The Birth of Hi-NRG

Amii Stewart
Amii Stewart

As the 1970's drew to an end and Disco began to fade, an underground movement in dance music began. This movement was signified by an increase in the speed of dance cuts coupled with very strong vocals, melody lines, and a purposeful sense of joy and excitement. Two early examples of this shift are Amii Stewart's Knock on Wood and Patrick Hernandez' Born to Be Alive, both from 1979.

As the 1980's began, the rolling, thumping bassline introduced by Giorgio Moroder in Donna Summer's I Feel Love and elsewhere was wedded to the fast beat. The result was persistent, pumping bass with a quick beat and lush, often multi-tracked, vocals. Canadians often took the lead in this area with hits by Gino Soccio, France Joli, and others.

Bobby Orlando
Bobby Orlando

A universally accepted name for the new sound was not coined until the mid-1980's with the release of Evelyn Thomas' High Energy, but the sound soon became widespread, if not dominant, in dance clubs across the U.S.

One of the key figures in early-1980's Hi-NRG (as the movement is now known) was Sylvester producer Patrick Cowley. His Megatron Man became a club classic. Another key figure was Bobby Orlando (often known as Bobby O), founder of O Records. Bobby O produced and wrote tracks for a wide range of artists including the Flirts.


One of the most enduring facets of Hi-NRG is the palpable sense of fun and, for lack of a better word, energy. One of the main purposes of the music, according to Bobby O, is "to feel good and positive." Hi-NRG was heartily embraced in the early 1980's by the gay club community. It became the music of choice for leading clubs such as the legendary Saint in Manhattan.

One of the biggest stars of the exploding Hi-NRG scene was transvestite Divine. He first had hits with songs such as Shoot Your Shot and Native Love produced by Bobby O and later moved on to work with Pete Waterman and released classics such as You Think You're a Man. Hi-NRG was a dominant force in dance music into the late 1980's, but it faded for several years. One explanation is the scourge of AIDS helped usher in a more somber tone to much of dance music for several years. Hi-NRG is on the rise again as the 1990's come to a close and is expected to be a vibrant part of dance music for many years to come.

Listen to Sound Clips from:

  • Best of Divine
    • featuring Shoot Your Shot,
      Native Love,
      Jungle Jezebel, and
      You Think You're a Man
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This page copyright 1998 by Bill Lamb Last Updated on 10/13/98.