With the hype for Daft Punk's upcoming album Random Access Memories reaching a peak, this is an exciting moment for anyone who ever felt like disco received short shrift in the late 1970s, when disco allegedly died.
Disco' received a symbolic "death" most publicly during the July 1979 “Disco Demolition Night” in Chicago. For years, disco was maligned as overly commercial, bourgeois, cheesy, and monotonous. Punk rock was celebrated by critics and writers, while disco was seen as commercial and conformist.
Of course, many of these things were true of disco—but that was part of what made disco great. Even fans would admit, some songs were monotonous (although those songs were seldom very popular; disco was very democratic). But part of its bourgie background was about aspiration. Disco was music created by and for segregated gay, black, and Latino dancefloors in New York; much as in hip-hop, it was about signalling new wealth, in addition to being shaped by racial segregation and an emerging gay liberation movement.
Most disco-haters might not have realized it, but at the time, their objections to disco were objections to some of the most visible aspects of these marginalized subcultures. Rock music was respectable, critically acclaimed, for “serious” music fans. Meanwhile, the music that came from gay urban dance floors was seen as ephemeral, feminine, and un-serious.
This is why the high profile promotion for Random Access Memories is so exciting; the gradual ascent to canonization of the original disco and dance artists has taken a long time.
Groups like LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture made it "cool" a decade ago, opening hipsters up to the four-on-the-floor groove. At that time, Daft Punk got mildly positive reviews from publications inside the United States, even as they flourished abroad. With the success of EDM in the past few years, dance music has completely crossed over; no one looks askance at house music’s marketplace triumph.
Daft Punk, however, are mainstreaming awareness of classic disco innovators, putting the accomplishments of greats, like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, on a pedestal to sit alongside classic rock heroes like Bob Dylan and The Beatles. It’s hard to be cynical about that.
But Daft Punk didn't just hear disco and make their music out of its remains. For those fans in the United States who got on board with the duo’s classic album Discovery (or later), there’s a missing puzzle piece—or four.
What happened between disco and Daft Punk?