Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Aaah......Freak Out!

I don’t know whether you have ever been forced to live out your worst nightmare but it’s not something I would generally volunteer for. Yet inexplicably, I found myself watching a 90-minute retrospective on the Disco phenomenon of the 1970s/1980s on TV recently, a genre of music that I avoided at all costs when it first appeared.

It felt like someone at the BBC had raided my younger sister’s (12 inch) singles collection and played the whole lot, one after the other in an unending battery of chink-a-chink rhythm guitar and thumping bass lines. We won’t even mention the clothes…or hair.

Chic, Sylvester, Dan Hartman, KC & the Sunshine Band, Kool and the Gang - the list went on and on. But let’s try and be positive. What can we learn from this lot, using as our guide the academically approved tool of hindsight?

Well, first off it seems pretty clear that the disco template belongs to Chic. Nile Rogers developed the chink-a-chink guitar style and the late Bernard Edwards was the master of the hum-a-long bass line. Between them they set up the formula for the genre and they did it best. Some of the rest did a reasonable impersonation and the rest were Disco by numbers. Worse, most didn’t know when to stop (and to think that old prog-rockers got pilloried for this). Interestingly, the Bee Gees didn’t really stick to the approved template – perhaps that’s why they are considered the Disco kings?

Secondly, it is surprising how bare the music now seems without drum machines and computers filling in every nano-second with machine gun precise, mind numbing polyrhythms. With just a real live drummer and bass player the rhythm sections of these 30-year-old recordings sound stark and well, human. I reckon that the first wave of ‘band based’ Disco came a cropper at about the time that drum machines and sequencers appeared – about the mid eighties and by, say, 1988 when the Rave culture took hold, Disco was dead.

Would I like it back? Well, no. But on the other hand, it was instructive to hear ‘Groovejet’ by Spiller, released in about 2000 well after the demise of 1970s Disco, included at the end of the programme and guess what? Chink-a-chink rhythm guitar and hum-a-long bass lines!

At least it made a change from the sort of technology-produced ‘dance’ music we are now subjected to. Perhaps I’ve gone into nostalgia mode over real drummers. Now, where did I put that silver jumpsuit?

No comments: