Rock purists often sneer at dis­co for being plas­tic and pho­ny.  This humor­less com­plaint reveals they missed the point entire­ly: dis­co was nev­er about being “real.”  Instead, it rev­els in the plas­tic and arti­fi­cial as it reach­es for escapism of the purest vari­ety.  Gay Disco and Hi-NRG, its younger, elec­tro-styled broth­er, are per­haps the ulti­mate expres­sions of dis­co escapism: any pre­ten­sions to seri­ous music or lofty artistry are thrown aside in the pur­suit of the gaud­i­est, most vis­cer­al­ly hedo­nis­tic ear can­dy pos­si­ble.

The results are often tran­scen­dent and a good cross-sec­tion of prime exam­ple can be found on the excel­lent 2-CD comp Disco Discharge: Gay Disco & Hi-NRG.  Alan Jones sets the tone for this col­lec­tion in his brief but eye-open­ing lin­er notes.  Disco wasn’t just a leisure activ­i­ty for gay dis­co fanat­ics, it was a way of life — and the glit­ter lin­gered in the mind even when they were back in their hum­drum day­time real­i­ty.

Fittingly, the sound­track for this 24-hour-a-day fan­ta­sy catered to that crav­ing for escapism.  The album open­er, “Disco Kicks” by Boys Town Gang, acts as a man­i­festo for what is to come: the vocal­ist tells you this is music you can “feel” as the back­ing track lives up to the promise, with aggres­sive horns, skit­ter­ing strings, whirring synths and dub-like per­cus­sion fight­ing for con­trol over a relent­less metro­nom­ic beat.

Escapism is a com­mon lyri­cal the­me: Harlow’s “Take Off (Satisfaction Guaranteed)” lays out a jet-set tour of inter­na­tion­al nightspots over an ele­gant­ly orches­trat­ed, uptem­po melody while the mood­ier, funkier “Cruising The Streets” (anoth­er Boys Town Gang track) acts as a gay dis­co fan’s ver­sion of “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” namecheck­ing all the famous gay night­clubs before giv­ing way to a wild radio-play mid­sec­tion where cops roust­ing a pair of amorous gay men and a hook­er becomes an impromp­tu orgy.

However, it isn’t all fan­tasies on this set.  The dance­floor act­ed as a safe­ty zone where dancers could deal with issues in the com­fort­ing lan­guage of dis­co.  Macho’s epic redux of “I’m A Man” serves as a self-iden­ti­ty affir­ma­tion played out to orches­tral lengths and Free Enterprise’s “I’ve Got To Make It On My Own” is a you-can-do-it anthem whose metro­nom­ic beat reflects the rock-steady deter­mi­na­tion of its lyrics.  There are also love laments like Eria Fachin’s “Savin’ Myself” and Tapps’ “Don’t Pretend To Know,” in which sweet­ly melod­ic sing-along cho­rus­es soothe the aching heart while rest­less beats keep the feet mov­ing.

In short, the gay dis­co and Hi-NRG sub­gen­res of dis­co show how dis­co escapism could provide a life sound­track that tran­scend­ed real­i­ty for those who need­ed it the most.  A lis­ten to Disco Discharge: Gay Disco & Hi-NRG will let the unini­ti­at­ed in on the charms of the­se sub­gen­res and bet­ter delin­eate them for the curi­ous.  It’s a musi­cal trip worth tak­ing — you don’t have to be gay to enjoy the lush, sin­u­ous melod­i­cism on dis­play here.