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February 2021 - In Defence of the Dance Floor
In 1979 the cultural critic Richard Dyer wrote a seminal piece of music criticism entitled In Defence of Disco. It was a thorough, well argued celebration of a genre that, at the time, was receiving backlash from the rock and folk communities, communities that either saw disco as “too Black”, “too gay”, “too subversive” or, from a different perspective, not political enough, or “too commercial”. While the image of disco that most people today have is of the Bee Gees or Saturday Night Fever era John Travolta dancing to sexy guitar licks and bass slaps in tight flared spandex, the disco that Dyer loved, and defended, was multifaceted and important. Not least to a generation of young gay, Black and Latinx kids in New York.
Today, disco, while not a dominant force in dance music culture, has certainly seen a revival, with the likes of Sartorial, Purple Disco Machine and Dave Lee (previously Joey Negro) seeing a rise, or in some cases, a return to prominence. The dance floors of London (and much of the world) are currently closed, and a return to them seems unlikely for a good part of 2021. The twin tragedies of the Coronavirus crisis and the subsequent closure of clubs, bars and parties throughout the country, the decimation of our nightlife, have hit many of us hard. And the desire to feel the pulsing beat of a good house track, or the sexy melody of a popular Reggaeton hit is currently at its strongest.
We all miss the dance floor, with its heady mix of alcohol (or other drug), vibration, ecstasy, illicit encounter and thudding kick drum - the elements that make up a typical Saturday night (or indeed Sunday morning) - and perhaps those that miss it the most, those that feel the loss so keenly, are DJs. We have the double loss of our source of income and the ecstasy of the dance floor to contend with. What happens on a dance floor is important. Moving close to and in time with strangers, silently mirroring movements, getting in sync. Celebrating life, each other, and revelling in what Lynne Segal has called “collective joy”, is not just an enjoyable experience, but, to many, a political act - there is a subversive or resistant quality to being together in one place, dancing to one beat and the DJ is just as much a part of the experience as the party goers. The dance floor is the place for both individual expression and social cohesion - there is nothing like collectively moving, throwing your hands in the air at the same time, to a heavy drop or a dirty bassline. Even the “comedown” from the dance floor is absent; coming home at 4am, feet tired from dancing, head throbbing from the music, or the tequila, is currently not available to us. The subversive, political elements present in Dyer’s take on disco are still present on dancefloors of today, and once the crisis has abated the dancefloor will once again be a site of collective joy.