As I read granular synthesis guru Barry Truax’s seminal soundscape text Acoustic Communication last year, I was struck by the following passage:
“Does our present ability to document something for all time contribute or detract from the experience of tradition? Does not all of the recorded past simply become part of the present? The concept of linear, historical time is denied, if not actually eliminated, by the electroacoustic media. If a particular sound can be preserved and embedded within that originating from any other time, the concept of a linear flow of time becomes an anachronism.”
I spent my childhood in the ‘80s, and it only took a handful of years in the ‘90s for me to realize what a dreadful decade that was for music, politics, fashion, television, and so much more. Regardless, much to my horror, the music and fashion of the ‘80s seemed to fade only briefly at the millennium, and perhaps never really went away. Neon, mullets, and hair metal are still all common sights, among other things I’d consider best forgotten.
Yet, the regrettable return of the ‘80s aesthetic so noticeable to someone of my generation was certainly not a first. The late ‘70s concept of disco was polarizing in its day, birthed by the party scene in [New York] and fueled by stimulants, bold fashion choices, vigorous dance, synthesizers, and extended mixes of club funk and pop. On the other side was the hard rock crowd, basking in the glory of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss, and the heyday of arena rock, loathing the comparatively liberated form with a wash of testosterone, beer, and a desire to cling to some naive ideal of ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ without consequence.
These forces came to a peak at Disco Demolition Night, held at the 1979 baseball game between Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. At the time, disco was losing mainstream steam, clubs were closing, and the word ‘disco’ became a punch line among men concerned with being manly men. On this particular night, a riot of burning and blustering bombast exploded into the collective conscience. A statement had been made; as far as the mainstream was concerned, disco was dead.
However, as Truax pointed out, lest plague, meteor, or nuclear holocaust, musical cultural phenomena don’t die. Despite protest and punch line, disco never really left us. It moved underground, continued on its own under hybridized names, and bubbled out of unexpected places like lava [not the lamp kind], influencing the creation of new genres such as hip-hop and house, new mountains still prominent in today’s popular culture.
This Soundscape presents some aspects of the lasting effects of disco and associated funk. While few selections from the track listing would be considered truly disco, it shows some ways in which the aesthetic nurtured in posh clubs over 30 years ago continues to self-perpetuate and effect contemporary forms, even those enjoyed by people who may otherwise cringe at mention of the ‘d’ word. Ultimately, this mix is just a spot of fun, so don’t start a riot… unless you hire a DJ and procure a liquor license beforehand.
Total Running Time: 55:21
// Notes from the Road
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