So on to part two, In which we look at more recent nu-disco acts, mostly spanning the last decade or so, and mostly centered around the disco hub known as New York City, with some excursions to London, New Jersey and Oslo.
Thanks for all the feedback on the last post guys, it’s appreciated, and apologies in advance for not being able to fit everything in. If you think there’s something I have missed out on, or if there’s or an act or a dj you think people should know about, leave a comment. Anyway, let’s get to it:
Horse Meat Disco
Disco music does not exist on some abstract plain, of course, it is primarily music for the dance floor, designed to make you move your ass first, feel second, think lastly (if at all). So I couldn’t do a run down of the roots of “nu-disco” without mentioning an actual club that plays both disco and nu-disco music, where you can actually see and hear disco being consumed as it was intended to be, in the here-and-now and not the way-back-when. That club is Horse Meat Disco, a weekly Sunday afternoon/evening/night party hosted in the Eagle, a seedy bar in the heart of South London’s gay Vauxhall district. Through this ongoing weekly residency and a very fine series of compilation albums on Strut, Horse Meat has done more than any other club to rehabilitate disco, and they’ve done it not by stripping it of its “embarrassing” connotations, the kind that quickly turn off the overly-serious house head, but by going all out. For too long “nu-disco” was missing the spark that made disco itself so enticing in the first place: a sense of mischief, sexiness and most importantly FUN. Horse Meat Disco has helped reclaim disco from the boring head nodders and returned it to its primarily audience: gays, women, people of color. If you think disco music is a dead scene, frozen in amber and cocaine, then think again, you haven’t lived till you’ve experienced it with a heaving dancefloor of sweaty homosexuals, its rightful home. Horse Meat Disco is by far the best party in London, and the four man resident dj-team manage to share a lot of that love when they play in other clubs all over the world, or remix/produce their own tracks.
Horse Meat Disco interview for Groove Fest:
Norway: Lindstrom, Prins Thomas, Todd Terje
You’d think it would come as a bit of a surprise that the country responsible for the best nu-disco outside of New York or London would be snowy old Norway, but then house-heads in the late 90s were well aware of the disco talent in that small northern country, thanks to releases by Those Norwegians, Bjorn Torske, Rune Lindbaek and Telle Records. Royksopp brought the “Norse house” sound to the global stage, but it was a producer by the name of Lindstrom who turned house upside down, round and round, with the release of “I Feel Space.” A real dancefloor smash whose rising melody lines can still slay to this day, “I Feel Space” feels more genuinely Moroder-esque than anything on Random Access Memories, and is a brilliant demonstration of how to capture that era and feeling without resorting to expensive studios packed full of original 70s gear. Lindstrom’s studio partner Prins Thomas has also been busy carving out a niche for himself as one of the best house djs in the world (he is, if you ever have the chance to see him spin, take it!) and has been releasing some excellent Norwegian nu-disco on his own Full Pupp label. And that’s not to mention their protege Todd Terje, a master of the re-edit who has branched out into his own original productions over the last few years, culminating in the critically lauded Inspector Norse release from last year, and this years brilliant single with Lindstrom, “Lanzarote”:
Lindstrom & Todd Terje “Lanzarote”
Should I have to explain to you, dear reader, who DFA are? You’ll surely know by now the name James Murphy, leader of the (now defunct) disco-punk behemoth known as LCD Soundsystem. Well, if you are not aware, DFA, aka Death From Above, is the label he founded to release LCD’s music, and other acts on the burgeoning “punk-funk” scene in New York in the early-to-mid 00s. Murphy’s stated aim, from the beginning, was to bring some of the sensibility of disco and dance music to rock, and he achieved it. Working in the early days with the brilliant engineer/producer Tim Goldsworthy, some of the early DFA releases and remixes are solid gold nu-disco classics, particularly their work with rock bands like The Rapture, Le Tigre and Radio 4, most of which have been compiled on two album called The DFA Remixes. You know, I’m sure there were mutterings of a “disco revival” around DFA for quite a while, and while that never emerged, DFA is still going very strong, having recently celebrated the label’s 12th anniversary with a large showcase in New York for Red Bull Music Academy.
Gorillaz “Dare (DFA Remix)”
Italians Do It Better, Glass Candy, Chromatics, Desire
I’ve featured this mob here on DM before, so if you’ve been paying attention I expect you to know all about Italians Do It Better and their blissed-out, almost slo-mo take on Euro and electronic disco. Headed up by producer Johnny Jewel and DJ Mike Simonetti, IDIB have spent years finely honing their sound with production for a tight-knit bunch of acts that share many of the same musicians: Glass Candy, Chromatics, Farah, Desire, and have a penchant for analog production that re-positions early 80s synth disco in a post-Detroit, proto-techno landscape. Italians Do It Better have a real knack for marrying sweet female vocals with arpeggiated synths, the kind of thing that in someone else’s hands could be horrible mess, but here manages to retain a brilliant aura of icy cool that sometimes slips to reveal a beating, all-too-human heart. Interest in the label and the productions of its founder Johnny Jewel soared a couple of years back with their inclusion on the soundtrack to the instant cult classic flick Drive. Jewel was slated to score the entire film, and although only a couple of his pieces remained in the final cut, the Italians Do It Better aesthetic permeated the entire film and helped lend it that retro-future, cult-tastic edge. Rumours of a “disco-revival” have haunted IDIB since day one, and became more pronounced after Drive, but like anyone connected to this huge scene, they have shrugged it off and continue to keep ploughing their own unique, and brilliant, furrow, most recently releasing the second volume of their After Dark compilations, and this great new video by Glass Candy:
Glass Candy “Beautiful Object”
On a side note, there is an entire galaxy of retro-80s synth pop that has been bubbling up in the States (and further afield) over the last 5-6 years, and while it’s definitely inspired by disco, it’s probably worth covering in its own post.
If there is one act that has been keeping the “real disco” flame burning over the last decade, it is Escort, a genuine “real disco” band who play all their instruments live, and who actually get how this music works, rather than being a session rock band told to riff off a 4/4 beat. You can hear it and feel it in the way these guys play, and one of Random Access Memories biggest disappointments for me is how lumpy and plodding the rhythm section is, especially when compared to a band like this. Escort first emerged in 2006 with the release of the dancefloor gem “Starlight,” which was produced by Metro Area’s Darshan Jesrani. It was an instant smash with disco-heads, but found its way into many different kinds of dj sets, a mark of the versatility and true artistry of the band, who command up to 15 players on stage for their live performances. Marshalling that many people has got to be hard, and although rumors are constantly floating around of Escort’s split, they have just released a new single called “Barbarian” on their own Escort label. The band released their official debut album two years ago, which comes very highly recommended, and if a “disco revival” DOES happen this year, then I sincerely hope these guys are major beneficiaries.
Escort “Starlight (Darshan Jesrani Parks Dept Dub)”
Hercules & Love Affair
Remember the last cycle of media hype about a supposed disco revival? It was five years ago with the release of the debut album by Hercules And Love Affair on DFA Records. Hercules, in effect producer Andy Butler working with friends and associates like Kim Ann Foxman, Nomi Ruiz, Shaun J Wright and lots more, dominated dance music for a short while back then, thanks hugely to their excellent album and live show, and of course because they fit into a very easy-to-spin, let’s-revive-disco narrative as favoured by the mainstream media. Sounding a lot more like the free-wheeling, percussive grooves of Arthur Russell than the tight funk licks of Nile Rodgers, Hercules even managed to make Anthony Hegarty sound kinda sexy on the dancefloor bomb (and track of that year) “Blind.” Hecules returned with their sophomore album two years ago, and ditched a lot of the disco influence in favour of something a lot more like early Chicago house, and while definitely had its moments, nothing on it could compare to the gorgeous disco of tehir debut’s “Athena”:
Hercules & Love Affair “Athene” (live)
And speaking of Arthur Russell, it wouldn’t do to not give a nod here to Arthur’s Landing, a group formed in New York by Russell’s old friend Steven Hall with the express intention of playing Russell’s music in a variety of different forms, and often with some of the same musicians who played on the originals. Not everything Arthur’s Landing do is disco, which is fitting as Russell had many different strings to his artistic bow, but fear not these guys can turn out a rolling, off-kilter funk groove with the best of them, such as their take on “Is It All Over My Face,” now re-titled “Love Dancing”, or their version of “In The Light Of The Miracle,” called “Miracle 2.” The debut Arthur’s Landing album was released to critical acclaim in 2011 on Strut, and the grapevine suggests the band are back in the studio now working on new material.
Arthur’s Landing “Miracle 2”
This was the band that inspired this whole post. Well, it was this band and a couple of other things; for one, annoyance at the “disco revival” media meme itself, and the desire to point out that disco is always, and will never fully be, revived; and secondly, listening to Random Access Memories and thinking that it doesn’t have one ounce of the sexiness, spookiness and funk of an act like Midnight Magic. I had been wanting to post about this band on DM for a while, and lo, now I have the perfect excuse. Featuring some ex-members of Hercules & Love Affair, Midnight Magic have been bubbling under on the New York disco scene for a few years, and have yet to release an album. But what they have given us is “Beam Me Up,” an incredible, witchy, disco gem that sounds as good as anything from 1976-1983, and at least 100 times better than anything on Random Access Memories. THIS is how you revive disco, robots please take note:
Midnight Magic “Beam Me Up”
Cosmic Disco, the late70s/early80s school of slowed-down, smacked-out, bizarro disco pioneered by DJs Daniele Baldelli and Beppe Loda.
Balearic, the post-disco, proto “chill out” style played in Ibiza in the mid 80s, often incoporating MOR and pop artists. Pionered by DJ Alfredo, taken to a logical extreme by AOR Disco.
Boogie, aka Electrofunk, one of the primary musical infliuences on nu-disco, and best represented by Dam Funk.
Greg Wilson: this British DJ started spinning in 1976 as a lad, and after an almost 20 year hiatus, returned in the mid-00s with a brilliant blend of original disco and electrofunk, and modern nu-disco and house productions.