[3 May 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
What you have here is a five-disc, 45-track set featuring a comprehensive selection of some of the genre’s best and rarest tracks. Curated, compiled, and re-edited by the genre’s foremost DJ and archivist. Truly a grand undertaking.
The genre is disco.
See: The Bad.
Had you cracked an egg in 1977 and left it in your cupboard, come 2012 it likely would have aged better than disco has. For most folks, disco is good for “Y.M.C.A” or maybe “Good Times” at a wedding reception, and that’s about it. But not for Al Kent. The Scottish DJ has made a reputation for himself by spinning nothing but vintage disco. Kent “re-edits” most of the tracks he uncovers, sometimes taking just a snippet of the original and looping it for a while before letting the song unspool. This is his own artform, his labor of love, and, quite possibly, his try at making disco a bit more palatable. Whatever the case, since the turn of the millennium, Kent has been gaining fans with his Disco Demands series. And now the entire series, give or take, has been assembled on one massive set.
This is not “Y.M.C.A.”, “Good Times”, or the same dozen disco tracks that repeatedly are collected on compilations. This is not even the Euro-chill of Donna Summer’s Giorgio Moroder productions. It’s everything else, and then some. Best of Disco Demands gives you funky, bass-poppin’ disco such as Puff’s “(You Got Me) In The Mood”. Smooth, disco-soul like Alan Harris & Perpetual Motion’s “Get Ready”. Booming, Phil Spector-like disco (Don Renaldo Strings’ “Fiddlin’ Around”), Afrobeat-inspired disco (Disco Warriors’ “Cumbaya Disco”), reggae-inspired disco in the form of Alex and His Soul Messengers’ “Hail to Guyana”. Disco about basketball great Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Disco about disco. Disco about disco sucking. And much, much more.
And the thing is, with the help of the remastering and Kent’s editing skills, maybe, a lot of it sounds pretty good. Pretty fresh, even. Make your way through this disco pile and you’ll discover the likes of Executive Suite’s winningly pun-employing yet no-nonsense “Why In the World Do They Keep On (Funk’in With Me)”, which just might be a reference to the homophobia disco’s large gay following tended to engender. Or Superbs’ sincere, uplifting “Party Together”. Or, best of all, Curtis’ massive, skin-tight, anthemic, life-affirming “How Can I Tell Her”. Tracks like this have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, they bear disco’s message of optimism, perseverance, and tolerance proudly. Best of Disco Demands is a sampler’s dream, as well. Dozens of funky riffs, intricate rhythms, and groovy percussion just demand to be snatched up and turned into modern hip-hop, techno, pop, anything. They’re that good. And the playing is nearly all on “real” instruments. That means, most crucially, crisp, human drumming with propulsive hi-hat work.
Of course, to get to these goodies you have to pass through various circles of disco hell. These include ear-piercing, high-pitched, often staccato strings; silly shout-outs and chants; wah-wah pedal overdoses, and bad puns like “disco socks”. With the trimmings come the trappings, and not even someone as deft as Kent can eliminate all of them. Many tracks start off with something cool, only to be foiled by something much more dumb. Is it all worth it? Yes. If not for the genuinely, timelessly good music that’s to be had, for the musical influence alone. Throughout all the permutations, one element is consistent. The steady, thumping, four-on-the-floor rhythm is almost continuous. Here, the foundation of house music was laid. First, the distinctive sounds of Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere, and then the all-encompassing term. And, from there, much of present-day pop. Step forward just a matter of weeks from the infamous Disco Demolition Night, and you have Roxy Music’s “Angel Eyes”. A matter of months later, you have Duran Duran’s early “Night Versions”. Listen to the 12” version of “Rio”. It’s not “disco-inspired”. It is disco.
There’s a very, very good chance you were not planning on purchasing any disco this year. But if anything is going to make you reconsider, it’s Best of Disco Demands.