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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A discothèque is an entertainment venue or club with recorded music played by Disc jockeys through a PA system, rather than an on-stage band.

Prior to the discothèque, most bars and nightclubs used live bands as entertainment.



The word is a portmanteau originally coined in the radio business referring to bins used by Radio DJs for the storage of (gramophone) records--(Greek: discos) and storage (Greek: theke, or thèque in French spelling).


Nightclubs and 1970s disco


In 1943, Jimmy Savile launched the world's first commercial DJ dance party by playing jazz records in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds in Otley, England. In 1947, he claims to have become the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play.

In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music, and the jitterbug dance were banned by the Nazis as decadent American influences, so members of the French underground met at hidden underground basement dance clubs called discotheques where they danced to American swing music. When a jukebox was not available, DJ would play 78 rpm records on a single turntable. These "discotheques" were also patronized by anti-Vichy youth called zazous.

In Nazi Germany itself, even before the war, there were also underground discotheques patronized by anti-Nazi youth who were known as "the swing kids".


In Harlem, the Cotton Club and Connie's Inn were popular venues for white audiences. Before 1953 and even some years thereafter, most bars and nightclubs used a jukebox or mostly live bands. In Paris, at a club named "Whisky à Gogo", founded in 1947, Régine in 1953 laid down a dance-floor, suspended coloured lights and replaced the juke-box with two turntables which she operated herself so there would be no breaks between the music. The Whisky à Gogo set into place the standard elements of the modern post World War II discothèque-style nightclub.

The first dancing hall that was turned into a discothèque was the Scotch-Club in Aachen, when on October 19, 1959, the usual band was unable to play and a record player had to be used. Klaus Quirini took over the record player, and his new format became quickly popular outside town. The name disc jockey had been coined by Walter Winchell in 1935 to refer to radio DJ's.

1960s and early 1970s

In the early 1960s, Mark Birley opened a members-only discothèque nightclub, Annabel's, in Berkeley Square, London. In 1962, the Peppermint Lounge in New Jersey became popular and is the place where go-go dancing originated. In 1965, the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles originated the hiring of go-go dancers that were cage dancers.

By the late 1960s, soldiers stationed in West Germany had taken the discothèque format home. American versions of the discothèque started to catch on, and with these clubs, the demand for new dance steps such as the Frug, the Merengue, and the Mule skyrocketed.

Record labels feverishly rushed out whole albums of music to monkey or limbo by, or else mimicked the discothèque effect by assembling compilations of everything from the foxtrot to the boogaloo. Dance instructors got in on the act, releasing LPs such "Killer Joe's International Discotheque."

Late 1970s to 1990s

1980s dance music

By the late 1970s many major US cities had thriving disco club scenes which were centered around discothèques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco hits through powerful PA systems for the dancers. The DJs played "... a smooth mix of long single records to keep people “dancing all night long” Some of the prestigious clubs had elaborate light organs, which converted audio signals into colored lights that throbbed to the beat of the music or even glass dance floors with colored lights.

Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools which taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing", the "hustle" and the "cha cha." There were also disco fashions that discothèque-goers wore for nights out at their local disco, such as sheer, flowing Halston dresses for women and shiny polyester Qiana shirts for men with pointy collars, preferably open at the chest, often worn with double-knit suit jackets.

In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving drug subculture, particularly for drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite "poppers", and the "...other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and turned one’s arms and legs to Jell-O." The massive quantities of drugs ingested in discothèques by newly liberated gay men produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of “main course” in a hedonist’s menu for a night out."

Famous 1970s discotheques included "...cocaine-filled celeb hangouts such as Manhattan's Studio 54 ", which was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Studio 54 was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon. Other famous discothèques included the The Loft, the Paradise Garage, and Aux Puces, one of the first gay disco bars.

In the 1980s and 1990s the custom of visiting discotheques, dancing and listening to electronic dance music created Clubbing as a subculture or lifestyle.


Today the term discothèque is generally considered dated, with the shortened word disco being more common. In the United States the term has largely been replaced with nightclub or dance club since the mid-1980s, though discothèque or disco are still used frequently in many other parts of the world. The word "disco" was originally an abbreviation of discothèque.

In Britain, a 'disco' is usually now a one-off night of dancing and music organised by a non-professional (or semi-professional) DJ at an institution such as a school or workplace.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Discothèque" 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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