The principle of the self-regulating organism, as proposed by James Lovelock in his Gaia Hypothesis is that massive change is constantly checked through minor alterations or fluctuations within a complex network of interactions. Homeostasis is achieved and allowed to maintain balance because it supports life and allows it to exist in relative stability. The Earth is one organism therefore, checking itself and regulating itself through a Darwinian system of survival of the fittest. One organism growing in a multitude of directions, pushing and pulling but always breathing steadily through creation and destruction.
The Earth is of course itself, set free by the Sun to continue to support life, it stares at the Sun and honours it, receiving in return for it’s genuflection the key to life. As the planet revolves and turns round the sun like a dancer in a great ballet, it itself is truly remarkable. Luminous among the planets, the Earth is an orb shining to the universe as a glitter ball, receiving the constant flickering attention of the stars.
From an organisational level the Universe sits at the top of the apex permeating every sphere with its influence, from the stars, to the Sun, to the Earth, to ecosystems and populations and resting within organisms and single cells. Just like the Universe’s affect on the planets, ecosystems here on Earth affect the day to day reality of each and every one of us. Arthur Tansley helped define our idea of what the ecosystem is, writing in 1935 he describes it as “the whole system,… including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment.” Understanding these physical factors is key to understanding the ecosystem, how it feeds, how it lives, how it reproduces and keeps the cycle spinning. Of course populations and communities live within the ecosystem, people make up a massive contributing factor to ecosystems, but we are all involved in it, self-regulating in a way to ensure the survival of our species.
Metaphor now extended fully, let us fix our gaze to music and the self-regulating, constantly fluctuating system in which it resides. It lives and breathes like all art and changes rapidly, which must have seemed so pertinant in the early seventies. Imagine yourself in 1972, in one of the minority communities in New York at that time. The sixties were over and real change has yet again been thwarted – memories of Robert Kennedy’s assassination must still linger, and the successful presidential attempt by Republican Richard Nixon must too play on your mind. Motown, soul and funk had all done their job in the sixties but moving in to the seventies and the optimism that was once so prevalent in the music had now turned to snarling and sardonic efforts such as Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On. It’s an album soaked in fuzz and cymbal clatter, and while on the surface it evokes the social change spirit of the sixties it has a definable loss of belief in change. Sly himself having slipped in to an erratic lifestyle of drug abuse and paranoia evoking the hopelessness of the early seventies.
So the ecosystem regulates itself and soul drifts from the peak of its popularity as disco rises to become the dominant musical form of the seventies. Factors pertaining to the health of the system fluctuate allowing necessary changes to be made and balance to occur.
Disco beginnings were humble, centring around New York and it’s emerging club scene. David Mancuso opened The Loft in 1970 offering an electric atmosphere brought forward from the psychedelic culture of the sixties. The opening of the Gallery brought with it a transforming character, tightening the facets of the emerging scene and making it more coherent. Nicky Siano describes one of his efforts to invigorate the scene: “I had this brainstorm—no one was eating the free bananas, so we dissolved LSD in water, borrowed a syringe from a junkie friend, and injected the fruit, the vibe was electric; people were having seizures on the dance-floor.” I doubt many clubs in Britain have introduced that policy for their paying customers – for shame. In 1972 the first proper disco track had made it’s way into the clubs, it was a revolutionary afro-latin song that found it’s way into the hands of Mancuso who began playing it at The Loft, entitled Soul Makossa it became an imprint for the fledgling genre.
Disco offered the necessary release from hopelessness, it was cathartic and cleansing offering an alternative to corrupt and corrupting forces of the Nixon years. Hedonism replaced hopelessness and paralysed it under the undulating rhythms of the four on the floor beat and the latino-african percussion. One of disco’s most notorious hedonists and DJs was Larry Levan, a young diva (who incidentally, was charged with injecting those unwilling bananas) with a passion for heroin and PCP. When he started his long residency at Paradise Garage it truly cemented disco’s place in the world. Discotheques were now solely for dancing and the influence of that is incredibly far reaching.
Georgio Moroder is another influential figure, creating records from his far removed European base and defining the disco sound like no one had done before. His work includes a number of Donna Summer mega hits, including the early disco 1975 hit Love to Love You Baby, which in it’s original 17 minute mix (youtube does not allow 17 minute videos unfortunately) is pretty fantastic. Mixing the sensual and erotic vocals of Donna Summer with a mid-tempo beat and glimmering synths it was a number two hit on the American billboard, predicating the emergence of the new disco sound.
This sound would then reach it’s cultural zenith with the film Saturday Night Fever, both boosting it’s appeal beyond the gay and black community and leading to it’s eventual demise. Firstly falling foul of the record buying public, culminating in Disco Demolition Night, a movement set up by those who despised disco and wanted to see its end – surprisingly it worked and even record labels stop putting out disco records – and secondly with such wide proliferation into the market place, it is only natural that is should fade away, such is the way of all things.
Move on then, to the Noughties, specifically to 2003, and a world in which divergent music tastes exists side by side, removing the peaks and troughs pattern of emerging music scene – dearth – emerging music scene, with only shallow peaks and troughs as music has begun to blend more firmly within itself for a variety of reasons. Suddenly a light emerges from a Chinatown basement, and with it the rebirth of disco, albeit set this time in London and called Horse Meat Disco. It began as an reclamation of values of the London gay scene, as James Hillard (one of the founding fathers) insists: “for a long time during the nineties the gay scene had been caught up in being very commercial and not becoming music based any more really, and we just wanted somewhere where people could go and take drugs and pull”. He goes on to say that “gay clubs have always got this reputation of being synonymous with really good music, so we wanted to kind of recapture that”, and indeed, if that’s what they wanted to do then I think they’ve done just that. Check out the multitude of videos on youtube, or their incredibly fresh mixes on soundcloud. It is a world away from the perceived idea of disco, born no doubt from the eighties in a whirlwind of backlash; all that remains being the occassional reminder of Bee Gee’s hits or a Channel 4 showing of Saturday Night Fever followed by a documentary charting the glory days of disco, roller skates and flares. Horse Meat Disco is a beautiful thing however, employing their knowledge to find rare Larry Levan remixes or unknown Westend Record releases – to reel a few of their fine choices off – Two Tons O’ Fun, Earth Can be Just Like Heaven, Sheryl Lee Ralph, The Evening and Plaza, Dancing Shoes. Not that Horse Meat Disco rejects any of the camp fun of disco memories, in fact James Hillard has spoken of the importance of the theatrical side of the night, however, it’s freshness dictates that it does not come off as corny nostalgia, but as a geniune antidote to the mainstream, an alternative vision that rests well in London.
It’s emergence has been made relevent by numerous bands over the last ten years. LCD Soundsystem of course owe much to their disco forebears; from their self titled debut album comes such disco inspired songs as Daft Punk is Playing at my House (the verses in particular) or the early eighties sounding Disco Infiltrator. Similarly Hercules and Love Affair’s debut, again self-titled, offers us reformed disco for the late naughties. Blind, featuring the soulful vocals of Anthony Hegarty (Anthony and The Johnsons) is a reimagined blending of disco and house from the four to the floor beat, the revolving bass line and to the shimmering synth patterns. Equally with the release of Hot Chip’s latest album, among revelations that it would be “more mid-tempo and disco influenced”, disco is being reimagined. Take for example the wonderful Thieves in the Night a song melancholy at first but that breaks out with an oscillating synth rhythm and becomes a joyous, celebratory disco song. Indeed with an upcoming Hercules and Love Affair album set for a late 2010 release, a new LCD Soundsystem album and the impertinant, non-stop ubiquity of Florence and the Machines cover of You’ve Got the Love Horse Meat Disco seems to be spearheading the emergence of a fresh sound, a reimagined disco for audiences of the 21st Century.
Within the wider ecosystem disco, once prevelent before being swiftly cut up and merged into numerous genres from Eurodisco to hip-hop, has now found it’s way back into credible music circles. A single organism constantly in regeneration, constantly balancing opposing forces to continue to further it’s own life. From creation, to death, to recreation disco has done it’s job as part of the cycle and now continues once more to give new life.