Writing About Dancing: Disco Critics Survey
5. What are the biggest assumptions and misconceptions about dance music that a person writing about it must challenge or at least consider?
That crowd responses are essentially de-invidualizing--well, they are, but what's wrong with that? What's so great about being an individual? That sort of dis is like saying I don't like cheese 'cos it tastes cheesy...the whole point is to get lost in the crowd, merge with something bigger than your paltry self.
Most editors still hold to this view. Editors of the coated-paper magazines (the ones whose paper has a slick, cloying odor to it) generally know nothing about music but do know a lot about "trends" and "trendiness," and they look only for what is most obvious ...Dance Music is less than obvious, because (in the U.S.A. at least) it cannot be heard on the radio and employs far less numbers of publicists and gives out almost no free records. Thus there are no inducements to editors to assigning articles about it, and no interest generated among editors in assigning writers to cover it. Knowing that, writers do not ask to write about it.
Fortunately I do not have that problem at the Phoenix, nor from Chuck Eddy, the only establishment rockcrit/editor who understands and even likes "disco." Outside the U.S. it is a bit different. In Montreal, Milan, Barcelona, and Paris, dance music is pop, and it gets some coverage (though not, of course, from the U.S./U.K.-influenced magazines--the ones who think the Chemical Brothers, Moby, and Carl Cox are dance music...).
(a) There is too much emphasis on the "simplicity" of the disco beat--I don't think disco's one-two-three-four was necessarily any simpler than swing's one-two-three-four or the Velvet Underground's one-two-three-four. It would have been simple only if the one-two-three-four were the only rhythm going on.
(b) There is too much emphasis on the rock vs. disco divide and hence on disco's supposedly being artificial or synthetic in relation to rock. I have all sorts of problems with this emphasis. First, I don't know if anyone who isn't a critic or an academic sees it like this. Was a rock fan's antagonism towards disco based on his perception of the music's being artificial? Did he really think in such terms? (By the way, as a rock fan myself at the time, I didn't see disco as any kind of a threat; I saw "soft rock" as a threat.) Second, no matter how the rock fan saw it, the disco-goer most likely did not see disco as synthetic in relation to rock. I wouldn't say that disco never saw itself in some sort of relation to rock, but I don't think it particularly saw itself through the eyes of rock. So to overemphasize "artificiality" is to not see disco on its own terms. I think that the disco synth (other than for comedians like Kraftwerk) was more about mastery and creativity than artificiality. And then there's the whole gospel aspect of disco, which had nothing to do with artificiality. And the sex aspect, which for some people was absolutely meant to be as spiritual as the gospel (and for others was meant to be as spiritual as pudding).
I saw disco's gaudiness and glitz not as "artificiality" but as reach, something similar to Dolls glitter or the Warhol superstars: three-chord glamour that anyone could play, if you say you're a star, you are. And then for some it just plain is glamour. I think commentators would be more comfortable if it were merely about glamour.
(c) In discussing the differences between disco and rock, there is usually a misinterpretation of the meaning of "live performance." Which is to say, there's talk both of rock musicians constructing the music in the studio to make it sound live, to cover their tracks, to not emphasize the studio (is this even true? think of Electric Ladyland), and of rock musicians really playing their instruments in live performance (vs. disco divas singing to backing tracks or simply lip synching). Whereas, in fact, it's disco that assumes a live setting--a dance--a public space. Disco is much more the live music, and disco records are raw material for this live show.