The Politics of Disco

We have all rocked out to Mithun Chakraborty’s “I am a disco dancer” at some point in our lives but a few of us realise what it meant to be a part of the Disco movement – and I use the word ‘movement’ understanding fully the gravity of the word. The disco culture is more than just flamboyant clothes and groovy music; it was an outlet for the marginalised sections of the society. Discotheques emerged as a place where the African American, Latinos, homosexuals and ‘hipster’ heterosexuals could come together and interact without restrictions.

In the US, due to the Prohibition in the 1930’s the nightclub scene went underground and only resurfaced with the coming of swing and jazz. By the 70s, the night scene had been commandeered by disco. It soon became a symbol of freedom for the oppressed masses. It was a place for men and women alike to come, sing, dance, drink and enjoy their night. It became a sacred zone free from discrimination that women (as a newly emerging workforce), gay, Hispanic and African Americans faced in other spheres of their lives. Disco was freeing, empowering and perhaps the first place where differences were not just tolerated, but celebrated. It gave us the first openly gay pop star – Sylvester “the disco queen” and gave drag queens and cross dressers like The Cockettes and The Disquotays a safe place to express themselves. Disco was the embodiment of the message of love, free spiritedness and unrestricted, unabashed sexuality. With songs like the catchy “love to love you baby” it brought female sexuality in the public sphere as something to be proud of and women could go out, unchaperoned and dance the night away to jazz, funk and latin music.

The decline of disco is just as politically charged as its rise was. The Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey park in Chicago (1979) which saw predominantly white American men destroying piles of vinyl on a baseball pitch betrayed not just anti-disco sentiments but homophobic subtext and a distaste for the growing sexual and racial liberation that Disco was partly responsible for and while this night is widely regarded as ‘the night disco died’, anyone who has heard any pop music in the past three decades would agree that the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have kept the essence and message of Disco alive.

– Abhilasha Kaul, First Year.


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