Disco, an abbreviation of the French word discothèque, is a musical genre that came from underground dance venues in New York City during the 1970’s. DJs paved the way for the genre by entertaining African Americans, Latinos, and gay dancers. Originally defined as a musical setting, disco evolved into a style involving certain dance steps paired with a specific fashion. Its roots can be found in the mixture of the underground dance venues and gay sensibilities
A Place to Dance
In New York City, Disco emerged in the 1970s as a distinct social dance environment. There are three distinct types of social dance environment. Usually each environment played music with or without the use of a DJ. The first is based on the European concept of discotheque. The venues associated with this concept were mostly socially exclusive, chic, and decorated with a Parisian theme. The second type is Jet set. This led to the diffusion of discotheque in places like London and New York. The cliental of these upscale venues showcase the latest dance trends based on R&B/ Rock&Roll hits such as, “the twist”, “the mash potato”, “the jerk”, “the Watusi”, and “Money Time”. Before crossing over to European settings, these dances were popularized amongst blacks. The third type of dance venue was composed of neighborhood clubs and bars both illegal and legal. They all catered to gay men and women of the community. Gay men and women using dance to create a sense of community and identity amongst themselves.
African American Roots
A former disco dancer Jack Carroll an Irish American states that “Disco is identified as fundamentally african american music, its roots were undeniable.” Disco shows clear evidence of coming from African American roots. It is a derivation of funk which comes from Soul, which is totally and completely African American. Historian Bryan Ward suggested disco was “a time and a place of leisure where, an alternative, exciting, exotic and passionate life style could be imagined, lived, and enjoyed in the paradoxical peace of a high volume, high energy rhythmfest”. With this description, disco definitively displays African American culture.The disco music scene was controlled by a handful of Black artists affiliated with a small group of specialized record labels, lead by Motown and Philadelphia International Disco dance parties were often private, members-only events or events directed toward a more general clientele, by and for segments of urban society that identified as being on the margins of the American mainstream.
America’s most important mass sound of the 1970’s
The Disco DJ
The Disco DJ consisted of heterosexual African Americans, and some women. Many of them were musicians, poets, or visual artists. The focus of a disco DJ was individual records as opposed to commercial radio or radio programming. Disco DJ’s were known to lengthen songs, for example, extending a 3-minute song to a 16-minute song. The DJ was considered a new type of pop star; playing new instruments such as the twin turn tables and a mixer. The sound system established the discothèque as a new performance environment. Dance parties, night clubs, lofts, and bars were often times owned by member of the mafia. DJ’s did not only play famous records, they mixed sequenced and programmed them, creating an innovative way of presenting pre-recorded music in an uninterrupted way. One example of a disco DJ is Frances Grasso, who was the innovator of disco blending
By the mid-1980s, disco music had gone from being ignored to being acknowledged by the mainstream, then being ignored again in favor or rap, funk, and rock music.
Discothèques began to be referred to as clubs, which is where the current meaning finds its origins. Club music also derived from disco music. In these club settings, DJ’s, disc jockeys, played a wide array of different kinds of music.
Planet Rock – Afrika Bambaataa; Engaged both the rap and electro-funk fans.
Larry Levan became one of the most widely recognized DJ’s in New York. Nicknamed “The Father” in the growing DJ industry.
During this time, clubgoers could now distinguish between club music, party music (rap), freestyle, electro-funk, and house music.