Disco Inferno 2.0: A Slightly Less Hedonistic Comeback

Charting the DJs, labels, and edits fueling an old new craze

The second reason that edits arise is to elide cringe-worthy parts of otherwise excellent tracks, be it overwrought and keyless singing, lame lyrics, haphazard chord changes, or what-have-you. In the edit, shit can transform into shinola. Language perceives that with the technology available, edits are now "a punk-rock thing, in that making edits allow a lot of people access into it. But the downside is that most edits are going to suck. If you only need three or four chords to play, it's great because all of a sudden someone who thought they had no chance of ever being in a band before will start a band. But most people aren't going to be the Ramones or Wire."

Disco edits can mean recasting the most wretched Eastern European disco or dollar-bin pariahs in startling new lights, or it can lead to hubristic cut-ups of the Rolling Stones, Frankie Valli, America's "Horse With No Name," Billy Ocean, Chicago, Paul Simon, or even Wire. "What's annoying is how much people hype them on the Web," sighs Lee. "People do edits for the sake of copping a name for themselves. There's no fucking rules now."

The adage goes that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, a fact that echoes at times through the new disco edit scene. Many of the form's current practitioners were toddlers during disco's '70s heyday, but grew up under the assumption that "disco sucks." Coming of age in the eras of hardcore punk and hip-hop (itself a genre birthed in part from seeking out the breaks in disco records), they had to work their way backwards to get at the original source of dance music. Unlike learning about, say, the canon of classic '60s rock, disco music and DJ culture remain decentralized as a whole. "Too many people these days just look to the Internet to learn about music," laments Rong Music's Jason Drummond, a/k/a the Real DJ Spun. "If you're a DJ, you don't learn on the Internet. It's about interacting with people on a personal level, in person."

Love Fingers (left) and Doug Lee re-educate the masses.
Santiago Felip
Love Fingers (left) and Doug Lee re-educate the masses.

In the midst of Chicago's post-rock heyday—while attending the Art Institute there—Renault began grabbing whatever records were filed under the "WBMX" section (an urban radio station that frequently had its playlists overlap with those of Chicago's hallowed Music Box; think of the synergy between the Paradise Garage and New York's WBLS). Previously, Language DJ'd hip-hop and funk in the Windy City, and even had a reggae residency at Joe's Pub upon relocating here. Doug Lee started out spinning funk, jazz, and soul out West in the '90s, before the "rare groove" renaissance shot all the record prices through the roof. Digging for disco was primarily an economic matter for him: "I got into disco just because the other shit was too expensive, whereas people would just give away 50-cent disco records."

Renault muses that many of the DJs on the scene today were originally old punk-rock kids, and he himself was drawn in part to the music by "the dirtiness of disco—it's similar to punk." Much like punks relished obscure seven-inches, that mindset carried over to disco. "There's still the pleasure of finding that awesome record. The whole vinyl thing is important to disco, too, like, 'Oh, you have that? Mine's in mint condition.' It's like baseball cards."

The metaphor is apt, as the primary distinction between disco then and now is glaring. Originally, disco music and discotheques provided a haven for disenfranchised gays, blacks, and Latinos. "Disco music is implicitly political, in the best sense of the word," Language explains. "It has the weight of politics, social situations, communities, and cultures, but it's not banging you over the head with it. But it does come out of this very real need, and the music reflected that. You don't have to read too deep into something like (South Shore Commission's) 'Free Man' to understand its chorus of 'I'm a free man.' "

Back then, discotheques provided a space and shelter for personal expression not available to disenfranchised subsets in their daily lives. "But now, it's the province of nerdy, mostly straight white guys, which is ironic in the real sense of the word," laughs Language. Nu-disco may pound and swing similarly, but its audience has blanched and grown stiff. Disco may no longer be a celebration of sexual freedom, but instead, just another ironically embraced taste of the moment. Language cedes that such trends are always in flux and that disco itself no longer serves as the soundtrack of sexual freedom that it did back then. "Gay culture in general has changed so radically. It's not that our society is free of homophobia, but a lot of aspects of gay culture have become mainstreamed." This inversion of race and sexual preference isn't lost on disco's practitioners or newfound admirers, as Language knows all too well. "My girlfriend once summed it up: 'You and all your friends are the straightest white guys who play the gayest dance music.' "

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