Crack the book of psychology open and put these records on for a spin, because this is a timely lesson on disco, dancing, and a deep dive into the enduring relationship of music and the mind.
Disco is music for dancing, and people will always want to dance, says the legendary Giorgio Moroder—famous for bringing us Donna Summer’s eponymous track, I Feel Love, among many into the glimmering refraction of the mirrored ball.
There are people like you and me who just want to dance. Nearly nine months into the pandemic, here we are, coping in mind and body to make up for lost time where we could have been dancing in euphoric glory to the best year that ushered the biggest disco revival several decades has since seen, sang, and shimmied to. It’s a known fact: disco has always been there—an influence, an ennui, inspiration to modern sounds. And let us not forget that a major factor in the disco sound is its ability to make us move and groove and let go. The transcendent genre translates feelings from the simplest strum of first love to the complex thump of a heartbeat and most especially the hedonistic that drives our carnal desires. In so little words, disco makes you feel it all.
This year we are blessed with three disco albums in it’s purest, glorious formulation. We were introduced to Jessie Ware’s hypnotic spell in June 2020 with What’s Your Pleasure?, followed by the legendary Roisin Murphy’s sturdy and introspective October release, Roisin Machine. And then November came and we are blessed by a propulsive comback by Queen Kylie Minogue in the succinctly an aptly titled, DISCO—a never been better return to form. (Safe to say we can forget what happened with Golden.)
Queerly speaking, I have never been more saved this pandemic because of these records—my modern trifecta of gleaming beats and sleek production that took me again to my fantasies of dancing on the floors of Studio 54. Jessie, Roisin, and Kylie lured me and cured my insatiable and notorious dry spell of dancing in a proper dancefloor. Yes, I took it to the streets, in my car, in the grocery aisles, in the pharmacy—doing my socially distanced pandemic related errands. As convulsive as it was in introspection, the experience was a necessary detach from harsh realities.
DO YOU MIND?
Over the course of the past few months of the riotous and ravaging return of disco to musical consciousness and not just a novel of a bygone era, I have been intently listening to all three records and I noticed what may be a silly pattern, but please hear me out. These records, upon closer listen can easily be classified into the three theoretical constructs that describe the activities and interactions of the mental life of a person—the id, the superego, and the ego.
Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? can easily be equated as the id of these three disco records, and as the name suggests, a direct nod to pure unabashed hedonism. The record is an intoxicating cocktail of seductive beats, exhilarating choruses, and sleek production, What’s Your Pleasure? is escapism at its most essential, full of throw-your-cares-away dance floor energy instead, with careening strings, uplifting percussion, and spiky licks of synth and guitar. Mirage (Don’t Stop) is slinky and seductive (“I know I said it before, but you can do what you want”), while the title track and the glorious Ooh La La basks in the glow of a fun night out. Heady and rooted in lustful disco, this album proves that the singer is a cornerstone of contemporary pop. The agenda was to languid—a foray into passion, seduction, and unabashed sexuality, minus the signature melancholia of Ware’s previous work. No ballads. Straight up homage to a night out in the 80s. The album boasted of bass lines so funky good enough to make Chaka Khan and Prince blush and even scream. Listening to What’s Your Pleasure? during the pandemic brought me an awareness of a sexual drought that can be directed to my bedroom dancefloor instead of one involving a body (or bodies) and a dark lit bed. It sufficed a need to be familiar because the record I felt was my only connection to intimacy.
IT’S MUSIC MAGIC, BABY
In the further exploration in the musical sense, October came and the release of an even bigger disco record came along in the form of a more aware and closely introspective record, placing Roisin as a dancefloor truth-teller, infusing house and disco epics with thrilling expressions of desire, regret, and self-knowledge with so much charisma, confidence, and control. After several plays, Roisin Machine is the superego amongst these three records in its lyrical form. Conscientious and ideal in its identity, it is in this expostion that she questions herself in tracks like, Something More (“I feel my story’s still untold, but I’ll make my own happy ending”) and Simulation declaring, “This is the simulation, this is the demonstration.” Intoxicating as it is intelligent, orbiting within the prism of disco, the album smashes and grabs from associated genres throughout. Steering into Grace Jones territory with her cold lyrical musings, jerky house fused with minimal funk, wonky disco pop sitting alongside uplifting 90s dance and the offbeat bassline, and camp strings of unashamed pop throbber (and a personal favorite), Narcissus, Roisin made a record that had a mood and a conscience in it’s lyrics and made me question: Is there something more to this life? Deep.
And in a swoop of sass and sparkle, we are treated to a more than welcome comeback from Ms. Minogue herself in the no need for definition, DISCO. Obviously the ego of the three, as it operates according to the reality principle, in which Kylie delivered an album that is assured, measured, affectionate, and sincere, not an exercise in tongue-in-cheek pastiche. The early singles were indicative of such— consistent and cohesive—from the Daft Punk-reminiscent Say Something to Magic, which sounds like a classic Earth, Wind & Fire track in it’s instrumentation. Disco displays a particularly glorious single-mindedness, exploring the genre’s past, present,and future with not a ballad or a twangy guitar lick in sight. It is an easy, sugar rush of a record from a seasoned disco diva and a formal fit to previously mentioned records.
2020 has been a tumult of a year, compounded even more by the absence of what a proper dancefloor can bring to many if not most of us, but we are assured that disco is here to stay and save us, heralded of course by the renaissance of the definitive musical chapter. If it were not for the combined blessings of Jessie Ware, Roisin Murphy, and Kylie Minogue, I would have lost it already. Considering that we are in a world deprived of the day clubs, lounge parties, and pride parades that ought to be its natural habitats, I am comforted by how these records are playing a crucial role in saving us all from a dancefloor drought.
So, go ahead, indulge yourself, you deserve it. Host that Zoom party, light up the bedroom disco lights, and engage yourselves in the healing powers that only disco can bring. And dance, just dance it all away, even for a magical moment in time, because that’s what disco is for, baby.
Images by Joseph Pascual and Karla Ynzon