The late 1970s are widely considered to be the time of the birth of mainstream dance music. The release of the Bee Gees’ movie Saturday Night Movie sparked an unprecedented growth of its popularity, and it became loved by people from all backgrounds. It took over the airwaves, and many rock and roll fans saw their beloved genre fall from its prime of the 1960s and early 1970s. Discover the backlash from these rock and roll fans that led to the “Disco Sucks” movement and why it came to be so problematic.
For many communities in the USA, disco was not a new phenomenon. Before the Bee Gees popularized it amongst white communities, it had characterized the gay, Black, and Latino nightclubs for over a decade. Moreover, it was a scene without censor bursting with queer culture, homoeroticism, and lyrics that would have shocked conservative listeners.
Radio executives immediately appropriated disco after Saturday Night Fever. They wished to emulate the success of New York’s WKTU radio, which had become the biggest station in the USA after shifting to exclusively broadcasting dance music.
An irrational fear grew amongst straight white conservatives that the culture of other ethnicities and sexuality would displace theirs, corrupting the minds of their children. So they began a movement to destroy disco and return rock to its previous height, ignoring the irony that blues, a predominantly black genre, influenced rock and roll.
The fear grew to hatred when the stations began firing their DJs known for playing exclusively rock. These DJs became enemies of the disco movement, Steve Dahl being the most significant of these. Dahl was offended by his sacking on Christmas Eve, creating the “Insance Coho Lips” group of music fans with hatred for disco. They began the “Disco Sucks” movement, a campaign of terror and intimidation, aiming to disrupt disco events.
The racist and homophobic bigotry of the “Disco Sucks” movement culminated in the “Disco Demolition Night,” held at Chicago White Sox’s stadium Comiskey Park. Fifty thousand disco haters turned up with records by prominent black artists, some not remotely related to disco like Marvin Gaye. The records were taken out onto the field and blown up, with fans setting bonfires to destroy any records that were not blown up. House music pioneer Vince Lawrence was right when he called it “a racist, homophobic book-burning.”
Thankfully, the bigotry of “Disco Sucks” failed to progress any further than this, falling into insignificance as the 80s arrived. Genuine music lovers paid little heed, instead deciding that fusion of genres was better than destroying them. Thus, when the post-punk movement emerged in the early 80s, it was a refreshing coming together of disco, punk, and rock, and bands like The Cure and Joy Division are some of the most popular the world has ever seen.
Disco evolved where the “Disco Sucks” movement died. It turned into the dance music of the 90s and the 21st century. The influence of disco rings out whenever we listen to our favorite EDM tracks. Nexus Radio and EDM fans worldwide owe an unpayable debt to disco and those who kept it alive despite the intimidation of bigots.