Once upon a time on a sunny, summer day in L.A. (circa 2012) Jeffrey Deitch, art dealer turned MOCA director announced the museum's next show. "Fire in the Disco" would explore the art, music and fashion influenced by the genre in 1970's New York. The art world was less than thrilled.
Two weeks later Deitch resigned from MOCA, pulled up stakes and left L.A. in a cloud of fog machine smoke.
To be clear, disco didn't kill Deitch's career in L.A.; he had far bigger political issues to contend with, but I have to admit, I really wanted to see that disco show. My eyes don’t immediately roll back into my head at the mere mention of disco, in fact right now the genre is completely "on trend". Sadly, whenever this happens in fashion the industry routinely turns to the same hurl inducing disco tropes. I noticed this last year when Marc Jacobs hosted his infamous disco-themed soiree where the ALL-CAPS invite pulled every glittered, glossed, sequin and satin laced cliche out of the book.
"STRICT DRESS TO KILL CODE WILL BE ENFORCED: FUR COATS OVER LINGERIE, LIP GLOSS, JERRY HALL SIDE-SWEPT HAIR, SEQUINS, GOLD LAMÉ TURBANS, PATTI HEARST SYMBIONESE LIBERATION ARMY GEAR, ROGUE, ROLLERINA CHIC, SHEER HAREM PANTS, MINI SKIRTS AND MUSCULAR LEGS, PLATINUM RECORDS AS HEAD GEAR, SEQUINS, GRACE JONES BUTCH REALNESS, GLOSS-Y SKIN, BLEACHED EYEBROWS, SLITS, RIDING IN ON A WHITE HORSE, SEQUINS, SKY HIGH STILETTOS, MIRRORED AVIATORS, METAL MESH, COWL NECKLINE HALTERS, OR EYES OF LAURA MARS CHIC. NO FLAT SHOES. NO MATTE SURFACES. NO NATURAL LOOKS."
And I wonder why people roll their eyes at the mention of disco... Despite this the signs of disco's renaissance continued in 2015 through today. Around the same time as Marc Jacob's party Grace Jones released her memoirs that recalled her disco diva days in such delicious detail, I almost wished I had been a part of that whole scene (minus the dystopian nightmare that was New York in the 1970's). Then in the fall of 2015 H&M parntered with Balmain to produce a line of “ready to club” fast fashion that fell out of favor quicker than a frenzied shopper could snatch a jewel toned jacket off the rack.
Yet disco is still going strong. Why?
Over the years, disco has been distilled down to two distinct themes, hating on the music or loving Studio 54. When people discuss the music and the culture, it’s either from the perspective of the self righteous rock music fan or the aging starlet whose only reference points are Comiskey park in 1979 or Studio 54's velvet rope. I know there's more to it than that. My feeble attempts at taking a deep dive into the culture felt like a Choose Your Adventure novel where the outcomes were you either got eaten by sharks or acquired a bad case of the bends. In reality, disco's roots can be traced to gospel and soul; just like many forms of black music and culture created out of turbulent times the foundation of disco music was exploited and co-opted for commercial gain.
Sadly, just like that aging starlet, disco’s true roots rarely see the light of day. The story I long to hear hasn’t been told yet. I want to hear stories from people who danced at David Mancuso’s Loft, or The Gallery or from the kid in the South Bronx who paid a $1.00 cover to get into Disco Fever to hear Grandmaster Flash. This is why I’m holding out hope for Baz Luhrmann’s “The Get Down” debuting Friday, August 12 on Netflix. While I have no expectations of historical accuracy I hope the show subtly acknowledges some historical highlights that are routinely overlooked in pop culture representations of disco.
In the meantime, I’ve done my own homework because I know there’s more to this genre than spandex, lip gloss, cocaine and white polyester suits. So I’m taking another dive into disco and I'm bringing you along with me.
For the remainder of the month I’ll take you on a musical adventure that goes beyond the gloss and gets to the heart of disco. Get ready for some amazing music and incredible photography that will give you a glimpse of disco’s soul. Posts can be found on Culture Shock Art and TONDI. Also see links below.