Anti-disco  

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"Only by killing disco could rock affirm its threatened masculinity and restore the holy dyad of cold brew and undemanding sex partners. Disco bashing became a major preoccupation in 1977. At the moment when Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54 achieved zeitgeist status, rock rediscovered a rage it had been lacking since the '60s, but this time the enemy was a culture with "plastic" and "mindless" (read effeminate) musical tastes. Examined in light of the ensuing political backlash, it's clear that the slogan of this movement--"Disco Sucks!"--was the first cry of the angry white male." --Peter Braunstein, Village Voice, June 1998


"The 'Disco Sucks' campaign was a white, macho reaction against gay liberation and black pride more than a musical reaction against drum machines. In England, in the same year as the 'Disco Sucks' demo in America, The Young Nationalist - a British National Party publication - told its readers: 'Disco and its melting pot pseudo-philosophy must be fought or Britain's streets will be full of black-worshipping soul boys.' --Dave Haslam

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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The anti-disco sentiment refers to a late 1970s backlash against the popularity of disco.

Although disco had started in small nightclubs in American urban centers in the early seventies with imported records such as "Soul Makossa," the genre grew drastically in popularity during the 1970s reaching a high point with Saturday Night Fever in 1977.

This was followed with a backlash later that decade when rock music fans started to consider disco culture -- with its sexual promiscuity and club drugs -- silly and effeminate, and objected to the idea of centering music around an electronic drum beat and synthesizers instead of live performers. Another (more masculine) subculture, punk music, arrived on the scene and parodies of disco music became common. The backlash was epitomized in Chicago by the riotous Disco Demolition Night.

Nile Rodgers, guitarist for the popular disco era group Chic said "it felt to us like Nazi book-burning, This is America, the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word 'disco'." There was never a focused backlash against disco in Europe.

Contents

Background

The popular 1977 film Saturday Night Fever prompted major record labels to mass-produce hits, a move which some perceived as turning the genre from something vital and edgy into a safe "product" homogenized for mainstream audiences. Though disco music had enjoyed several years of popularity, an anti-disco sentiment manifested in America. This sentiment proliferated at the time because of oversaturation and the big-business mainstreaming of disco. Worried about declining profits, rock radio stations and record producers encouraged this trend. According to Gloria Gaynor, the music industry supported the destruction of disco because rock music producers were losing money and rock musicians were losing the spotlight. Many hard rock fans expressed strong disapproval of disco throughout the height of its popularity. Among these fans, the slogan "Disco Sucks" was common by the late 1970s and appeared in written form in places ranging from tee shirts to graffiti.

Rise of the anti-disco sentiment

rockism

In the late 1970s, Disco music and dancing fads began to be depicted by rock music fans as silly and effeminate, such as in Frank Zappa's satirical song "Dancin' Fool". Some listeners objected to the perceived sexual promiscuity and illegal drug use that had become associated with disco music. Others were put off by the exclusivity of the disco scene, especially in major clubs in large cities such as the Studio 54 discotheque, where bouncers only let in fashionably-dressed club-goers, celebrities, and their hangers-on. Rock fans objected to the idea of centering music around an electronic drum beat and synthesizers instead of live performers.

Disco Demolition Night

Disco Demolition Night

Some historians have referred to July 12, 1979 as "the day disco died" because of an anti-disco demonstration that was held in Chicago. Rock station DJs Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, along with Michael Veeck, son of Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, staged Disco Demolition Night, a promotional event with an anti-disco theme, between games at a White Sox doubleheader for disgruntled rock fans. During this event, which involved exploding disco records, the raucous crowd tore out seats and turf in the field and did other damage to Comiskey Park. It ended in a riot in which police made numerous arrests. The damage done to the field forced the Sox to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers who won the first game. The stadium suffered thousands of dollars in damage.

Television backlash

The television industry — taking a cue from the music industry — responded with an anti-disco agenda as well. A recurring theme on the television show WKRP in Cincinnati contained a hateful attitude towards disco music. The anti-disco backlash may have helped to cause changes to the landscape of Top 40 radio. Negative responses from the listenerships of many Top 40 stations encouraged these stations to drop all disco songs from rotation, filling the holes in their playlists with New Wave, punk rock, and album-oriented rock cuts. For example, WLS in Chicago, KFJZ-FM (now KEGL) in Dallas/Fort Worth, and 1050 CHUM in Toronto were among the stations that took this approach. Although WLS continued to list some disco tracks, such as "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc., on its record surveys in the early 1980s, it refused to air them.

Criticism from punk circles

Jello Biafra of anarcho-punk band The Dead Kennedys likened disco to the cabaret culture of Weimar Germany for its apathy towards government policy and its escapism (which Biafra saw as delusional). He sang about this in the song "Saturday Night Holocaust", the B-side of the song "Halloween".

Europe

It should be noted that, unlike in the U.S., there was never a focused backlash against disco in Europe, and discotheques and the Disco culture continued past 1980 in Europe.

Economic results

It was during this backlash and decline that several record companies were folded, reorganized or sold. TK Records closed in 1981. ABC Records was sold to MCA Records in 1979, which shut down the label. Casablanca Records' founder Neil Bogart was forced out in 1980 by label owner PolyGram. RSO Records founder Robert Stigwood left the label in 1981.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Anti-disco" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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