The Disco of the Priviliged

What does the injection of social privilige into music really mean? If the current trend of global ghettotech-as-written-by-europe continues, what will the music sound like? I got a fascinating insight into what how music, culture and maginalisation works during this latest blogging hiatus, which I spent down in Malmö. And bizarrely, it all centers around that most multi-marginal of music styles, disco.

Malmö is a really fun city teetering just on the right side of the soca vs. new age divide. During my visit I stayed with my friend Simon, aka. Sergio Rizzolo, who runs a blog called Diskoakademin which is definitely worth visiting. Like the name suggests it's part of a "disco" scene which Simon tells me exists throughout Sweden... but the disco that he puts out and that his friends play at their parties is entirely different from the disco I know - it is a complete reimagning of disco minus precisely the elements that make it unique.

And I'm completely perplexed by it.

Simon's "disco" supposedly originated with a guy called PJ DJ Harvey, who is some sort of sub-Mancusoic bearded mystic who spends his time surfing on the US west coast. Rediscovering seventies bands with some sort of vague dance beat, your Rare Earths and Barabasses and Dennis Wilsons, "disco" is a kind of proto-balearic reimagining of seventies dance music as being part of straightforward mainstream rock.

As such, the music played by the "disco" scene is almost entirely white, male and straight. It also values genuine songwriting, the "band" metaphor for music creation, and (most strange of all) acoustic/electric instrumentation with only occasional, analogue, synths. It's got a very strong sense of authenticity. In other words, it's completely opposed to everything immanently political about the old disco, which for generations has stood for queerness, blackness injected into a white mainstream, the emancipation of women to a certain degree, fakeness and the breakdown of traditional rock heirarchies. The new "disco" enforces them instead. In its world, Disco Sucks somehow, subliminally, won.

Simon's defence for this is that, in fact, the people involved in the scene are also male, white and straight. They're only latching onto music that they, themselves, can relate naturally to. Simon Reynolds has talked about how dance music gets turned into "rock" – acquires auteurs, "intelligence" and so on – when rock journalists and fans apply their discursive models to it, and I guess it's pretty much the same thing going on here. Another possibility is that the political fight against rockism isn't really relevant anymore, and that championing synthy fakeness and getting off on pictures like this is no longer an issue for today's generation, who've all synthesized it (har har) and are ready to move onto new dialectics. Perhaps, as Rachel suggest of my critique of backpacker rap here, the fight has already been won and everyone has left the battlefield.

A third idea, also planted by Simon (not Reynolds), is that in the act of labelling these rock musicians disco we are, in fact, queering them. Reinterpreting the musical mainstream with queer-theoretical or feminist eyes, we're somehow warping the social constructions society rests on. As such, any reinterpretation and reimagining might be a good idea.

But I'm still a bit worried because "disco" is moving music out of the hands of marginalised creators and mixed audiences, into the pure hands of the priviledged. AGAIN. And not just because it's a political problem, but aesthetically – disco has always thrived on tension, juxtaposition, mixture, which seems entirely lost here. Thankfully, there's other music in this world I can happily think of as carrying on the disco legacy as I know it, but that's not exactly getting great reviews...

Finally, to tie it all together with the main subject of this blog these past few months, I think global ghettotech needs to be wary of not succumbing to these tendencies as well. There are definitely signs – tracks hitting it big only when they're published by western record companies, increasing collaborations, the "tropical" sound in mainstream white rock, imitation albums – that the music is moving towards being created and consumed by the privilidged rather than the marginalised (with us listening in). Is that really the way we want things to go?

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