The Telegraph MAY 18, 2012 - by Neil McCormick


The 1970s techno pulse drives the pop that tops our charts today.

In 1977, Donna Summer's I Feel Love blew my tiny punk mind. At the time, there was a huge cultural schism between rock and disco: one was all mirror-balls and escapism, the other guitars and gritty realism. But then certain records would come along and sweep away all tribal distinctions.

When Brian Eno first heard Summer and Giorgio Moroder's throbbing, hypnotic, synthetic, ecstatic groove, he came running into the studio where he was recording with David Bowie, declaring: "I have heard the sound of the future." Listening to the techno pulse that still drives modern pop, you have to say he was right. You don't hear electric guitars in the charts any more. Disco won.

Inevitably, Summer's death, at the age of sixty-three, has prompted a flood of affection for disco. Maybe we appreciate it all the more because dance music thrives in tough times. With the bitter end of the Vietnam war, Watergate and the oil crisis (let alone Britain's power cuts and garbage strikes), the '70s weren't exactly a bundle of laughs. Escapism is implicit in Saturday Night Fever, the high point of the disco boom, where John Travolta's working-class stiff transforms himself into a white-suited sex god on the dance floor.

Dancing has always had associations with release: the primal, human urge to lose yourself in the beat, to emancipate your spirit through movement. Or, as A Taste of Honey so eloquently put it, Boogie Oogie Oogie (till you just can't boogie no more).

Disco was born in the discotheques of urban America, music that revolved not around live musicians but the discs themselves and DJs who played them. The key element was relentlessness, with new techniques of cross-fading and remixing used to keep a crowd moving, sweating, locked into the groove.

It came out of New York, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia, taking the soul power of Motown and Stax and drawing in funk, jazz, African and Latino influences. The force was building in the heavy grooves of maturing black stars such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. When producers started constructing tracks around these elements - long, percussive meshes of strings, horns, electric piano, four-to-the-floor beats, and upbeat pop hooks - disco exploded.

From 1974 to 1978, it was the dominant sound in the charts, and the inescapable soundtrack to a good night out. KC & The Sunshine Band, Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, Gloria Gaynor, The Jacksons, Candi Staton and a thousand one-hit wonders kept people hot, sweaty and happy throughout hard times.

By the end of the decade, disco's glory days were over. Like most pop trends, it fell victim to its own success, its effectiveness diluted by endless imitation, even as it mutated into the post-Moroder electronic euro club sound still so prevalent. But even now, when I hear a disco record, I can barely resist the urge to shake my funky stuff. The great disco music of the '70s has an organic, soulful vibe that keeps it earthily, resonantly alive. Good Times, as Chic would have it.