1970s costume parties often amp disco dress codes: high shine and glitter, bellbottoms, gold chains, platforms, huge lapels, big hair, afros, polyester, flowing fabrics, sex appeal, futuristic fashion. Disco’s hedonistic feel-good groove originated in Philly and NYC (a la Firehouse club), its earliest audiences the gay, African American, and Latino communities. Its glamour and fantasy allowed patrons to frolick in whatever persona they wished; thus, disco and drag culture went hand in hand. For many gay men, the discoteque provided a place to let loose, get down, and get laid. Eventually, the entire population would revel in the mass enthusiasm for “the weekend,” where crazy coats were thrown on to guzzle down colorful cocktails, dabble in white powder drugs, and boogie down as a working class reward. “Night looks” and clubwear became a regular staple in the wardrobes of Americans. Indulging in drug use and sexual experimentation wasn’t just for the 1960s “revolution” anymore.
Riding the coattails of Motown, music charts were largely ruled by the African American music industry (always at the forefront of what is popular music to come). Many front people were Black women whose female sexual expression were at the helm of both their songs’ themes and freaky fashion, shaping an era where both porn and pro-sex feminism became popularized in society (though the marketing of sex was not without its problems). The characters of the 1970s and their stories expand on the complexities of the disco experience: sex symbol Chaka Khan (a former Black Panther party member), androgynous chanteuse Sylvester (a prominent AIDS/HIV awareness activist), Steve Rubell, owner and steward to the glory and downfall of Studio 54 (who was closeted most of his life) and Frankie Knuckles (DJ/Producer at Chicago’s Warehouse and the “Godfather of House Music”).
Punk mocked the “happy” distraction of disco, but this snobbery was easy for those who could afford a negative outlook. Disco provided an outlet, both healthy (dancing) and unhealthy (drugs), for many groups dealing with socio-economic, racial, and homophobic oppression, and would result in many of these groups rising up in society, especially in terms of visibility. With spaces often shared with many white and/or straight and/or wealthy patrons, disco wasn’t always a safe space for everybody, but it allowed for integration and interaction between communities.
Influencing dance and pop music and setting the tone for fashion for New Wave in the 1980s and beyond, enjoy our Disco Inferno Meow Mixtape blast from the past with over two hours of groovy tunes (plus a few newer homages from the likes of Daft Punk and Glass Candy).