Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Discopia #6 - Interview with DJ Nicky Siano / The Backlash

I thought I'd give the Discopia webzine a little shout out on the blog.. I haven't read the entire issue yet, but it's great to find someone's interest in disco translate itself into a cool little project like this. Greg Wilson on the forums tipped people off to issue #6 (The Big Gay Issue). Very good interview with one of the original disco DJ's, Nicky Siano. One of the more interesting responses was his take on the "death" of disco:

So how did you personally find the disco backlash?

Well, I didn’t find it offensive, I found it really timely, ‘cos I was kind of tired of the sound too. I mean I had become really disillusioned with it. I mean, oh my God, what the record companies did, they screwed themselves! They stopped putting out quality and they just put out quantity. They flooded the market with garbage. You know in the beginning, in 1976, if you put the word disco on a record it would just sell. 100,000 copies. Just like that! And then it got to the point where you start putting out disco Ethel Merman and you’re gonna screw yourself, y’know, and they did. They did!

I have to admit, he has a point.

Elsewhere in the issue in Niall Connelly's Disco Action section talks about the "disco sucks" backlash and expands his analysis beyond the typical accusations of racism and homophobia. While I don't doubt that there was definitely an undercurrent of that in much of the disco backlash, it just sounds too simplistic to pinpoint to those two factors alone. I remember reading an old article, I think it was from an old issue of "The Advocate" (don't quote me on that though) from the late '70s and one writer was lamenting the state of disco. To paraphrase, he was disillusioned by what he had seen as the colder, harder, robotic disco that emerged in contrast to the warm, soulful disco that was common in the mid '70s when disco started to emerge. While I wouldn't use those words myself, I can understand that someone who fell in love with the R&B variant of disco in the early to mid '70s would probably be disillusioned when, say European electronic or orchestral sounds like Giorgio Moroder's "Chase" and Boris Midney's "Beautiful Bend," respectively, were becoming more popular in a genre that was once essentially an extension of R&B. Personally, I like all of it (and I'm certain, so do many others). Part of the beauty of disco, at least to me, was that there were a lot of different things under one roof so to speak.

While I find it annoying a lot of the time, they may be on to something these days with the all genres and sub-genres that are used to describe what falls under dance and electronic music. I find it unnecessarily fragmenting in some ways but on the other hand, perhaps it prevents the industry from abusing a single term like what they did with disco. By 1979 disco, at least to me, had become very diverse and experimental almost. With all the electronic, rock, orchestral, rhythmic elements, in addition to the R&B influenced variants, often times some records didn't have much in common aside from being marketed as disco. It seems to support an observation that a friend of mine (hey Eric!) had put forth in a recent discussion on another web forum; if disco isn't technically dead (which is my view), then "disco" can probably be better described as an era in dance music more so than a genre. I think that if you applied the same genres and subgenres to disco that are applied to dance/electronic music today, then you'd probably have a number of (though perhaps not as many) similar and parallel genres and sub-genres. Perhaps if it wasn't such an aggressively marketed term, then maybe it would have ended up evolving more in this way and perhaps without such an aggressive backlash.

In any case, I wasn't around then so I probably have a different perspective to all of this than someone who had lived it. Because of the way the sound was branching out, some of my favourite disco was from 1979. It seems like there was just so much released that year, so much of it lost in the shuffle and unappreciated that it's become something of a treasure trove for people like myself who started collecting after the fact and are always after the undiscovered gems. There may have been a lot of crap (poor Ethel) but there was a lot of great stuff from that year too, at least in my experience so far.

So anyway, that's my brain fart for today. I'm not lamenting really, just analyzing I guess. Disco is interesting not just musically, but sociologically as well; the role of nightclubs in society, the fact that the black and gay communities were the ones to really embrace it (and in fact continue it), the hedonism that typified the era just to name a few things. It seems like such a unique time and place to be and to have experienced. Not to mention a relatively misunderstood, overlooked and dismissed genre that, as people seem to be seeing now, was more influential and substantial than it's been given credit for.




JMG said...

I have the Ethyl Merman Disco Album, and I still will occasionally play the disco'd version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" for astonished friends. I will always enjoy its camp value.

Peteykins said...

Mmmmm... I love Morodor's "The Chase". But my favoritest Giorgio project was his album "Stateless" with Nina Hagen. Wow!

There's one twelve-incher which I strongly believe is the single greatest disco record ever made. I'll let you know when I'm ready to reveal that info.

Tommy said...

I must admit, now that you've mentioned it Joe, I can't stop listening to "No Business.." on the Vinyl Museum site.. lol

I've been stalling on it for the last little while, but I think I'll finally be getting the CD reissue pretty soon now ;)

Tommy said...

Yeah "The Chase" is probably one of my all time favourite Moroder productions too.. Never heard of the Nina Hagen album he did though, must track that one down! There's so much of his '80s work that I have yet to hear..

Can't wait for you to reveal your choice for the greatest disco record PSP.. :)

Peteykins said...

OK, now I'm not so sure, so I'll divulge my two top candidates:

1. You + Me = Love b/w Let's Go Down to the Disco by the Undisputed Truth


2. Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick b/w Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3 by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Tommy said...

ooh I love the Undisputed Truth tracks, great choice! I love the Undisputed Truth's post-Motown stuff.. Interesting choice with the Ian Dury track. Just downloaded that in fact, hilarious track haha love it!

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