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Turn the Beat Around

Reimagining Disco in the 21st Century

Gone were the glittering days of Studio 54, with ecstasy-filled dancing to the sound of Donna Summer and leaving the troubles of the outside world at the door. The death of the Disco sound in the eighties threw a decade-long genre six feet under, never to return. But ever so faintly, we hear the reincarnated whispers of Disco novices in the reinvigorated ‘Nu-disco’ that brings glitter-stained, sweat-inducing dancing back to the dancefloor.

Various artists today while regurgitating the same pop music we’ve become accustomed to, have experimented in disco. Artists like Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Kylie Minogue and Beyonce have all taken onboard a ‘Real Groove’ within their latest albums, reminding us that Disco is not to be snubbed; it is euphoric.

Upon her 2020 album Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa diminished the view that she was a cardboard cutout popstar, re-envisioning herself as an extraordinary performer who was not afraid to work with the once forgotten Disco sound. The album, drawing on the nostalgic music from her childhood, delves into the genres of Dance-pop and Nu-disco. Since its release, it has enjoyed international success, topping the album charts in fifteen countries. The album has matured Lipa’s sense of style with standouts like ‘Dont Start Now’, ‘Levitating' and my personal favourite along with the artist’s herself: ‘Love Again’. Its orchestrations are its highest merit, particularly the use of 70s disco strings which conjoin the past and present to create a unique and aurally pleasing sound.

The colour of Nu-disco’s arrangements seamlessly transition into the bursting palette that erupts when we visualise these songs, experiencing the sensation known as chromesthesia. I, for one, listen to its unique qualities and envision the vivid outpourings of pink, purple and blue.

This sensation of colour is painted throughout Kylie Minogue’s album entitled DISCO (2020), perhaps the most explicitly named. The pop princess’ studio album is a compilation of the catchy, following themes of romance, celebration and simply, fun. The album, while admittedly lacking in emotional depth, is uplifting and does not shy away from dance-invoking music. Much like Future Nostalgia, the album was a critical and commercial success, with critics praising its sense of escapism. With this album, it is hard to pinpoint its standouts; they are equally uplifting, though ‘Supernova’, ‘Dance Floor Darling’ and ‘Magic’ encapsulate its euphoric nature. Rather fittingly, in late 2020 Minogue collaborated with fellow Disco-champion Dua Lipa on a remixed version of the song ‘Real Groove’; a testament to both the song and the album itself.

Taking obvious inspiration from the genre that characterised the music of the seventies, the nu-disco of today clearly incorporates modern-day genres of music, particularly electronic, into its sound. While one may view this as conforming to commercial music, I believe this to be entirely unique as it distinguishes itself as a fresh take on a once condemned genre.

Remixes have formed a key part of nu-disco, with the genre gaining traction from the remixing of past disco records and current songs. German music producer and DJ Purple Disco Machine has received notable success for his remixes of Lizzo’s ‘About Damn Time’ and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s ‘Rain on Me’.

Turning up the music and turning down the lights, Lizzo’s album Special (2022) is one of the latest Disco-influenced albums to be released, alongside Beyonce’s Renaissance (2022). Lizzo’s lead single ‘About Damn Time’, which spawned a viral reaction on TikTok is a prime example of a nu-disco and funk record, reminding us to rise up from difficult situations and try to ‘bring out the fabulous’.

Beyonce’s latest album, also like Lizzo, pays homage to Black Disco legends like Diana Ross, with its newest single ‘Cuff It’ doing just that. The song, reminiscent of Ross’ legendary ‘Upside Down’, has an incredible rhythm, namely due to its use of guitar and trumpet which create a record that is easily a standout from the album. The album was lauded for its eclectic escapism, which is mirrored throughout the genre, portraying Disco as one that can uplift us from the dire straits of deadline-season and impending exams.

Previously only listened to in nostalgia, Disco has gained a resurgence among modern audiences to critical and commercial success. Once seen as a commercial flop, the reinvisioned Nu-disco has defeated views that the sound belongs in the past. You may not have even considered that elements of Disco feature in the works of your favourite artists. But if there is anything we need in life right now, it is music that allows us to escape. If that be to the age of lycra and platform boots, then I am for it. As you reach the end of my Disco propaganda, I leave you with the commanding words of Kylie Minogue: “Your Disco Needs You”.

Illustration: Calum Mayor

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