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The Evolution of Disco

The Evolution of Disco

Disco music exploded on the scene around 50 years ago, but after less than a decade, it was declared dead. 

Yet you can still hear its DNA pulse across the radio dial. Some of the best singers of the 20th century earned recognition with this style. 

So, is disco genuinely dead, or did it just take a break from the dance floor?

Let’s check it out!

What Is Disco Music?

Disco is a genre of upbeat dance music. It typically features steady bass drums on every beat with complex syncopation from the rhythm section. It also usually had a full sound with string sections, synths, brass, and horns to accentuate the vocals. 

This was club music with attitude. The lyrics were simple, and the vocals were repetitive. They stuck with topics like love or rallying cries. This genre’s wall of sound was more complicated than other music.

But the music also went hand in hand with a lifestyle that started underground before it hit the mainstream. 

The History of Disco

When jazz found its way to France in the 30s, it was through DJs playing singles at nightclubs. The American style of music, banned by the Nazis, became a symbol of resistance to German-occupied France. 

Nightclubs that played records for people to dance to a discothèque, which translates to “record library.” The phrase was shortened to disco, and it immigrated to America. Dance clubs continued to be a place of informal resistance in the 60s. White and black people mingled freely, and gay people were openly themselves.

These clubs had moved on from jazz to soul, funk, and Latin American music. But by the late 1960s, DJs had found a new favorite style of music. Disco had elements of all these genres but also had chord progressions more common in jazz, the original sound of resistance. 

The rhythmic, upbeat songs allowed people to gather together and reject social norms. The 60s saw the Civil Rights Act, Women’s liberation movement, and the Stonewall Riots. This music was born from joy, love, and the desire to celebrate everyone’s value.

The subculture went mainstream in 1977 after Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees soundtrack became big hits. The success also led to its downfall. A DJ who lost his job when his station stopped playing rock managed to get 50,000 people to burn records at Disco Demolition Night. Popular backlash 

There were various other criticisms against the genre. Some called it too commercialized, while others hated the inclusive lifestyle it represented. By 1979, disco was dead. 

Who Are Some Famous Disco Artists?

Donna Summer is widely considered the Queen of Disco. Though she started as a psychedelic folk artist, the songwriter made it big with her dance music. She had a passionate voice, and sitting still to her music was impossible. 

The Swedish group ABBA and the British group the Bee Gees got their start in other music styles. But in the late 70s, as disco soared, both groups entered the genre and had tremendous success. The groups were a far cry from the original rebellious spirit of the music but outsold many pioneering artists. 

But no performer’s story embodies the quick rise and demise of the genre quite like Gloria Gaynor. Her songs, especially I Will Survive, incorporated themes of supporting each other and female empowerment. 

As disco sailed into mainstream success, the industry finally took note. The 1980 Grammy Awards created a new category for Best Disco Recording. Gaynor’s anthem, I Will Survive, was the first to win this award. It was also the last, as the backlash against disco led the Recording Academy to remove it from the following year’s ceremony. 

How Did the 70s Dance Craze Influence Culture?

Dead or alive, disco’s cultural impact is still here. Club dancing and DJs are still around today because of their success in the 70s. It also helped pave the way for indie music with a blueprint for how to compete with major labels.

Some of the most successful artists owe a debt to the dance music of the era. Micheal Jackson’s Off the Wall takes inspiration from the disco sound, and the lyrical content stays true to the theme. 

Even if we ignore the music, the fashion made a big splash in the 70s. The extravagant and sensual clothing meant to impress in the dim light of the club was everywhere. 

Bell bottoms, flared shirts, and loud patterns associated with disco are still the go-to outfit for 70s-themed parties. The clubs also helped provide a social haven for many marginalized groups. People can still find the same safety in certain nightclubs to this day.

What Music Genres Have Origins in Disco?

The dancey beats live on in Chicago house music and EDM. The rave lifestyle associated with electronic music also has a similar spirit. But disco also influenced many mainstream artists. Madonna and Prince both owe their success to using disco influences in their sound.

However, early hip hop literally lifted some of their most iconic sounds from samples of the 70s hits. It was a way for African-American artists to reclaim the genre away from the mainstream. Additionally, post-punks rejected the raw rock sounds in favor of synths and experimental beats.

The 21st century also saw nu-disco rise, drawing from European artists of the 70s. 

In the last few years, when many dance clubs had to shut down, the genre has seen a new revival. Lady Gaga helped shape the craze with Chromatica, a return to her dance music roots.

Later that year, Dua Lipa organized a live-stream concert in tribute to Studio 54. The 70s-inspired dancers and sounds were a hit with the home audience.

Disco was a central theme at political rallies and protests alike. President Trump used Village People songs at campaign events. Meanwhile, many 70s classics appeared at protests for George Floyd. 

The infectious sounds and power behind the style of this music continue to capture the public. Even the viral dance crazes on TikTok owe their silly, carefree style to the nightclubs of old. 

The 70s Live On Through Music

The backlash against disco came from two factions. The original fans didn’t like the commercialization of the genre that ignored the social conditions that created it. The other group didn’t like what the music represented.

But the ideas of freedom, individuality, and acceptance live on through other genres. Beyond that, the infectious rhythms, complex production quality, and syncopated style continue to influence some of today’s most successful artists. 

So, is disco making a comeback, or did it never really die in the first place? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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