Mar 022008

“This is a song for all you big-heads out there who think disco music is lower than the irrelevant musical gibberish and tired platitudes that you try to impress your parents with… We’re The Human League, we’re much cleverer than you and this is called ‘Dance Like A Star'”.

– Phil Oakey, 1977.

Electronic disco. Electronic disco? Where to start? Where does anything start… In music, there is no start, only a continuum of influences passing from musician to musician, mutating as it spreads. However, when it comes to commercial (commercially palatable) synthesiser music, one of the prime “carriers” has been producer Giorgio Moroder, who, with Donna Summer, created her disco hit ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977, a record that seemed much longer than it actually was (especially if you weren’t in the mood for hearing it on the radio yet again), employing deliberate repetition in its sequencer riffs but with constantly unfolding new nuances through changing timbres of the staccato electronic sound.

Around the same time, Moroder was working on his solo album From Here to Eternity, the first half of which forms an electronic disco suite close to the world of Donna Summer but which eschews conventional lead vocals in favour of the vocoder and enthusiastic yet disembodied female choruses that could be spun in space and time as readily as any other sound in his studio. Two years later he was working with Sparks, unplugging them from a more conventional band setting and installing them in the centre of his studio to make No. 1 in Heaven. The result was not widely hailed as a marriage made in heaven, which is a shame, since the combination of Ron’s lyrics, Russell’s voice and Giorgio’s production resulted in a convincingly eccentric album, although it’s questionable whether the inclusion of inane “poo! poo!” electronic drum sounds – a disco cliché – was knowing or naive. Whilst some elements of electronic disco may have been too unusual for those with a taste for the familiar, even at the time, these records sounded solidly in a disco vein, and these days some listeners may find the overpoweringly strong taste of ripe cheese (that’s not to say that his work always sounded like that, or indeed to say that his large body of work is restricted just to electronic disco!) so strong that they are unable to listen long enough and closely enough to hear the creativity with which Moroder built his musical cyborgs. The music of the “Man-Machine” Kraftwerk at the same time existed in a seemingly more self-contained space – in space, in a ‘Spacelab‘, trying to give the impression of working in a vacuum. It still sounds fresh, partly due to the vacuum sealing (and perhaps partly due to artificial preservatives that would ruin the taste of good cheese).

Meanwhile in 1979, the originators of industrial music Throbbing Gristle recorded the playful ditty ‘Hot On the Heels of Love‘ – the prime example of their “Tesco disco” that would seem to allude to ‘I Feel Love’ in title and sequenced sound. TG was not a comedy show band and so must have heard something worth playing with for musical rather than purely satiric purposes. Phil Oakey’s introduction to the Human League’s ‘Dance Like a Star’ (which also introduced this weblog posting) is equally playful but totally sincere: in 1984 Oakey and Moroder recorded an album and a hit single together.

As for Donna Summer, it seems she has a new album coming out soon, and various mixes of one of the tracks have made their way onto YouTube. Here‘s a good one. There’s not actually any video for this one, and surely it’s not possible that that’s a recent photo…

Just as there is no way to start these ruminations, there’s no way to end them. But by now you are on YouTube and this blog entry can slip away into the night…

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