Once a powerful movement in the ‘70s that served as not only the crossroads between rock, funk and dance music, but also a trendy American nightlife subculture, disco was long considered dead … and to many people’s delight.
In the years after its explosion, disco became hated by the mainstream rock culture and painted as a ridiculous, corny music genre covered in sequins and mascotted by John Travolta. But lately, people have started to embrace, and even revive, the spirit of disco.
Alternative rock band Weezer, who sang, “I forgot that disco sucks” in “Back To The Shack” a mere four years ago, just released in October “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” a song infused with disco groove. The track’s dominant syncopated bass line, sparse rhythmic guitar licks and melodic horn riff all encapsulate the magic of disco music.
Disco had remained relatively dormant since around the early ‘80s. Some would even argue the genre suddenly died in 1979 after Disco Demolition Night, an anti-disco riot in Chicago (an event that was, to be fair, partially staged to promote a White Sox game).
While disco popped its head out a few times after its golden age—see The Cardigans’ glossy 1996 hit “Lovefool” and Justin Timberlake’s dance-friendly “Rock Your Body”—we have yet to see a true revival of the genre… until now.
The modern disco revival arguably started with Daft Punk’s 2013 smash “Get Lucky.” The song features Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, guitarist of legendary disco band Chic. The shimmering dance bop spent 29 weeks on the Billboard charts and broke Spotify’s single day streaming record at the time, proving there was a market for mainstream modern disco.
However, like jazz, disco’s rebirth takes many shapes.
Musician and producer Tom Misch incorporates the genre’s fast and prominent rhythms in his bouncy “Disco Yes.” Anderson .Paak’s new single “Tints” is coated with a glimmering synth line and elevated by African percussion hidden underneath its main electronic drumbeat. More subtly, Mac Miller’s recent music utilizes KC & The Sunshine Band-style trumpet melodies and plunky bass sounds laid over glassy synth tones.
The past two years alone have seen a surge in disco-inspired songs.
Thundercat, who plays bass on Miller’s funky “What’s The Use,” blends thick undertones with spacey arpeggios on “Friend Zone,” creating a psychedelic disco vibe. Young the Giant’s “Tightrope” weaves a sexy, strutting bassline in between a classic disco “four-on-the-floor” drum beat. A “chicken scratch” guitar rhythm—an instrumental style commonly used in disco—backs a boppy chromatic riff.
Even pop hits like The Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming,” which is loaded with retro dance synth, and Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” a slower jam with plunky bass and guitar tones, carry remnants of the ‘70s genre.
While some modern artists bury elements of disco in a bassline or a glossy synth overlay, others, like soul octet St. Paul & The Broken Bones, don’t hide their ‘70s influence. Listen to “GotItBad,” the third single off their 2018 release Young Sick Camellia, and tell me it’s not straight outta 1977.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones aren’t trying to reinvent disco music, they’re just making classic disco music. And it’s just as infectious as the music of Donna Summer or Bee Gees. C’mon. I dare you to listen to St. Paul’s “Apollo” and not do The Disco Finger.
Disco was about more than just the music, though. The movement embodied extravagant fashion, hard drugs like cocaine and Quaalude, and most notably, striking dance moves. But how does disco culture apply in today’s society?
Have you ever been to a rave and seen people caked in glitter, popping Molly and dancing in circles? That’s how.
Bruno Mars (you know, the dude who practically put out a straight-up disco record in 2016 and won three Grammy Awards for it) is at the forefront of reviving disco’s energy. Every song on 24K Magic, especially the title track and “Perm,” drips with glam-funk swagger, and Mars’ music videos capture the true vibe of disco culture. In the video for “24K Magic,” he dons rainbow-colored silk and a whole lotta gold jewelry; in “Uptown Funk,” he gets his hair done over a blaring horn riff; in “Treasure,” he busts out ‘70s dance moves in front of a sparkling disco ball while wearing an afro.
As music often represents culture, today’s world is soundtracked by urban street poetry, like Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry,” and political pop anthems, such as Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm.” While socially-conscious music keeps us aware of the world around us, it never hurts to have some good ol’ disco fun.
Maybe we need to button up our bell-bottoms and take Bee Gees’ advice: “We should be dancing, yeah.”