WORDS: CHANDLER SHORTLIDGE
Disco is known as a uniquely American movement. It developed out of late-’60s Motown, which at the time featured four-on-the-floor rhythms, lavish string production, indelible vocal hooks, touches of gospel music, and bass lines that made white rock & roll bass players jealous. By the early 1970s, minority and LGBT countercultural movements in Philadelphia and New York City gave birth to the disco scene as we know it today. At the time, the disco scene was seen partly as a reaction to the tumultuous post-hippie period of the ‘60s. The Vietnam War dragged on, and race riots roared across the country, driven by a backlash to the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy. The country, and especially inner-city minority and immigrant communities, felt disillusioned and depressed, as inflation, unemployment and gangs further ravaged the nation.
Disco provided an escape, and the earliest discotheques provided a sanctuary. David Mancuso’s Loft parties are widely recognized as some of the earliest disco events (and in a sense, the earliest raves). They gave the highly vulnerable queer community a rare, welcoming place to be free and express themsevles away from the watchful eyes of the police, who would often harass and arrest them at more visible gay bars and clubs. Legendary sound system designer and engineer Alex Rosner, who invented and built the first DJ mixer, described the Loft parties this way: “There was a mix of sexual orientation, there was a mix of races, mix of economic groups. A real mix, where the common denominator was music."
And the music was incredible. Songs from this early era include Ecstasy, Passion and Pain’s 1974 song “Ask Me,” Crystal World by Crystal Grass, and Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” By 1975, DJ Hector Lebron had tracks like The Brothers’ “Are You Ready For This,” Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “Bad Luck,” and Helplessly’s “Moment of Truth” on heavy rotation at New York City’s famous Limelight. The sound would only grow in popularity across the country until its “death” in 1979 at the now-infamous Disco Demolition event. There, a crate filled with disco records (and other black music, as eye-witnesses would later report) was blown up on the field of Chicago’s Comiskey Park, instigating a riot. It was widely seen as a biggoted act, and Nile Rodgers likened it to a Nazi book-burning.
Disco didn’t die, of course. In America, it went back underground, becoming house music in the hands of Chicago DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles at clubs like the Music Box and The Warehouse.
But the sound that America tried to bury also found followers around the world — even in places one might least expect. Most prominently, there’s Italo disco, the spacey, synth-driven sound influenced by Giorgio Moroder in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. But bottles of ink have already been spilled on that sub-genre, while the disco-infused sounds of countries like Suriname, Nigeria, Bulgaria, and Indonesia have often gone overlooked. Here, we’ll dig into sounds from those and other countries, before looking at the latest rise of disco taking place across Europe and the globe.
Long a Dutch colony, Suriname was granted its independence by the Dutch government in 1975. The situation inside the South American country remained tense for the next several years, and in 1980, Prime Minister Henck Arron’s government was overthrown in a military coup. The execution of 13 prominent citizens who had criticized the military dictatorship followed, and military rule lasted until national elections were held in 1987.
During that time, however, Suriname musicians like Usje Sukatma, Errol de la Fuente, and Sumy wrote some of the coolest boogie and disco songs on the planet. Any two examples would do, but Usje Sukatma’s “Waiting For Your Love” and Sumy’s “Funkin' In Your Mind” are true standouts.
Usje Sukatma - Waiting For Your Love (1979)
Sumy - Funkin' In Your Mind (1982)
Many countries in the Eastern Bloc embraced disco, and Bulgaria was no exception. Stars of the day included Mimi Ivanova, Rossitsa Kirilova, Georgi Hristov, Trik, and one of the biggest TV stars of the day, Tramway No. 5. Bulgarian disco didn’t survive the dissolution of communism in the region following the fall of the Berlin Wall. But thankfully we’re left with a legacy that includes gems like Mimi Ivanova and Start’s 1979 cosmic disco track, “Диско Ракета,” or “Disco Rocket.”
Tramway No. 5 – Синя Вечност (1981)
Mimi Ivanova and Start – “Диско Ракета” (1979)
Philippenes disco grew from the Manilla Sound coming out of the country’s capital beginning in the late ‘60s. Like America and Suriname, it was a time of incredible strife in the country, as President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. He’d been accused of massive corruption and embezzlement, and the country underwent severe political repression, censorship, and human rights violations. The Manilla Sound provided a relief, as radio-friendly disco groups like the VST & Company, The Boyfriends and Hagibis dominated the charts. However, their “marshmallow sound" devolved from corny to camp, and disco’s popularity dissipated in the ‘80s. Luckily, groups like the Soul Jugglers and The Advisors managed to carve out a small but lasting imprint.
Soul Jugglers – Hanggang Magdamag (1978)
Advisors – Yugyugan Na (1977)
Brazil has a rich disco and boogie heritage. Which shouldn’t be surprising, given the country’s intense love and traditions of dancing and music. Elements of samba can be heard in the disco, boogie and funk of bands like Banda Black Rio and singers like Paulo Ramos. It’s also seen a huge surge in popularity amongst certain in-the-know selectors recently. Rabo De Saia’s “Tira Gosto De Pirarucu / Ripa Na Xulipa,” a favourite of Motor City Drum Ensemble, is currently fetching nearly €200 on Discogs. But there’s plenty more to discover, like Cristina Camargo, whose voice flows over the beats of “Moral Tem Hora” like silk.
Cristina Camargo – Moral Tem Hora (1980)
Banda Black Rio - Chega Mais
Internal political conflict and the birth of a disco scene seem to go hand and hand. Further proving that point is Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, which from 1967 to 1970 saw a civil war that killed between 1 and 3 million people, and was followed by a series of military juntas that lasted until 1999. It was during this period that Nigeria joined OPEC, which enriched a few while doing little to contribute to the overall population’s situation. Heavy trade restrictions also banned imported records, as American musical trends began influencing the country. It was also during this time that most of the greatest disco and boogie records in Nigeria were written (the country also gave birth to the legendary Fela Kuti), by artists like Arakatula, Eno Louis, William Onyeabor, Joe Moks, and Joni Haastrup. It was Haastrup, among others, who harnessed the power of disco and soul to talk about the issues of the day with albums like Wake Up Your Mind.
I.G. - Disco Power (1980)
The Mixed Grill - A Brand New Wayo (1979)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. One of the biggest hits in early discoteques (including the Loft) was by a Spanish band called Barrabas. 1972’s “I Like What I Like” by the Canadian group Everyday People is an essential proto-disco/pre-disco record. Cameroon's Soul Makossa wrote an instant classic with “Manu Dibango.” And disco’s prevalence beyond American borders continues today through brands like Glitterbox.
Since its launch in Ibiza in 2013, Glitterbox has rekindled the everybody-under-one-roof spirit of Mancuso’s loft parties, bringing the sound of disco to new and not-so-new audiences with DJs like Horse Meat Disco, Dimitri From Paris, DJ Harvey, Greg Wilson. The party has recently moved Hï Ibiza, and the atmosphere remains unmatched on the island. Glitterbox is more than a party, of course. While the brand has continued throwing successful events in Ibiza, London, Croatia, Glasgow, and Australia, its label continues releasing modern day disco hits like Alan Dixon’s gospel-inspired “Bless Me Today,” while reissuing and remixing classics like Debbie Jacobs’ 1979 hit “Don't You Want My Love,” proving the global love for disco remains alive and well.
Though it’s no surprise. Disco thrived under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable and in countries on nearly every corner of the globe. As the world continues drifting towards more frightening ideals today, the need for a music and a party where all are welcome has hardly been greater in over 30 years. And so, disco rises again.
Glitterbox Dance 4 Love tour commences this month, heading to NYC, Dubai, Australia, Germany, London and more... for further info head to glitterbox.com/events