Vince Aletti celebrated the release of his book The Disco Files (1973-1978) last night at Santos’ Party House by reminding us that disco still exists. Now known for his photography reviews in the New Yorker, he also served as the Voice‘s arts editor from 1994 to 2005. But most importantly (to us, at least), Aletti was the first music critic to embrace disco: His pieces in Rolling Stone and the Voice placed him among the very few scribes to take the genre seriously, and his weekly column “Disco Files” in Record World, which supplies the bulk of the new book’s material, serves as an amazing history of the genre’s hedonistic life and times. At Santos, longtime friends and NYC DJs Danny Krivit and Tony Smith (who both appear in the book) provided the soundtrack for what promised to be a rather unorthodox release party.
Said party started at 9 p.m.; we arrived at midnight and were met by a relentless fog machine. Posters reproducing the book’s cover (a disco ball in the shape of an apple) covered the walls, alongside the usual Santos bold-print neon signs declaring “Clothes must be half on,” “Feel free to be free,” and “You’re in Manhattan.” The glowing red bar signs featured drink specials and coyly ordered patrons to “Take it Deep.” Amid the cloud of smoke, we spotted a girl swaying to the music (feet on her chair, hands in the air) below a line of visibly pulsating speakers that ran the entire length of the venue. A huge heart-shaped disco ball looked down upon the scene, the smoke clearing (eventually, though briefly) to reveal a spectacular dance party, already in progress. A fortysomething couple furiously spun each other in circles, while men in skin-tight T-shirts danced in huddles and a remarkable number of older men (in their 50s, at least) stepped in time on the outskirts.
This was a celebration of classic disco culture above all else: The DJs stayed true to the book’s time frame (we suspect it was an all-vinyl affair), and the dancefloor never missed a step (or a word, for that matter)–each new song inspired a fresh round of cheers. We spotted an enthusiastically dancing Aletti, water bottle in hand, just as Tony Smith dropped another one: “This is my favorite track of the night!” Aletti told us. “It’s “The Devil’s Gun”! I requested it earlier and he’s finally playing it!”
By 1 a.m., Danny Krivit had taken over the decks, and the crowd had thickened. Meanwhile a pair of shirtless (and clean-shaven) men engaged in a walk-off in front of the stage, one hand on their hips and the other in the air (for three snaps) as another reveler egged them on while shaking a tambourine. “This music is heaven,” raved one tightly flannelled dancer. “I haven’t seen Danny play since his old Body & Soul spot, but he’s killing it here.” Without missing a step, a furiously sweating Smith dropped Double Exposure’s “My Love Is Free” to wild yells as he passionately sang along, eyes squeezed shut, head tilted toward the sky.
The party ended an hour later for most partygoers–mostly, we think, because it was simply past their bedtimes. The smell of weed drifted through the air as an Andy Warhol-looking dude sauntered through the crowd (we did a double-take). Heading toward the exit ourselves, one straggler caught our eye: He’d taken the floor for some sort of spinning/waving routine with a swath of bright-orange fabric. “I started doing this 20 years ago,” he told us. “I felt like I had to bring it out for tonight. This is how it used to be.”