A latecomer's guide to nu-disco
You might not realise this, but there is some amazing disco music out there. God, even just writing “disco music” feels wrong on so many levels. Such are the depths to which disco’s reputation has sunk in popular opinion.
But in honour of the fact that italo disco-fixated “metal band on synths” Heartbreak (left) are due to spend the next month blowing socks off up and down the country – beginning with the latest Levi’s Ones To Watch show at London’s Macbeth on Thursday 23rd April – I thought I’d do a thing about this nu-disco hoo-ha which is probably going to soundtrack a fair few debauched evenings this summer.
At this point I’ll attempt to placate connosieurs who will groan about how disco never went away, and how it only went underground, and how I haven’t even heard 1% of the disco I should have, and so on. Guys: I know. If you have knowledge and tips to share I’m sure anyone keen to investigate further – inluding me – will appreciate you sharing in the comments at the end of the post.
While would-be purists prepare their sneers for the mainstream success that nu-disco seems ready to enjoy thanks to the likes of Hed Kandi getting in on the act, those uninhibited by the authenticity police can instead aborb themselves in tunes that, whether they be re-edits of thirty year-old records or freshly-minted modern classics by inspired noobs, provide a refreshing change to standard house music.
Firstly, you need to try your best to disassociate the word “disco” from the visions that doubtless reside in your brain. Vomit-sprayed office christmas parties, chicken in a basket happy hour binges, the wedding receptions of your nightmares, pisstakes of The Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever, “disco sucks” bonfires by trad-rock homophobes… If you can pretend at least some of this never happened, you’ll be better disposed to get the most out of 21st century disco.
The disco I’m talking about is less about throwing hectic Travolata-style shapes and more about slinky, slow-burning, often psychedelic numbers which build gradually to pulsating, synth-festooned climaxes you almost don’t notice arrive.
While Hercules & Love Affair brought nu-disco to the attention of many last year, there’s probably a danger that the artsy air Antony Hegarty brought to the project might have deterred those who like their club music to actually feel like, you know, fun. That’s where the influence of late 70s/early 80s italo disco becomes a welcome element – after all, a lot of it heavily influenced what we now know as house music anyway.
Italo disco had a sense of spacey futurism, with vocoders, synths and drum machines used to create tracks that were often the antithesis of 3-minute pop hits, rather possessing a hypnotic, pulsating feel which, in a parallel universe where Gatecrasher never happened, might today be known as trance music.
The other week saw this great article at Splice Today about “Italo Hammers” – basically the best Italian disco numbers from the period. Listening to these tracks just brings it home to you how many modern-day acts can be identified as disco-influenced. It lists Mr Flagio’s “Take A Chance” as the perfect introduction to Italo, and you can understand why when you listen to its 7+ minutes of vocodered, handclappy goodness:
Of course, the great thing about getting into disco nowadays – nu or otherwise – is that there are plenty of online destinations where you can quickly catch up on the stuff you’ve missed.
Beat Electric is just fantastic, rummaging through vinyl archives to present vintage disco cuts, re-edits and 12″ mixes for your delectation. I’ve always found that immersing yourself in an unfamilar area is when the blogroll really comes into its own – Beat Electric will lead you onto equally fascinating troves courtesy of the likes of American Athlete, which will in turn send you to Disco Connection, and so on.