Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Funkytown, Montreal




CBC Radio 2 - Inside The Music: Funkytown - The Montreal Disco Era

I'm quite a few months late with this, but came across this several months back while poking around on the CBC Radio 2 site one night. Originally aired in January of this year, Radio 2's "Inside The Music," hosted by Patti Schmidt aired this 53 minute documentary, entitled "Funkytown: The Montreal Disco Era" on the history of Montreal's disco scene. The backstory is explained on the Radio 2 blog:

In 1977, radio producer Colin MacKenzie (who has worked with The Signal) moved to the suburbs of Montreal and watched disco explode from a distance. Sometimes he joined in while circling a roller-rink, despite the fact that Led Zeppelin was scribbled across the back of his jean jacket. He had to admit it, he thought Earth Wind and Fire had some great moves -- and some great threads. (Editorial Aside: How come no one has resurrected that phrase? Great threads indeed.)

Recently MacKenzie moved back to Montreal and noticed that a lot of disco-era players were still alive and living in the city, either making music or involved in the entertainment business. He decided he needed to find out why Montreal had been such a major player in the world of Disco....

...By 1979 Hollywood stars, New York glitterati, politicians, royalty and the jet set were all beating a path to Montreal’s legendary disco clubs to dance the night away. What happened? Suddenly Montreal had platinum status admission to the VIP lounge of coolest of the cool disco cities right alongside Paris, New York, Berlin and LA. For a brief moment in time, the remnants of a cultural revolution, new wealth, and corruption were joined by sex and drugs and the pounding beats of disco for never ending nights let loose on Montreal’s dance floors.

While not without it's omissions, so far, this documentary is one of the few comprehensive, contemporary accounts of Montreal's disco scene that I've found (at least in English). One of the most notable (albeit perhaps arguable) facts highlighted in the documentary, which doesn't seem quite as well-recognized today, is how Billboard had once called Montreal the second most influential disco market in the world, right next to New York, of course.

While the history of disco in New York, and it's social context within American society, post-Vietnam, amid the undercurrent of decline in New York City itself have been well analyzed and documented, the unique circumstances that made Montreal a disco hot spot seem largely unexamined, by comparison. While there were similarities like the pioneering influence of the gay community; the rise of the Quebec nationalist movement and The Quiet Revolution, the city's linguistic/cultural duality - being geographically North American, yet culturally situated between Anglo-America and Europe are notable, albeit distinct parallels to the influences around New York's disco experience.

The rise of Montreal's disco scene is documented here by a series of interviews with writer William Weintraub, Montreal DJ Robert Ouimet, dance historian Michel Landry and industry players Michael and Dominique Zgarka, who discuss Montreal's place in breaking European disco records in the American market. Performers Pierre Perpall and Patsy Gallant are also given time here, with Gallant addressing the controversy around her biggest hit, "From New York To L.A.," a questionable adaptation of Gilles Vigneault's Quebecois anthem, "Mon Pays."

A valiant, albeit still incomplete examination of Montreal's disco history, it seems unfortunate (interviews and inspired subject matter aside) that there wasn't time to devote more attention to the other notable acts, records and producers that came out of Montreal at the time. A look at Montreal's disco history cannot be complete without any mention of Gino Soccio, Denis and Denyse LePage of Lime, the Unidisc label and the prominence of Montreal's Italian-Canadian community in the disco scene. I guess time limits and the need to present this for a general English Canadian audience were all limitations that needed to be considered here, however I suppose (or, rather hope) it's all potential material for a Part Two, if anyone at the CBC is willing.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
HELPING MYSELF (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 4, 2009)
BBC RADIO 2: CLASSIC SINGLES - I FEEL LOVE (SUNDAY DECEMBER 30, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #46: GUY LAFLEUR - LAFLEUR! (1979. UNIDISC SPORTS) (SATURDAY OCTOBER 27. 2007)
KEEP IT COMING.. (WEDNESDAY JULY 4, 2007)
A MOMENT OR TWO.. (TUESDAY MAY 8, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #35: MONTREAL FEATURING UCHENNA IKEJIANI (1979, SALSOUL) (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21, 2007)
SUNSHINE ON MY MIND... (SUNDAY JANUARY 7, 2007)
BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (SATURDAY JANUARY 6, 2007)

LINKS:
CBC RADIO 2 BLOG: MONTREAL'S DAYS OF DISCO (BY LI ROBBINS) (JANUARY 8, 2009)
CBC RADIO 2: INSIDE THE MUSIC
CBC RADIO 2: INSIDE THE MUSIC AUDIO ARCHIVES
DISCOGS: ROBERT OUIMET
WILLIAM WEINTRAUB - OFFICIAL SITE
THE CANADIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MUSIC IN CANADA - DISCO

CATEGORIES: CAN-CON DISCO, INTERVIEWS

10 comments:

Kristofer David said...

Interesting indeed. And you know my friend - that if you need additional info on any of these artists - I'm only a click away !!!

I've been meaning to gather all the information I have on the shooting of the new FUNKYTOWN movie in Montreal.Tidbits of info have been leaking out - from the soundtrack collaborators (new local artists trying to recreate "the" disco sound of the 70's) to the actual shooting locations.

I can't wait to see this movie...

Kim Vincent said...

Yes it was a fabulous time and well worth a movie. I must catch you on the historical error that is often cited in this flippant manner that ''Early 1970’s Montreal was chaotic: bombs went off, people were kidnapped and killed, the War Measures Act was put into effect and the English-French conflict had escalated to what many felt was the precipice of a full on revolution.''
There was only one kidnapping in October 1970 and that same person died in hospital after his release from injuries trying to escape. It is not right to casually claim otherwise.

The Limelight was a blast I concur but it was not a bomb. A couple of cherry bombs in mailboxes are hardly bombs going off.

Let's keep it real, shall we ?

Tommy said...

Hey Kris,

I always have you in mind when I think of Montreal disco, I oughta click to you more often.. I had no idea about the upcoming movie though! That's interesting news. Perhaps the name of this doc was a tie-in to that.. Will be interesting to see how or if the movie brings some newfound interest. I'd personally like to see someone write a book about it one of these days. Thanks for the comment, as always :)

Kim Vincent,
Apologies for posting that error. I cut and pasted the portion of blockquoted text from the Radio 2 blog. Should have caught that earlier - perhaps if I read a little more carefully and brushed up a bit on my own history first. Most of the FLQ's activities had occurred pre-1970, so I'll edit that out.

Charles said...

Tommy...You should write that book! I can't imagine how anyone else could do a better job than you.

About that Funkytown movie...From what I've read, I'm preparing for another parodic version of that era, with the same mainstream songs we hear all the time. Hope I'm proven wrong, though!

ish said...

Hey Tommy, a little off topic, but...

You may remember a couple years ago I dropped you a note in my ongoing quest to find the disco song in the gay porn flick "LA Tool & Die." I'm thrilled to report I finally found it, even though writing to Joe Gage himself got me a wrong answer. The song in question turns out to be "Baby I Love You" from Easy Going, an italo-disco act ca. 1978. So if you ever get another errant inquiry you now have the answer.

Anyway, I continue to enjoy your blog. Keep up the great work.

Disco77 said...

Hey Tommy, you have a very interesting website and I have to agree with you that very little has been documented about the disco scene here in Montreal in the late 70's; I would go further and say that a film involving the 70`s disco scene anywhere in the world has yet to be created (and I am including Saturday Night Fever which was a good movie but, in my mind, only peripherally about the true disco scene). Perhaps I am deluding myself but having been there (in fact, I am the first voice you hear after Patti Schmidt on the CBC documentary and later during the program I describe the Limelight - although they cut they interview in such a way that it sounds like I am describing Le Jardin instead), and having been a constant habitue of almost all of Montreal`s gay and straight disco`s from 1976 onwards (Maxwell`s, Limelight (SuperLime as the third floor was called), Le Jardin, Oz, Regine`s (it lasted about three nights), Le Tube, Harlequin, Reflexions, PJ`s, Hollywood, Kathryn333, Studio 1 (later The Beat), Glass, Garage, Jilly`s, Baccarat, 1234, Harlow, Camouflage, Business, and so on - the list of clubs was truly endless and the epicenter in 1977 was Stanley Street)I believe that disco music and the disco scene were about happiness, freedom, individualism and the abandoning of self to the beat; and, of course, a lot about humour and the enjoyment of life. I certainly hope that Funkytown the film captures at least a little of that.

larrydayactor said...

Nice website but I think it should be noted that Kim has her facts all wrong about the October crisis of 1970. There were 2 kidnappings not one as she states. Pierre Laporte was murdered by his FLQ captors while in their custody. He did not die in a hospital of injuries gotten while trying to escape. Kim should get the facts right before writing them on a website.

As far as the era, it truly was a special time which i was fortunate to have been a part of working as a DJ in clubs such as The Hariquin, Altitheque 727, Don Jauns, Harlows, Septembers and Studio 55.

The truly special people of the era were the DJ's of including Robert Ouimet, Michel Simard, Louis Georges Cazabon, George C, Grant Magregor, Norman Neuschild...the list goes on and on. Montreal was the birthpace of using studio mixing boards in clubs and were known to the recording industry as a power to break new artist and records and make them hits. It truly was a special time in what was then a very special city.

Brain Mechanic said...

this is really great stuff. thanks for posting. glad i found your blog.

QueerMontrealBlog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
QueerMontrealBlog said...

Premier tomorrow. Can't wait! I've been writing about it in my blog, and I linked to yours. Thanks Tommy.

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