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)
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