June 19, 2008
(NOT ALL) DISCO SUCKS #1: Dinosaur
It's no secret to those who know me; I love Disco. I don't love it ironically either. Like with most genres, I like the weird stuff, the outliers and the under appreciated the most. Still, when Disco is mentioned, most people can't see beyond Saturday Night Fever, platform shoes and bell bottoms. Maybe a little history is in order.
It's widely accepted that Disco started in New York at the private dance parties David Mancuso threw in his home, which he called The Loft. The first party to be hosted there was held February 14, 1970 and called "Love Saves the Day." At The Loft Mancuso would play records on his audiophile-quality sound system (crafted to be one of the best in the world) for invited guests. At the time gay and lesbian people were often harassed and could be arrested in New York for dancing together in public, so The Loft was a sort of haven for them and all the other freaks without a home. It broke new dance songs regularly including the one considered to be the first disco track, Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" .
The Loft existed in a legal gray area but since it was invite only and didn't sell food or drinks it was able to defend itself against the city's insistence that it apply for a cabaret license. Many people are unaware of the DIY independent spirit that birthed Disco. It was an exciting time of innovation and new sounds.
Many music styles popular today owe a ton to Disco. Hip Hop and any DJ oriented music is indebted to Disco for the rise of the DJ, the popularization of the remix and the invention of the 12" single. It was during these early days of the 70's when records and the people who could mix them became stars. DJs like Larry Levan, Shep Pettibone, Francis Grasso, Frankie Knuckles, Walter Gibbons, Nicky Siano and Tom Moulton ruled the clubs with their mixes. Moulton perhaps left the largest mark on the dance music industry inventing both the remix and the 12" single.
Most people, however, don't know the innovative, independent Disco. They know it as a mainstream phenomenon of the last few years of the 70s, all finger-pointing and crass commercialism . By the end of the decade, Disco had taken over. It was THE dominant music in many areas. Many radio stations moved from other formats to all Disco all the time and record companies made a fortune flooding the market with Disco records. Most of these records are just plain boring and indistinct from one another. The backlash was inevitable.
By the end of the 70's the country was over-saturated with Disco. Although not causing it's demise, the infamous July 12, 1979 "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park in Chicago marked its downturn in the mainstream. There was not much time left for Disco in America.
But that is fine by me. It was alive and well underground.
There are all kinds of records made from the early 70's to the early 80's that are considered Disco (or Disco-influenced) and are funky, original and weird. These are the records I love to find.
One of my favorites is Dinosaur's "Kiss Me Again" which features some of the characteristics most often associated with Disco: strings, four-on-the-floor drumbeat, and emotional female soul vocals. However, the strings are not some soulless orchestra, but the cello of musical genius Arthur Russell. The female vocals are affected, but they don't sound cheesy like in so many other Disco songs. Russell and legendary DJ Nicky Siano, two visionaries of dance music, produced the track and throughout its 12+ minutes, it grows and changes brilliantly. Oh, andDavid Byrne plays guitar on it too.
I found my copy at Corner Records in Grandville amongst a haul of amazingly pristine 70's and 80's promo 12"s. It was my personal mother-lode. This copy was probably never played and it sounds like gold. There are two versions of "Kiss Me Again" on this red vinyl promo 12" but since they are so long I just included my favorite side, the remix, "Kiss Me Again" (Version).
By-the-way, in 1984 another band would name themselves Dinosaur and after a little lawsuit decided they'd rather go by Dinosaur Jr.
If you are interested, check out YouTube for the documentary about Larry Levan and the beginnings of dance music/ Disco/ DJ culture called Maestro. I'm not under any delusion that I'll be able to convince anyone to love Disco as much as I do, but hopefully you can admit that (Not All) Disco Sucks.
Posted by matt at June 19, 2008 10:45 PM
Posted by: Anonymous at June 20, 2008 7:03 AM
whoaaaa. I am REALLY into arthur russsell! do you like his non-disco stuff? and i am REALLY REALLY happy to hear this, it's interesting to hear those russell horns come through. I'm also happy to see cristina make into the graphic of disco that does not suck.
Posted by: george at June 20, 2008 9:14 AM
also, i would love to hear that other side.
ALSO, have you seen Last Days of Disco, which (as its name suggests) is set against that really weird zone where the overly commercialized disco is beginning to fade away and it's patrons are, for lack of better term, "growing up." Whit Stillman is one of my favorite filmmakers.
ALSO ALSO I thought Dinosaur was also called Dinosaur L??
Posted by: george at June 20, 2008 9:21 AM
that dinosaur jam kills it
Posted by: outobol at June 24, 2008 8:24 PM
you might want to check out this website:
There's some good disco stuff there sometimes.
Posted by: alex beerhorst at June 26, 2008 12:59 AM
I listen to this song every day. Basically.
Posted by: george at August 25, 2008 2:43 PM