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Disco is a music genre that originated from the East Coast of the United States. It emerged in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. it was quite popular in the American urban nightlife especially among the LGBT people, the Hispanic people and African Americans. Many scholars have viewed disco as an antiphon to the ascendancy of rock music rock music and as well as the stigmatization of dance music by the counterculture that existed during the early 1970s (Hilderbrand, 2013). Most disco fanatics maintained that true disco was fuelled by independent record labels as well as deejays. This paper intends to determine the extent to which the fall of disco was influenced by homophobia and racism.
Around 1975 the popularity of disco music began to decline. According to scholars, homophobia and racism played a key role in the backlash against this music genre and subsequently led to its mainstream downfall (Hilderbrand, 2013). Disco could be described as electronic and hedonistic. It represented the gay and the black in the society. It was mostly deejay and producer-led and represented “the other” in the American society. This concept did not auger well with most Americans.
During the summer of 1975, a riot broke out in around Comiskey park where thousands of men ripped seats out of the stadium and kicked urinals from the walls. The young men were predominantly white. Throughout the chaos, they chanted a mantra that “disco sucks.” During that summer, disco music had saturated the pop culture and had become as common as the American apple pie. Furthermore, it had penetrated into the clubs and pubs which previously overflowed with the straight and white majority (Hilderbrand, 2013). Disco music was black music and this factor angered the white supremacists. When white artists realised how popular the genre had become, they instigated a riot which spearheaded its eventual downfall. The idea of disco taken over all the other genres of music was foreign to the white young men. By the end of that decade, disco music began to gradually fall.
The LGBT community embraced disco music especially after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969. According to Alex Rosner, a sound engineer, the group that was most responsible for the rise of disco was the homosexual community (Matuk, 2016). The LGBT community, African Americans and Porte Ricans were the main pioneers of this genre as they shared a common denominator of oppression. The movie Saturday Night Fever accompanied by a high pitched soundtrack by the Bee Gees made disco a nationwide a phenomenon.
The Bee Gees put a white face to what was originally black and Latin music, therefore, exploding disco’s popularity. This popularity led to the firing of Steve Dahl, a 24-year-old Chicago radio deejay (Matuk, 2016). He carried a grudge as he felt that disco stripped him of his rock and roll identity. He bought with him a group of young alienated male listeners who were against disco music. Additionally, he got a job at a rock station, Loop 97.9 where he pushed back against disco music (Matuk, 2016). His fans were mostly white families who were lost in the new culture of black rights and sexual liberation. Dahl crusade against disco music validated the feelings of his fans.
In early 1970, the majority of disco promoters, deejays and artists were African American and from the LGBT community (McLeod, 2006). Due to stereotypes and racist acts against this community, disco music was not expected to meet the production and promotion levels it had achieved. The rise of this genre controlled the discourse of white music. This factor created the need for blocking the success of the genre. According to music scholars, this backlash was due to the fact that disco promoted a community which did not represent the proper culture and aesthetic values of the white Americans. The mainstream music industry was largely dominated by white artists and the rise of disco was pushing them out of the ranks. These stereotypes resulted in chaos on July 12th
1979 famously known as the disco demolition night (McLeod, 2006). The climax of that night involved disco records being blown up dura in a baseball game. Over the years, critics have maintained that the propagators of this night hated the music genre due to the lifestyle it was associated with. In fact, the media commonly emphasised that disco music was gay, a factor which cultivated the perception that disco music was taking over.
Music production in the USA is directly impacted by cultural influences. Furthermore, music is malleable and can conform to a countless number of factors which when put together results in a culture. Disco music promoted a culture that had not taken in the USA (McLeod, 2006). Performance of this music cultivated a homosexual portrayal which became the face of disco. A such, it is possible that the perception of a new culture becoming the face of the music industry was unfathomable to most Americans. The fear that disco music would surpass the popularity other genres led to the crusade against it.
Before the emergence of disco, young people were mostly oriented towards rock music, a popular and popular style among the Caucasians. On the other hand, African Americans were inclined towards soul music. According to (Matuk, 2016), these two genres were similar in many ways. However, with disco, there was a clear difference between white and black culture. This factor made a fan of rock music react negatively. Furthermore, African Americans are closely associated with dance music, unlike Caucasians. Since disco was dance-oriented, it attracted a huge audience of black music fans who scorned rock and roll which was less danceable (McLeod, 2006). Therefore, this notion may have made it easier for young Caucasian men to like black artists who played a style closer to rock. Moreover, music scholars have maintained that the introduction of disco music created racial divide as the most prominent black musicians shifted to this genre. Initially, black artists played music that aligned with rock music and as such, some had gained popularity among some Caucasian population (Shapiro, 2000). Nonetheless, it is possible that the shift to disco music may have been perceived as a crusade against popular rock music. As such, making a leap across the racial divide became harder.
According to Steve Dahl, disco was a music disease and he was dedicated to eradicating its existence in the music industry. Before the disco demolition night, Dahl promoted several anti-disco events which were often unruly. However, music scholars have maintained that the backlash against the disco genre was due to the fact that it was perceived as the product of the Black Americans, Hispanics and the LGBT community (Shapiro, 2000). Hence, it can be concluded that the crusade against disco was ideally an appeal to wipe out threats presented by these three communities. Evidently, these appeals were not only racist but also sexist. In fact, Nile Rodgers, a producer and guitarist for the disco band, Chic likened the disco demolition night to Nazi book burning.
A standard analysis into the political history of the USA during the late 1960s reveals that it is possible the disco demolition night could have been centred on the desire by white music fans to strike out an art form associated with the African Americans (McLeod, 2006). The USA political arena in the 1960’s promoted racial segregation which denied African Americans and Hispanics several rights. Thus, it can be concluded that the crusade against disco was an attempt to maintain white superiority. The success of Saturday Night Fever movie resulted to major record companies investing heavily in disco, a sound that was despised by the white straight executive class.
In an interview, Dahl denied that the motivation behind disco demolition was homophobic and racist. However, the “Disco sucks” campaign coincided with the overproduction of disco music. Furthermore, it was culminated by the burning of records made by African American artists at the home of the Chicago White Sox (McLeod, 2006). Evidently, these actions held a cultural significance and upheld the prejudicial perceptions that were already rooted in American society. Political journalists have over the years maintained that disco demolition was motivated by the fear that white neighbourhoods would be eventually dominated by African American and Hispanic communities.
Disco music initiated a shift in pop culture trends. As such, it is possible that this shift caused anxiety among white music fans. Analysts have maintained that the opportunity to yell “disco sucks” was more than just a musical style choice (McLeod, 2006). It is possible that this was an opportunity to crusade against the shifting social dynamics introduced by the disco music genre. Furthermore, it may have been a way for the white neighbourhoods to show their dislike for the potential rise of a prejudiced culture.
Music highly influences culture. As such, cultures may potentially rise depending on the level of music cognition. Disco music reserved the potential to popularise the LGBT, Hispanic and the African American communities (Matuk, 2016). The idea of the emergence of a different culture in the USA posed a huge threat to the white supremacists. Consequently, this fear resulted to a homophobic and racist disco demolition crusade. Similarly, when a less popular culture is associated with a popular genre of music, it is likely to experience strong criticism in today’s music industry. For instance, ABC News received backlash after naming David Guetta the “Grandfather of Electronic Dance Music.” (Matuk, 2016). The news outlet praised him for reintroducing house music in America. However, several artists and fans took to social media terming ABC’s report as disrespectful to other house music legends such as Ron Hardy among others. Evidently, there is still a long way to go before the music industry rids itself of racial injustice as well as cultural misunderstanding.
Hilderbrand, Lucas. "Luring Disco Dollies To A Life Of Vice”: Queer Pop Music's Moment". Journal Of Popular Music Studies, vol 25, no. 4, 2013, pp. 415-438. Wiley, doi:10.1111/jpms.12044.
Matuk, Farid. "Pantertanter From Disco To Disco, And: Tell Me Again, And: My Daughter Ensconced". Cream City Review, vol 40, no. 2, 2016, pp. 80-83. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/ccr.2016.0057.
Your Bibliography: McLeod, Ken. "A Fifth Of Beethoven": Disco, Classical Music, And The Politics Of Inclusion". American Music, vol 24, no. 3, 2006, p. 347. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/25046036.
Shapiro, Peter. "Disco: Playing With A Different Sex". Modulations: A History Of Electronic Music (New York, 2000, pp. 38-49., Accessed 11 Nov 2018.
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