn’t a disco fan at the time this might have made me one.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Yes, remember that. That was a particularly ugly manifestation of the backlash.