Disco and the Cult of Cool

Scott Wallace
24th Jul 2015

For those who weren’t there, disco music has a reputation for either being incredibly naff, downright unlistenable, or kind of awesome. Even if you’re an avowed punk, it’s hard to deny that there’s something very tempting about disco’s restless octave-jumping bass lines and pulsating beats. The scene as a whole is hardly cool – especially the fashions – but there are a few pieces of disco that are so transcendentally wonderful that they’ve entered that rareified realm.

Donna Summer – “I Feel Love” (1977)

The blissful 12” mix of this groundbreaking disco classic is an irresistible blast of percolating synth bass, kick drum thump and steamy ambience. At the centre of it all is Donna Summer’s inimitable voice, which would be heavenly if it weren’t wrapped in such a smitten, almost post-coital haze. The production from Italian disco maestro Giorgio Moroder is what gave “I Feel Love” its staying power. It was a totally new sound then, and while it’s not quite futuristic now, it’s still a hell of a trip. The influence of the track can still be felt in contemporary dance music, and Moroder (now in his 70s) has been touring and collaborating with the likes of Britney Spears and Sia.

Chic – “Good Times” (1979)

Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers’ contributions, along with bassist Bernard Edwards, to contemporary R&B and hip-hop cannot be underestimated. The pair wrote an enormous number of enduring disco jams, including Diana Ross’s amazing 1980 comeback album Diana. Now in his 60s, Rodgers contributed guitar to Daft Punk’s 2013 disco opus Random Access Memories and has a new solo album coming out soon. “Good Times,” is perhaps the most perfect example of Chic’s aesthetic, with a dry, scratchy guitar bounce, glorious liquid bass and a soulful group vocal. Sampled perfectly in hip-hop (Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”) and dance music (Addison Groove’s “Footcrab”), “Good Times” will forever be a classic.

Grace Jones – “Pull Up to the Bumper” (1981)

Grace Jones was always cool. The Jamaican-born singer is a nearly 6-foot glamazon with a face as hard as stone and an avant-garde style to match. With “Pull Up to the Bumper” from her beloved album Nightclubbing, Jones wrote one of the sexiest songs ever. Despite what you may have expected, “Pull Up to the Bumper” is not about parallel parking. With a hard-hitting beat, jumping rhythm guitar, twisting synthesizers and one of Jones’ smoothest ever vocals, “Pull Up to the Bumper” is disco perfection. It’s a little bit sleazy, a little bit perverse, but above all a lof of fun with its mind clearly on the dance floor.

Indeep – “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life (Mirage Remix)” (2007)

The Portland, Oregon-based record label Italians Do It Better have made it their mission to resurrect disco with a decidedly darker, late night vibe. “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life” was originally a quirky 1982 disco single by American group Indeep. On the acclaimed Italians Do It Better compilation After Dark, the song got a makeover by Italian group Mirage. With its crackling atmosphere, twinkling synthesizers and relentless four-to-the-floor beat, “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life” becomes a thoroughly modern track. In looking back to disco’s twilight years, it’s a little bit camp, but very sincere in its body-moving potential.

Hercules and Love Affair – “Blind” (2008)

Almost since its beginnings, disco had a counter-cultural pull. It was a haven for the minorities and the misfits to be celebrated on the dancefloor, so much so that many disco songs are now gay anthems. It’s no surprise then that producer Andy Butler’s disco revival project Hercules and Love Affair took on English singer Antony Hegarty as a vocalist. Antony is a transgender person with an arresting warble of a voice. On “Blind” the song’s rattling congas and warm horn textures wrap her voice in a warm blanket as she sings “As a child I knew that the stars could only get brighter.” “Blind” is a very moving song about identity and acceptance that can also burn up any dancefloor.