ISTM that the backlash against disco was a lot stronger than you would expect from people who just didn’t like a particular style of music. The mass burnings of disco records (most notably Disco Demolition Night and the lingering antipathy to artists who had been associated with the style at its height (e.g. the Bee Gees).
I appreciate that not everyone is going to like every style. Different strokes for different folks. But what accounted for this depth of feeling?
IMHO, I’d put a lot of it on how huge disco became, and the lifestyle associated with the genre. If it was some underground subculture, I doubt people would have noticed. The music was everywhere and represented a very plastic culture.
Well, as someone who was teenaged and lived through it, and has come to love and appreciate some disco and it’s progeny like techno and house, I will say this: it was so…non-rock and non-macho. As a Ted Nugent-and-Aerosmith-loving chunk of white, middle-class suburbia, it was weird to me and, I guess in hindsight, threatening. I found myself dancing to it at high school dances but weirded out a bit by it. Totally my problem.
I would almost equate hating disco to being in the Tea Party now - when you get a bunch of folks who not only share the hate for something, but laugh and joke about the other guys, it doesn’t take much to make it feel okay to show your hate. Now pull it back from politics to something cultural and folks get to flame. How is it different from the Twilight fad or other stuff like that?
In other words: if you listen to fools, the mob rules.
My favorite anti-disco moment was at an Ian Hunter concert. He changed the chorus of “Cleveland Rocks” to “Disco Sucks!”. Everyone in the hall stood up, raised their fists and sang along in a great gleeful roar.
If you were a member of a local bar band during discomania, you found your number of gigs steadily decreasing. Many bars found it cheaper to simply play disco music with a dj instead of employing live musicians.
Mind you, there were other reasons to hate disco, but my musician friends hated it because it hit them hard right in the wallet!
Speaking as someone who was an adolescent during that dark time, the hate of disco had a lot to do with the fear that it was taking over all of music (and perhaps popular culture itself). Newsweek on its cover during the early summer of 1979 proclaimed, “DISCO TAKES OVER!” There was the sense that we were on the verge of a major shift in popular music similar to when rock n’ roll became the dominant “hip” mode more than 20 years before and everything thing would be disco for the rest of the century thereby condemning listeners of rock in all its styles (punk, new wave, metal, etc.) to become as relevant as people who listened to Lawrence Welk.
Of course, the pop culture mavens turned out to be dead wrong. Despite the bad publicity and fact it turned into a drunk-thugs-go-wild event, Disco Demolition lit a spark. In late summer 1979, The Knack’s “My Sharona” shot to the top of the charts and delivered the mortal blow to disco. Within less than a year, disco was gathering dust in the pop culture attic.
I suspect it had a lot to do with pretty much every kind of prejudice you can think of – buried racism (disco’s strong connection to R&B), homophobia, sexism (higher concentration of female artists than in rock), xenophobia (lots of Europeans involved in disco), anti-urban progressive feeling, and so on.
It’s similar to the kind of virulent antipathy you hear about rap.
The claim homophobia is completely bogus. Unless you were in the disco clubs of the big cities, you had no idea that gay men were interested in it. Plenty of people (like me) hated disco merely because they listened to it and found it boring, uninspiring, mindless dance music that was clearly a fad that had no where to go.
It’s also the same for racism (in the 60s, rock fans didn’t hate Motown), sexism (again, rock women were always popular), etc. Most fans didn’t care about things like that, or even knew about it.
For most music fans, disco was just bad music. It was clearly not a threat to rock (the only place it had to go was back to rock). But for anyone who listened to music in the early 70s, disco was a major step down in quality.
On a related note, disco went against the two prevailing ethos among serious rock and popular music listeners at the time: authenticity and do-it-yourself. Punk, which arose around the same time as disco, had both of these and yet, in the U.S., remained only a well-publicized cult movement while disco was blowing up all over the place. Disco represented safe Establishment decadence.
But if it was just bad music, you just don’t listen to it. You don’t make massive record burnings of music that you don’t like. I don’t like a lot of music and I just leave it to people who do like it, while I listen to what I like.
Were you around in the 70s? You couldn’t help but listen to it. It was ubiquitous. You may be overestimating the ability of anyone in a public place to listen to their own music – the Walkman wasn’t even that common and MP3 players weren’t even a science fiction pipedream.
I don’t know, but the funny thing is, India loves Disco. Bollywood is still crazy about it. I don’t mind it, but I see a definite antipathy and even contempt for the genre in my SO. Like all music, there’s good and bad in it.
I think “non-rock” is particularly significant. WordMan and others recently discussed some reasons why jazz is often viscerally disliked. If the more outré jazz forms had ever approached the popularity of disco, you can bet there would have been spectacle demonstrations of violent disapproval for them, too!
Disco simply discarded or subverted too many of the elements that too many passionate rock (and country, etc.) fans had become accustomed to using in understanding what “music” was. Disco was like anti-music for these people (some of whom are here today). In a way it was much more radical than punk. Sneering at and deliberately slurring given values (speaking here in sonic terms, not about politics or culture) is still acknowledging their relevance. Disco seemed to blissfully ignore many of rock’s values. With respect to the basic fault line between disco and mainstream rock, punk was clearly on the mainstream side.
Well, it was never again at the forefront of popular media attention as such. But disco never really died, and its musical genes dispersed themselves in such a way that, in effect, disco has today become one of the dominant sounds of the planet, albeit in a multiplicity of forms under various names, some of which explicitly reintegrated some of the very rock values that classical disco ignored.
Yes, but rock musicians themselves, and music writers, were certainly so aware, and I suspect it often fueled their antipathy, from which some portion of the masses took their cues. A handful of established rock figures defended disco, and a couple of those actually transmuted into disco acts themselves, but most had arrayed themselves against disco by the time popular attention peaked. I’d say homophobia was maybe one lesser factor among several at work.