Early forms of disco have a distinct sound and rhythm that set it apart from the over produced, commercialized version of disco that ultimately led to its demise. I asked one of my favorite DJs (and my better half) to compile a mix that defined the early years of disco, aka "Proto Disco". The songs in this set are defined by long, epic builds, string intros, punchy basslines and hyptnotic rhythms.
In "Spring Rain by Silvetti, you can easily detect some of the common characteristics of commercial disco while in Newsy Neighbors by First Choice, the allegiance to late 60's R&B is prevalent. Soul Makossa was a cross over hit that resonated with black and latin listeners harmonizing R&B with Latin American and African rhythms. When a legendary DJ found the track as a French import in a West Indian record store in Brooklyn, once it was played it was an immediate hit among black, white and latino audiences.
When night clubs sought simplified rhythms and extended mixes, the 12 inch record became en vogue for DJs in clubs looking to extend a beat in a set. The rhythms became less complex, the hooks were easy, catchy and memorable (think Y.M.C.A.), and these simplified bare productions became appealing to record companies looking to cash in on the sound. By the late 70's disco became tragically formulaic. Once record labels rushed to mass produce the genre it became ubiquitous; and it quickly became a lightening rod for hate until it was eventually forced underground in 1979.
Meanwhile, in another venue in 1976, a new sound emerged in a place where the club was once again, about the music, not the "scene". One where DJs payed homage to the lush, soulful sounds of Proto Disco who harmonized the classic songs with syncopated beats, new wave, and pop. Disco may have been forced underground, but the Garage ultimately became a place where paradise was found, once again.
For more about the early years of disco, check out daily updates on Culture Shock Art, during the month of August.