The music style disco developed in the mid-1960s and became popular in the 1970s. Born in house parties and underground nightclubs, it featured sensual, pulsing beats, synthesizers, and sometimes erotic lyrics.
Disco reached its peak popularity in the mid- to late 1970s with nightclubs like New York’s Studio 54 and France’s Chez Regine’s becoming household names.
In Europe and the US, it became a youth movement, as well as a music style, its clothing, drugs, and social mores pervading everyday culture. Films like “Saturday Night Fever” documented the lifestyle and music at the time, while films like “Boogie Nights,” “Last Days of Disco,” and “Studio 54” provided a retrospective look in the 2000s.
The soundtrack of the film “Saturday Night Fever” produced many defining songs of the era, drawn from what was to be The Bee Gees next album release. Instead, their long-time manager and friend, Robert Stigwood, visited the group in the recording studio. Asked to put together the soundtrack, he turned to the band he had managed since then 1960s. Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb provided multiple tracks for the soundtrack including “Stayin‘ Alive,” which became disco’s anthem.
The Effects of Disco Music
Its initial audiences were city club goers in marginalized sectors of society – African American, Italian American, Latino and gays. In underground gay nightclubs in major cities in the US, these groups came together, unified by music and dance. The psychedelic culture of the mid-1960s joined these club goers and its drugs, especially LSD and quaaludes, permeated the club scene. Its musical style integrated with the music of the clubs, influencing DJs to create extended remixes of studio releases that “jammed” for ten to 12 minutes in length reminiscent of the psychedelia’s jam bands which featured long guitar solos or jams, as well as extended solos or jams with keyboard instruments like Moog organs or more modern synthesizers.
Characteristics of Disco music
The pulsing beat of disco music stemmed from its heavy use of bass and drums. DJs could boost the bass in the club to vibrate the floor with the beat. Combined with the drugs, it helped the people in the club seemingly “feel” the music. It also brought in synthesizers that would later become popular in 80s pop dance music.
Disco music features a few defining points to its beat: a “four-on-the-floor” pattern, use of an eighth note or 16th note hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a heavy, thumpy, syncopated electric bass line. In contrast to later music, disco used musical instruments rather than computer modeled substitutes. Its songs frequently featured electric piano, electric rhythm guitar, flutes, horns, and string sections.
The early 1980s brought a disco backlash with people burning disco albums. The social mores and growing acceptance of counter cultures remained though. The music of major disco era artists like The Bee Gees, Chic, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, KC and the Sunshine Band, Thelma Houston, and the Village People continued to influence future artists. Hip hop, house and rap music later sampled the beats, music and refrains of the era, popularizing the original music for new generations.