discos

discos
   ‘Disco’ is an abbreviation of ‘discotheque’, a word that combines the French terms for ‘disc’ and ‘library’. Disco has its origins in the London mod clubs (see mods) and Northern Soul clubs of the early 1960s. However, by the late 1960s, popular music had moved away from its previous emphasis on the live performance as the ‘authentic’ musical medium. This move paralleled technological developments such as ‘multitrack’ recording, meaning that studio-produced music could not necessarily be replicated by a live band. As a consequence of these developments, the popular music of the early 1970s moved away from its previous emphasis on the ‘traditional’ guitar, bass, drums and vocals, towards a more synthesized form. Those clubs that had an emphasis on playing records, rather than a live performance by a band, became increasingly popular.
   Although the first British disco was The Discotheque in Wardour Street, London, probably the most influential British disco of the 1970s was The Embassy, also in London. A small ‘members only’ club with a capacity of around 400, The Embassy was one of the first venues to employ new lighting technologies such as the stroboscope, or ‘strobe’, and the ultraviolet bulb, which transformed the opulent surroundings of the building into a palace for dancing. Whereas the dominant musical genre of the early 1970s, progressive rock, was based upon a kind of cerebral intellectualism, the music played at discos placed an emphasis on rhythm and repetition in order to facilitate dancing.
   As the culture of the disco in the 1970s became more popular, specific musical and clothing styles were developed. Both men and women wore outlandish costumes and danced for hours to the emergent dance music genre of disco itself. Possibly the most famous, and also the most influential, disco track is Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ (1977). Musically revolutionary even by today’s standards, this track set the blueprint for disco music for the next twenty years. Produced by Giorgio Moroder, ‘I Feel Love’ employed many of the experimental production techniques of the European pop avant-garde, and contained an incessant beat combined with synthesized electronic rhythms. Also popular with fans of disco is the film Saturday Night Fever, filmed entirely on location in and around the New York disco scene. The clothing, dance styles and particularly the soundtrack of this film, have remained influential. Although house, techno and jungle are now the dominant forms of British dance music, the sound of disco remains influential. Very few contemporary clubs that play dance music continue to refer to themselves as discos, with most preferring the names ‘nightclub’ or ‘dance club’. However, the phenomenon of the ‘mobile disco’ has survived. A mobile disco consists of a complete sound system including two turntables, an amplifier, speakers, a sound mixer and lighting show, available for hire and transportable by van. The convenience and portability of the mobile disco means that it will continue to be a staple feature of birthday parties, weddings and other small-scale private functions.
   See also: clubs; disco; house
   Further reading
    Blackford, A. (1979) Disco Dancing Tonight, London: Octopus.
   STUART BORTHWICK

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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