Thirty years after it was offi­cial­ly pro­nounced “dead,” it’s still con­sid­ered a sin to love dis­co music.  Country and rap might attract a respectable amount of hate from cer­tain quar­ters but dis­co is the belle of the ball when it comes to receiv­ing unthink­ing, knee-jerk hatred from all cor­ners of the music-lov­ing world.  Oldsters are try­ing to for­get that it ruled the com­mer­cial roost for a short time, rock­ists are fright­ened by its pan­sex­u­al ethos, hip­sters sneer with unwar­rant­ed dis­gust as they insist they only lis­ten to “authen­tic” forms of soul music and guardians of cul­ture will con­tin­ue to toe the par­ty line: “It was a fluke and an aber­ra­tion — don’t take it seri­ous­ly and for­get about it!”

This is a crime because dis­co is a gen­re total­ly wor­thy of explo­ration by musi­cal obses­sives.  Forget the hand­ful of pop-hit dis­co tunes that pop to mind, the “YMCA’s” and “Stayin Alive’s.”  Those bite-size favorites are wor­thy their own respect but they are the acci­den­tal bypro­duct of the real action.  Your Humble Reviewer is talk­ing about the dis­co that got played in clubs, the com­plex and extend­ed suites that cap­tured the hearts and minds of club dwellers.  This kind of dis­co, the real dis­co, is a world unto itself and has much to offer those dar­ing enough to ignore its cul­tur­al-black­list sta­tus.

Schlockmania will be cov­er­ing dis­co as a reg­u­lar part of its musi­cal cov­er­age.  Through the­se reviews, you’ll be able to get an idea of why the gen­re is so spe­cial and deserv­ing of more atten­tion.  Until then, this essay will out­line the three ele­ments make the gen­re end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing.  It comes down to three things:  eclec­ti­cism, show­man­ship and its hyp­notic qual­i­ty.

Eclecticism:  One of the great mis­con­cep­tions about dis­co is that it all sounds the same, just a bunch of repet­i­tive tunes with an iden­ti­cal thud-thud-thud beat.  It’s true that dis­co cen­ters its sound around dance-friend­ly rhythms but the music float­ing over the top of that beat is capa­ble of any­thing.  In addi­tion to the obvi­ous soul and funk ele­ments, you’ll find orches­tral arrange­ments and struc­tural con­ceits drawn from clas­si­cal music, hard rock ele­ments (remem­ber that sear­ing gui­tar solo in “Hot Stuff”?), prog rock syn­th solos and world-beat ele­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly of the Latin and African vari­eties.  Since the gen­re is all about cre­at­ing a “big­ger-bet­ter-faster-more” sen­sa­tion, you’ll often get sev­er­al of the­se ele­ments in the same song.

Showmanship:  This goes hand in hand with the eclec­ti­cism.  Disco is an ambi­tious gen­re, often to a sym­phon­ic lev­el, and this requires the focus and ded­i­ca­tion of a true show­man.  A dance­floor epic demands pristine and flaw­less­ly timed arrange­ments, a larg­er-than-life per­sona to sell the lyric’s nar­ra­tive and a pro­duc­er who knows exact­ly when an ele­ment needs to be added or dropped in the mix.  The end results are often the purest, most fine­ly craft­ed enter­tain­ment that pop­u­lar music has to offer — and they are often bril­liant head­phone lis­ten­ing thanks to their unique son­ic show­man­ship.

Hypnotic Quality:  A dis­co epic can be lush­ly orches­trat­ed or arid­ly elec­tro-min­i­mal­ist but all great exam­ples of the gen­re have one key attrib­ute in com­mon: a unique­ly hyp­notic qual­i­ty.  It’s not just the beat or the bassline: in great dis­co, all the ele­ments work towards a unit­ed pur­pose: to cre­ate a dreamy, euphoric feel­ing that pulls you right into the heart of the music.  World-beat and funk can cre­ate a sim­i­lar feel­ing but nei­ther can do it in the mul­ti-tiered, sens­es-daz­zling fash­ion that only dis­co can do.  The afore­men­tioned show­man­ship of good dis­co allows it to add, sub­tract and shift lay­ers of sound in a way that reach­es beyond the con­scious mind’s defens­es.  It’s best expe­ri­ence on the dance floor with a skilled d.j. at the helm but a set of head­phones and a stack of the prop­er dis­co tunes can take you to aural nir­vana in a way that oth­er gen­res can only dream of.

We’ll end by return­ing to the title ques­tion — why dis­co?  Why the hell not? It’s the last unex­plored fron­tier of cultish-music plea­sure left.  Anyone look­ing for a new thrill should wan­der into the mir­ror­ball wilder­ness and rev­el in its glitzy, hedo­nis­tic won­ders before it some­how falls prey to nos­tal­gia or hip­ster-fetishism.  Schlockmania will glad­ly be your com­pan­ion for this jour­ney and you can expect­ed a guid­ed tour of all the genre’s hid­den won­ders.