This to That: Disco
Updated: Mar 18
Pull up a picture of the infamous Studio 54 and you will be greeted with heated movement, calcified and frozen still images. Glittery outfits dazzle, cigarettes dangle, but above all there is dancing, music seeps through every corner. This was the height of disco. Music that felt like it was illegally fused together, emitting sparks with every shiny turn.
During a distinctly dance-less pandemic, disco made a shocking return with Dua Lipa’s juggernaut album Future Nostalgia. The album was tightly choreographed euphoria, each track was thrilling, carefully engineered by pop song writers to evoke memories of the dancefloor. Dua Lipa built on this image of the idyllic night out by creating Studio 2054, an attempt to mimic the shared experience of dancing with people who love the same music.
To cement her status as a disco star, Dua Lipa cleverly collaborated with longstanding pop powerhouse Kylie Minogue on the eve of her disco era, (with the release of her aptly titled album, Disco.) ‘Real Groove’ is finely executed dance track, a careful merging of their sounds, and a true homage to disco’s layered origins.
In the same year as Future Nostalgia, Róisín Murphy released Róisín Machine while Jessie Ware released What’s Your Pleasure? Both were heralded disco albums engineered by artists who injected the genre with their own style. Both were produced by seasoned professionals (Richard Barratt in Murphy’s case and Stuart Price in Ware’s case.) Disco was here - a genre for this decade.
Since then, equally famous singers, like Lizzo with her album Special and Beyoncé with Renaissance, have offered their take on disco, casting new lights on genre, spinning it around until it coats the industry in shifting, glittery glow. Recently London-based, singer Mabel has released About Last Night…, complete with tracks like ‘Crying On The Dancefloor’ which pulse with a steady beat, threading together repeated lines that stretch on indefinitely.
Former leader of Australian band Bridezilla, Holiday Sidewinder’s album Forever or Whatever generally draws on inspirations from 1980s pop, but her song ‘Casino’ leans into the busyness of disco’s dying moments in the early 80s, committing to the multi-faceted sound of that era.
Similarly underrated British singer-songwriter Little Boots has collaborated with Drag Race UK star Tia Kofi to release the dance track ‘I Specialise in Love’. The song feels alive, relishing in its simple message and leaning into its electronic beat. In the spirit of collaboration each verse builds to the two singers imploring their listeners to “let me work on you”, as the catchy rhythm picks up.
Every cultural movement is, on some level, a response to another cultural movement and many music historians would argue that disco was the defiant response to the prevalent disdain for dance music in the 1960s. As with every music genre it was embraced and shaped by Black and Latino artists first, these musicians understood how to harness the need for shared joy. Its no surprise then, that the pandemic, which demanded club closure, coincided with a return to the disco trend. Musicians could stand to invest in this genre, tracing how it effectively builds cascading beats through electronic; real emotion made unreal.