Disco Demolition Night

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thirty years ago this week, a Chicago DJ organized an anti-disco rally that took place between games of a White Sox doubleheader at Comiskey Park. But "Disco Demolition Night" turned into a riot fueled by anti-black and anti-gay sentiments. Steve Greenberg, CEO of S-Curve Records and a former president of Columbia Records, joins us to trace the impact of that night through Michael Jackson's Thriller, African American and gay culture, and more.

Guests:

Steve Greenberg

Comments [26]

Jonah Falcon

Yes it was anti-gay and anti-black. Very much so. And disco isn't dead - it never died. For one, clubs in New York still play it - songs like "I Will Survive" remain gay anthems.

Anti-inanity? Huh? Nothing more inane than nu-metal like Korn. Garage band BS.

The fact is, middle class whites will always be boring dunderheads who watch Jerry Springer, listen to "Sweet Caroline", chug beers and will always remain culturally irrelevent and square. Straight down the middle-of-the-road.

Another thing: disco is sex. Real sex. Not fake sex like you hear in most MOR.

Disco Demolition Night was basically an assault on gays and blacks. End of story.

Jul. 16 2009 10:21 AM
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Jonah Falcon from New York, NY

Yes it was anti-gay and anti-black. Very much so. And disco isn't dead - it never died. For one, clubs in New York still play it - songs like "I Will Survive" remain gay anthems.

Anti-inanity? Huh? Nothing more inane than nu-metal like Korn. Garage band BS.

The fact is, middle class whites will always be boring dunderheads who watch Jerry Springer, listen to "Sweet Caroline", chug beers and will always remain culturally irrelevent and square. Straight down the middle-of-the-road.

Another thing: disco is sex. Real sex. Not fake sex like you hear in most MOR.

Disco Demolition Night was basically an assault on gays and blacks. End of story.

Jul. 16 2009 10:18 AM
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perri

"But 'Disco Demolition Night' turned into a riot fueled by anti-black and anti-gay sentiments."

Whenever I think of DDN I think about the hate. I couldn't help but feel that there was a racist (and anti-gay) subtext to the words "disco sucks."

I remember a bit of graffiti I saw scrawled on the side of a red bubblegum machine in my neighborhood during the early days of disco. It said, "Disco is nigger bongo music." I'll never forget that.

Jul. 14 2009 10:57 PM
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mozo from nyc

Thank you Ellen and Kate!!!

Jul. 14 2009 02:53 PM
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Richard Hoffman from Rye Brook, NY

Enjoyed the Smackdown, but the notion of a "smackdown" implies two opposing positions--either disco was a revolutionary and influential movement, or it was crap. But there is plenty in the music world that is both trite and influential. Disco is clearly still alive in house music, electronica, and hip-hop, and the geniuses in any musical styles can take flimsy material and turn it into something better. This is nothing new. The Beatles did it in their day. For that matter, look what Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven did with the pedestrian ideas of Clementi and Czerny. At the same time, to argue that because something was revolutionary and influential it was therefore good in itself does not follow (the Bolshevik Revolution anyone?)

Jul. 14 2009 02:47 PM
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Kate from NYC

I still have a clipping from Punk magazine (1976.)

"Kill yourself. Jump off a f****** cliff. Drive nails into your head. Become a robot and join the staff at Disneyland. OD. Anything. Just don't listen to discos***. I've seen that canned crap take real live people and turn them into dogs! And vice versa. The epitome of all that's wrong with western civilization is disco."

Not anti-Black. Not anti-gay. Just anti-inanity.

Jul. 14 2009 02:44 PM
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Ellen from Brooklyn

What's with the anti-disco embracing punk? I don't remember that happening back then. It was white metal music and arena rock lashing out at disco, but also dismissing punk. The idea that the backlash embraced punk seems like revisionist flanking to minimize the accusations of racism and homophobia.

Oh, and to the Brit commenter that said "Britain had punk...". Uh yeah, where do you think you got it from. NY Dolls ring a bell?

Jul. 14 2009 02:44 PM
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mozo from nyc

For the record, I like to dance. I love New Order and other club music. I loved to pogo and slam dance whan i was in my 20's in the 80's. But as a clasically trained rock/jazz musician, I could never get into disco.

Jul. 14 2009 02:44 PM
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Greg Kearnan from Somerset NJ

There was entertaining disco that fit the period. But, as a whole, disco was a bad period of music that could only be explained by the rampant use of cocaine.

We have to allow that there are things that are bad that were popular once – disco was not the only lapse in good taste of the late ‘70’s – think paisley shirts with big collars, shag carpet, etc.

Jul. 14 2009 02:38 PM
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Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

Disco is about DANCING-- moving the body. Women like to do it. Even White Guys Subconsciously 'bop' when a beat and a rhythym is in the air. Until they notice it-- and then they go all sullen and curse everyone out.
This is a Middle White American Cultural thing that never mad sense to me. WHen these same Disco haters go to a rave in Europe-- they are DANCING to Disco.
Why don't you just admit it? Everyone DANCES to Music.

Jul. 14 2009 02:36 PM
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caitlin from Brooklyn

I believe the rhythms of disco are still very exciting... the scene, the people, and the power to make people dance was/is fascinating on a sort of primal, eternal level. Avant garde artists like arthur russell frequented discos, found what was going on there very exciting, and wanted to participate; his sleeping bag session, songs like tiger stripes, go bang, were so beautiful, so funky.

Jul. 14 2009 02:36 PM
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mozo from nyc

Disco is very elitist music in that it was made for people who wanted to dress up in expensive horrible 70's clothes and spend money on clubs and cocaine. It was very cynically done and is more consumer product than art.

Now go ahead, compare the influence KC And The Sunshine Band has had to pop music compared to the Ramones.

Jul. 14 2009 02:35 PM
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Jennifer

The first time I made it into Studio 54, they were playing Knock on Wood - loud, through the body, enveloping, thrilling! I was a New York teenager and there was Ahmet Ertegun boogying and young beautiful people and gay boys in short shorts - it was fab. (and, yes, gay! - fine by me, a straight female teenager).

And the next night I went down to CBGB - we were New Yorkers, we could do it all!

Jul. 14 2009 02:33 PM
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Vinny from Manalapan,NJ

*bass*

Jul. 14 2009 02:31 PM
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Vinny from Manalapan,NJ

The two women who perform on Boogie oogie oogie are fantastic musicians. It's a great tune to listen to and watch two chicks wail on the lead guitar, and groove on the base.

Jul. 14 2009 02:30 PM
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Raymond Bruce from Westchester

One of the troubling aspects of disco was the relentless fixed beat usually generated by drum machines or a drummer following a rigid click-track. An example of a very un-African musical feel—it's the feel of mass produced fast food music product. Nonetheless, we will never be spared white critics who have to praise everything related to black artists and proclaim any criticism or dislike of it as racism.

Jul. 14 2009 02:29 PM
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Ted in Atlanta from Design dept.

I was a kid but for some reason I already had been imprinted that most of Disco was flimsy and tacky. Now I think I may have been too quick to judge but that was definitely the sentiment among my friends; I assume we were just too young to appreciate the party. But there's definitely a difference in the depth of a Dylan song and a typical Disco song. And where are the RAWK GUITARS in the mix??? Of course the first singles I ever bought included 2 out of 3 disco.

I remember the Disco Sucks sentiment, but I wouldn't have thought of the burn as anti- any actual demographic. It sounds like I would have thought of it as a great fun lighthearted event... not suggesting abolishing Disco but celebrating it as absurd.

BTW Darrin I always interpreted early MTV as a wildly creative and new-wave cutting edge artsy music outlet... not reactionary but creationary and new-centric. They had Grace Jones, I'm sure others, maybe Eddie Grant, Two-Tone stuff and Ska...

Jul. 14 2009 02:29 PM
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mike from chatham, nj

Can we kill it again?

Jul. 14 2009 02:28 PM
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Alistair from midtown

sorry, I meant late ninties/early 2000's for the latin music thing

Jul. 14 2009 02:28 PM
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Alistair from midtown

It's no wonder there was such a violent backlash to disco- the genre was totally overexposed and coopted. Like hair metal, grunge or the latin thing from the early nineties, anytime your parents listen to it, it's used to sell cars and every band (Kiss, Stones, et al.) comes out with a genre song, who wouldn't want to set it on fire?

Jul. 14 2009 02:26 PM
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Sandra from Astoria, Queens

Greenberg's article is great! And I agree with his assessment--reminds me of Kelefa Sanneh's "rockist" article from a few years back:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/31/arts/music/31sann.html?ei=5090&en=5d74c31cbf3d2d34&ex=1256965200&partner=WEBLOGS&pagewanted=print

And "White men were demanding a return to cultural pre-eminence"--very relevant to Sotomayor's hearing today, dontcha think???

Jul. 14 2009 02:24 PM
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mozo from nyc

Do I have to say it? Disco sucks!!

Jul. 14 2009 02:18 PM
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SteveR from Manhattan

Thanks for having this discussion! I never understood the link between anti-Disco and anit-gay and anti-black. In my world (Long Island) it was all about getting tired of hearing the same thing over and over again on the radio and looking for a change. That change was New Wave!

Jul. 14 2009 02:18 PM
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Adam from New Jersey

What do the rise of rap and the demise of disco have to do with each other?

Jul. 14 2009 02:17 PM
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Steve from Baldwin

I wonder if the disco backlash had a lot to do with the fact that at the time there was little else to listen to. The Woodstock-era music was gone and all the styles we associate with the 80's had yet to arrive. All there was was the big bloated artsy albums of ELO and the like.

Jul. 14 2009 02:15 PM
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darrin from staten island

the anti-black and anti-gay comments are interesting...when MTV had its debut in 1981 it was thought to be racist due to the fact no black artists were played, i disagree, MTV wasnt racist it was anti-disco...and since most disco artists were black, that was the perception...however, there were white disco artists at that time who also recieved no MTV airplay ie: Bee gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, France Joli, Alicia bridges and others...MTV clearly wasnt racist, they were reacting to the disco backlash of late 79 early 80s

Jul. 14 2009 01:19 PM
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