Alcazar and the Innate Pleasure of Terrible, Tacky, Knock-Off Disco

"Crying at the Discotheque" might be awful, but it introduced me to disco...and I've never looked back.

by Josh Baines
15 September 2016, 9:54am

Terrible disco producers Alcazar.

It's early January, 2002. I'm sat in an uncomfortable chair in my bedroom. For reasons I've long since forgotten, I'm playing the truly awful Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone tie-in video game on PS2. Darkness has descended outside and rain pitter-patters against my window. I'm awash with early-adolescent ennui, riddled with pre-pubescent inertia. I've got the radio on too, because for a good five or six years this was what I did with all of my free time: I played computer games with the radio on. I slaughtered soldiers to the sound of All in the Mind and scored world class screamers while Bob Harris played the latest country releases on Radio 2.

On that grim Sunday evening back in 2002—a Sunday evening that in all other respects was undoubtedly identical to every other Sunday night I'd go on to have that year, with its sandwiches and baths and low lying, but very potent, dread—something changed. Mark Goodier, the then presenter of Radio 1's chart rundown, and his dulcet tones filled the room. Goodier introduced a record that, in a roundabout way at least, changed my life forever. That record was "Crying at the Discotheque" by Alcazar.

And while I no longer find myself holed up in a bedroom listening to the radio with a perverse intensity that errs on the unhealthy, I can proudly say that I've listened to the Swedish group's single at least once a week ever since. But this isn't about me and my penchant for the kind of glitzy chintz you might hear while puking up seven VKs and an ill-advised pre-club curry in Plymouth's Oceana. This is about how disco—that mistreated and misunderstood genre—will always be a force to be reckoned with. Even—and perhaps especially—the bottom of the barrel stuff.

What you 100% don't need at this juncture is another white, heterosexual writer telling you about how disco (and a decade later, house) was minority music co-opted by majority groups for financial gain. So I won't do that. Instead, I want to situate "Crying at the Discotheque" in a lineage that stretches from pretty much every song on this list to that limply feel-good Justin Timberlake song from this summer. These are disco records that have seemingly nothing in common with what we think of as Good Disco. Good Disco stretches from the social-injustice stomp of "There But For The Grace Of God Go I" by Machine, to the simmering sexuality of Dennis Parker's "Like an Eagle," or the mindful melody of a "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" or "Le Freak" by Chic. Good Disco is the kind of disco that even diehard rockists are allowed to praise. What I'm writing about here is resolutely not Good Disco.

"Crying at the Discotheque" is a gloriously silly, campy, bit of 4/4 froth that doesn't so much sample "Spacer" by Sheila as squat in its living room for three minutes and 50 seconds, smoking its fags and drinking its cava. In a way it's the aural equivalent of donning a sparkly pink wig and a pair of stacked heels—disco as nothing but a series of largely empty visual signifiers. And while there might be something slightly problematic about that—for the reasons very briefly outlined in the paragraph above—what can't be forgotten is that disco was a genre where even the tackiest, trashiest, most rancid and rotten bit of novelty cash-in crap is redeemed by its essential disco-ness. And it was Alcazar who taught me that, nearly 15 years ago.

Perhaps it's the overwhelming shininess of disco—all smoothed out strings trotting over glistening brass and incredibly cleanly vocals—that makes it such a permanently attractive proposition. It's music that sounds like the scene it spwaned. Look at photos from Studio 54 and imagine Bianca Jagger hopping up on that horse to any other kind of music. That high-end sheen, that lubricious lacquer that's splattered over the whole genre, turning, as it does, tinfoil to spun gold. I mean, OK, that can occasionally lead you into a situation where you become convinced that say, "Cuba" by the Gibson Brothers is actually good. Which it probably actually isn't.

Actually, "Cuba" is fucking sick. Sorry to doubt you, Gibsons!

The Alcazar record is, if I'm being honest, absolutely awful. It sounds cheap, the lyrics are beyond bad ("When disco spreads like bacteria" is a personal highlight/object lowlight) and if it were a human it'd be an office manager swigging chardonnay at a staff party until he vomits all over the photocopier—but I love it because it led to other, better things.

My disco desires lay dormant for years after that first brush with the coked-up perfection of disco at its most rottenly commercially-minded, and microhouse and minimal techno took hold. The very idea of disco became slightly repugnant. In my uncultured eyes it became as uncool as music was possible to be.

And then I was stood at another shit SU club night, drinking my bodyweight in vodka and cokes, stumbling from the bar to the smoking balcony and back, and there it was. Alcazar blasting into the night. I felt alive. I felt something inside me change. I rushed home and decided that I had to get into disco there and then. From Boney M to the Crown Heights Affair, Larry Levan to "Boogie Nights". from the most wretchedly plastic rubbish to the most emotionally devastating floor fillers, I devoured it all. Bootlegs and edits, 12" remixes and medleys, I'd found disco and I never wanted to leave it.

To this day, I'm still a disco devotee, and I've got a pretty much forgotten Swedish novelty act to thank for introducing me to some of the best music ever recorded.

The less said about follow-up single "Sexual Guarantee" the better though...

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