FoHDiary Day 4: Too Old To Disco
I’m sat in a coffee shop near Wall Street surrounded by a lot of very polite people in very expensive suits drinking a $5 coffee. Rewind 40 years and these are the target audience for clubs like 2001 and Xenon. These are the people who would have gone to discos where being seen was more important than the emotional and psychological outlet clubs provided. That’s not a judgement on taste, but rather a comment on what the values of certain clubs were in comparison to the discos and clubs I’ve been particularly interested in (Loft, Gallery, Paradise Garage, Better Days). These people didn’t need disco, but that’s not to say they didn’t enjoy it. The realities of suits and valet parking, versus struggling for a living and dancing the night away surrounded by peers for some sense of abandon.
I recently talked about how house music isn’t needed by those constituencies that aren’t “mainstream” anymore, as I suppose they’ve become normalised and part of the mass of society. The civil rights movement and gay liberation have lessened the distance between the eternal us and them of otherness. In the same way that house isn’t needed by the queer fraternity anymore, disco isn’t needed by this city anymore. It is music without a use, and as a result without a home. Disco, for all it’s glitz and glamour, was initially a utilitarian construction for those without a locale. When I spoke to Bill Brewster he explained how Horse Meat Disco were fulfilling a need in the scene, offering an alternative to EDM and chart pop, and in a spirit more analogous to that of the original NYC loft scene. But here there is no need to satisfy anymore.
Sat at the bar the other night I ended up talking to a recruitment consultant who explained there are no clubs in New York anymore. No one needs it, no one wants it. Everyone hangs out at little bars and talks. No one dances anymore. NYC is growing up, and the hedonistic pursuits of youth just don’t interest it anymore.
In it’s younger days NYC was responsible for building an entirely new culture, that of dancing to discs. The city has existed for maybe 400 years? But in the world we’ve only been engaging and dancing to recorded music selected for us by those “in the know” for less than 50 years. In living memory there are people who danced before DJs and disc dancing were even a consideration. It’s easy to view the current state of musical engagement as the status quo; as it is so it always was. But not at all. The microcosmic view of disc dancing as a base state is incorrect. It’s still new, it’s still evolving. But NYC has already given up on it’s own past.
It begs the question; is there anything of value in disco and in disco dancing? Is it worth remembering and examining our history as dancers? Or should we simply move on and accept it’s not the done thing anymore? The narrative of disco as an unfortunate fad has thankfully been more or less rejected and a more measured story of the late 60s to late 80s reflects a more nuanced approached to thinking about our/dance music’s history. But until we actually have a view of the field that accepts that dance music is important, and recognise how it altered our perspectives of ourselves as audience/participant/subject we can’t properly do justice to what happened in this city.
I did the next batch of mapping today. I covered:
— Limelight. Chelsea. Deconsecrated church. The centre of the 90s club kid culture, somewhat masterminded my James St James and Michael Alig. Now a gym but still referencing the logo and marking its location.
— Danceteria. Chelsea. 80s happening disco featuring Madonna and Jellybean Benitez. Building unchanged but now home to a natural stone showroom.
— Palladium. Gramercy. Another swanky disco. Was originally beautifully decorated and adorned. Demolished. Now an NYU campus building but still called Palladium.
— The Saint. East Village. Building still remains but now home to a bank and apartments. Absolutely no reference made to it’s history as an infamously debauched gay nightspot. Very few surviving photos.
— CBGBs. Bowery. Punk’s version of Mekkah. Now a “punk themed boutique” with fragments of original walls and posters. Rather disgusting cash-in on punks legacy.
— The Loft. Greenwich Village. Mancuso’s original loft apartment remains just another apartment above a deli and a shoe shop. Entirely inconspicuous.
— The Gallery. Greenwich Village. Nicky Siano’s version of the loft is again an apartment building with few distinguishing features, but at least not demolished.
— Paradise Garage. SoHo. Outside has been altered significantly and now is a truck depot for Verizon. No information available about the state of upstairs. The famous ramp entrance is still used.
I went into the boutique that used to be CBGB’s. They’re selling Parallel Lines for $50. Is this the way we should treat our musical heritage? Should we monetise it? Or should we demolish our sacred sites and build Italian restaurants over their graves like with Better Days? I don’t have an answer, but neither option feels particularly appealing.
It all boils down to what we value in terms of our social history and spaces.
Went for dinner with JT, a friend of a friend. Had a real laugh, although was a bit too tired to make a full night of it. I ended up going to 2 gay bars. That’s 200% more gays bars than I’ve been to over the past 5 years. Snaps for me! Also had a great discussion with him about how the apparent lack of cynicism in the USA and he confirmed my thoughts on it. They just DON’T do it. Everything is always optimism and self belief. If something isn’t right, its the system, not you! I paraphrase but that was the gist of it.
I’ve also been feeling guilty because I’ve not done any of the tourist stuff. But I realised I’m not actually here to do that stuff! Instead I’m here to work and make the most of this opportunity for this project. Tourists don’t spend their days photographing old buildings that used to be a 1970s disco. But they also don’t get to meet the people I’ve been speaking to or get to work all this material into research. This isn’t a holiday. This is work and hopefully it’s a worthwhile contribution. Finzi have given me money to support this and I need to make the most of it, and make sure their investment and faith isn’t misplaced.
I felt my first bit of magic aura today. I spied the site of the Paradise Garage down a side street and got goosebumps.