F. Pitrolo u.a. (Hrsg.): Global Dance Cultures in the 1970s and 1980s

Global Dance Cultures in the 1970s and 1980s. Disco Heterotopias

Pitrolo, Flora; Zubak, Marko
Palgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music
Anzahl Seiten
XII, 345 S.
$ 149,99
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Laura Steil, Center for Contemporary and Digital History, University of Luxembourg

Historians have begun to take disco seriously in the past two decades, concentrating on US-American metropoles.1 However, disco’s “other lives” in non-Western locations have thus far been underrepresented in scientific literature. The anthology under review addresses this omission and focuses on how disco was absorbed and re-imagined outside of its Anglophone manifestations during the 1970s and mid-1980s. Through case-studies in localities ranging from Brazil to Czechoslovakia and Lebanon, the authors complicate our understandings of “center” and “periphery” and approach a global cultural phenomenon from multiple cultural and discursive positions. Responding to the “spatial turn” in music studies,2 the contributions show how place mattered and afforded differentiated experiences of listening, dancing, and living disco. All the while, the volume points to the “investment in imaginary unities”3 and “aesthetic cosmopolitanisms”4 that run through disco’s global scenes. Like a glittering mirror ball, the book scatters and refracts multiple knowledges, switching “continuously in the heterotopian condition from experiencing separate spaces to experiencing the joint space, and back again (and again, and again)” (p. 10).

Foucault’s notion of “heterotopia” is central to the book. As an analytical lens, it helps to make sense of “the simultaneous participation in different geographical and imaginary regimes” (p. 5) that the contributors to the volume observe in discotheques and record industries at the so-called “periphery.” For example, Will Straw in his chapter on the social, cultural, and commercial role of disco music and discotheques in 1960s and 1970s Montreal, describes how the city presented itself as a mediator between European and North American cultural tastes and histories by claiming to have imported a Parisian discotheque paradigm while also being a North American “disco capital.” Likewise, Jakub Machek characterizes Czechoslovakian discotheques during the 1970s as a heterotopia. On one hand, the media, musicians, DJs, repertoires, and performances of disco were heavily regulated and instrumentalized with propagandistic intent. On the other hand, discotheques offered young people “a hidden pocket of post-invasion normalised society where they could leave the reality of late socialist society and culture into a world resembling the West” (p. 177).

Methodologically, the volume treads new ground by bridging disco as “field” of scientific inquiry and disco as “scene.” It does so by inviting contributors who are not only academic scholars, by also “diggers, collectors, DJs, label bosses, cultural agitators and people of the night” (p. 2), thus allowing for an overlapping and cross-pollinating of the different kinds of knowledge of scholars and practitioners. The editors convincingly elevate crate digging to a scientific research practice, showcasing the important role it has played in preserving, circulating, and re-valorizing forgotten or invisibilized musical heritage, oftentimes non-Western and/or non-white. This is evidenced most clearly by Marco Zubak’s chapter that highlights the role of a community of vinyl archeologists in retrieving “scattered sonic traces” of a disco scene obliviated in the “Yugoslav” popular canon and in collective memory by punk and new wave (p. 196). While crate digging initially referred to the practice of picking and searching through stashes of old vinyl records, in the digital era, it can designate any exploration of large collections of unstructured musical information (p. 12). Historically, the hunt for the (musically) rare and “exotic” is not unrelated to forms of fetishisation and othering steeped in orientalist and colonial mentality. The contributors are aware of this fact and seek, instead, to build from oftentimes neglected, non-institutional, vernacular, “from below” and “in their own backyard” practices of local diggers. Alongside crate digging, the authors collected oral histories, practiced “deep listening,” interpreted archives, and critically reflected on their own situated experiences and discoveries.

Starting with a pre-history of disco in the 1960s and finishing with propositions for the future of the field, the book follows a chronology. Not only covering geographical places, its twelve chapters zoom in on imaginary and cultural spaces, turning to the built environment of the discotheque, urban squares and streets, the visual space of soap operas, anime and film, and the art world of music studios and labels, radio and press, music critics and journalists, and governmental cultural policies. Most interestingly, several chapters examine the migration of disco manifestations from one space to another, often in the form of “remediations”5 – when contents borrowed from one media are re-used in a different media. For example, Ivan Paolo de Paris Fontanari follows the transformation of a legendary yet short-lived Rio-based elite discotheque – Frenetic Days – to the television soap opera Dancings Days and successful band, the Freneticas, whose members had been waitresses in the actual club. In a similar vein, Yusuke Wajima documents how, from the 1970s onwards, disco music fuelled an active club scene in Tokyo, leading to the emergence of highly localized dance subcultures, such as the “parapara.” In the early 2000s, this scene came to feature in televised anime series, leading in turn to the release of compilations of anime tracks made for “parapara” dancing.

While the book’s title announces “dance” cultures and its chapters pay attention to “remediations,” dance as bodily movement remains somewhat elusive in the volume. Most chapters go into the history, ambience, and design of local dancefloors, while some also identify local dance crazes (“The Bump”, “The Hustle” and “The Bus Stop” in 1970s Tokyo for example, see pp. 108–109) or dance celebrities, whether popularized through early 1980s Hindi films (p. 129) or discotheque-based dance contests in Zagreb called “Travoltiadas” (p. 213). The dance moves and choreographies themselves, however, are often only evoked through metaphors and similes. Elderly Chinese, for instance, called disco tisigou, “the dance of kicking the dog to death” (p. 152); in other cases, people danced “like Michael Jackson” or “like John Travolta” (pp. 129, 213). Scholars of dance as well as historians would have found empirical descriptions especially useful, not least because bodily movement largely shaped the experience of self and the interaction with others on dancefloors. The editors make an important point when they insist that spaces mattered, but one could add that movement did so, too. Quian Wang’s chapter on disco and the sexual revolution in China, for instance, raises the question of what kind of movements were involved in (desexualized) disco “fitness” and “exercise” (jianshen disike and yundong disike) that the Chinese government promoted to middle-aged and elderly women in the late 1980s (p. 157). How did these movements compare with those practiced in ballrooms and employee dance parties aimed at a younger, student, or professional public, of dating age (p. 160)? And what kinesthetic and choreographic traces of disco remain in 2000s “square dancing” (guangchanguru), which Wang relates to earlier forms of disco workout (p. 157)?

Overall, Global Dance Cultures in the 1970s and 1980s contributes significantly to popular music and dance studies and has also something to offer to historians interested in “club cultures” outside Western metropoles6 and beyond aspects of symbolic resistance and public order. It illustrates, in particular, the various temporalities and multi-faceted manifestations of global(ization) processes. Most contributors highlight the local appropriations of disco, rather than present it as a homogenizing force. They do show how some dimensions of disco were “mimicked” from one context to the next – clothing styles of disco-fans and instrumentation in records, for example –, but in many cases, these transpositions were unconvincing to locals who then struggled with feelings of inauthenticity. Paradoxically, this unoriginality and “fakeness” would in one case become the trademark of a local disco genre, as Flora Pitrolo demonstrates in her chapter on Italo disco (pp. 76–77). Other dimensions, such as disco’s relationship with Black and queer communities and identity politics were not easily “translatable,” either because they were not perceived and identified, or because the local contexts, even Black and African ones, could not easily accommodate them (pp. 106, 163, 255). Most chapters illustrate how disco’s “other lives” were shaped by Western market and infrastructure frameworks, but also by the necessity to espouse, and embed in, already-established music and dance scenes and industries, from Beirut’s vibrant “melting-pot” nightlife (p. 226) to Tokyo’s “pseudo-international” music market (p. 103).

1 Tim Lawrence, Love Saves the Day. A History of American Dance Music, 1970–1979, Durham 2003; Peter Shapiro’s Turn the Beat Around. The Secret History of Disco, London 2005; Alice Echols, Hot Stuff. Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, London 2010.
2 Gregory Georgiana / Mazierka Ewa (eds.), Relocating Popular Culture, London 2015.
3 Will Straw, Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change. Scenes and Communities in Popular Music, in: Cultural Studies 5, 3 (1991), pp. 361–375, here p. 369.
4 Nikos Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture, Cambridge 2012.
5 Jay D. Bolter, Richard Grusin, Remediation, Cambridge 1999.
6 Non-Western as well as “post-migrant” club cultures have mostly been documented by anthropologists (see for example Thomas Fouquet, Dakar by Night. Engaging with a Cosmopolitanism by Contrast, in: Catherine Lejeune et al (eds.), Migration, Urbanity and Cosmopolitanism in a Globalized World, Cham 2021, pp. 41–53; Elina Djebbari, Dance, Music Videos and Screens. Intermediality and Videochoreomorphosis in Mali and Benin, in: Critical African Studies 11:1 (2019), pp. 87–102; Sasha Newell, The Modernity Bluff. Crime, Consumption, and Citizenship in Côte d’Ivoire, Chicago 2012; Kira Kosnick (ed.), Postmigrant Club Cultures in Urban Europe, Frankfurt 2015), while historians have shown more interest in the (pre)history of Western club cultures (see for example Theresa J. Buckland, Society Dancing. Fashionable Bodies in England 1870–1920, Houndmills, 2011; Sophie Jacotot, Danser à Paris dans l’Entre-Deux-Guerres. Lieux, pratiques et imaginaires des danses de société des Amériques (1919–1939), Paris 2013; James Nott, Going to the Palais. A Social and Cultural History of Dancing and Dance Halls in Britain, 1918–1960, Oxford 2015).

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