isco is still a dirty word in the U.S., a no-brainer punch line carrying knee-jerk associations with leisure suits, cocaine, and Saturday Night Fever. This frustratingly reductionist view fails to differentiate between the mainstream bastardization of disco often seen and the rich, underground thrills too often unheralded. Simply put: Considering disco nothing but escapist, artificial hedonism is grasping the sound and genre at Steve Dahl level.
In the past few years, the tide slowly seems to be turning. David Mancuso’s The Loft compilations and Larry Levan’s Live at the Paradise Garage offer a glimpse at the aural thrills of some of New York’s most revolutionary clubs. These were places where any groove- or bass-heavy music—be it Afrika Bambaata or the Talking Heads or Arthur Russell—was equally embraced, a musical utopia in which people of all races and sexual orientations rubbed elbows.
Those other compilations largely kept the disco in discotheque, but as its title suggested 2000’s Disco (Not Disco), highlighting some of the most willfully experimental music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Called “leftfield disco classics from the New York underground,” this wave the U.S. version of post-punk, the new wave of No Wave connected the dots between rock, rap, disco, punk, funk, and electro.
A combination of forward thinking dance tourists and tourists (including Yoko Ono and Ian Dury) and entrenched producers (including three tracks from the incomparable Russell), Disco (Not Disco) focused on more live production and more established artists.
The second volume, also released on Strut and compiled by Joey Negro and Sean P., carries a similar subtitle. This time it’s a more dance-based selection, individuals who were focused on making music for the clubs and the parties. (One big exception is the Clash’s “This Is Radio Clash.”)
In this case, calling this the “New York underground” is even more misleading than it was the first time. True, it was in the Big Apple in which these tracks were made famous, but they were produced all over the world—including Miami, London, Germany, Italy, and Denmark—by artists who filtered the New York punk-funk-disco sound through the considerable influence of Kraftwerk and augmented it with burgeoning technology.
The two true New York contributions come from a pair of legends: Russell and Bill Laswell. Russell, one of the most criminally underappreciated figures in music, is represented by “Let’s Go Swimming,” while Laswell’s adds the bottom-heavy booty shake of Material’s “Ciguri,” with it’s semi-ironic warning that “this dance is no white man’s business.” Elsewhere, album highlights include compilation staples such as Yello’s “Bostich” and Alexander Robotnick’s “Problemes D’Amour” as well as one of the many towering fluke leftfield hits of the early 1980s: “White Horse” by Laid Back.
So bag the preconceptions and get on the floor—embrace these beats without process and listen without prejudice. And while you’re at it, grab the stronger Disco (Not Disco) as well.
Reviewed by: Scott Plagenhoef
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01