The hype around director David O. Russell’s new film American Hustle is reaching a peak as the worldwide December 18 release inches closer. It’s a film that shows the scandalous side of the 70s.
Wearing rose tinted round frames of yesteryear, we like to remember the 70s as a period of decadence and indulgence with all the appeal, but half of the struggles, of the 1960s—and without any of the consequences of the 80s. I mean, sure, the 60s contributed some of our country’s greatest civil upheavals, but the 70s followed through, and really brought the muscle. In essence, the 60s was like that time in childhood when you learned that Santa Claus didn’t exist and the 70s was when you embraced it, and realized you could be naughty all year around.
It was the era of disco, and a psychedelic swirl of political unrest and a shit ton of opiates that pushed music into previously unexplored territories that still linger in the music of today. The 70s became this wild musical landscape where sugary pop sensations started sharing the charts with artists like Tom Waits and Alice Cooper. It’s the decade that had the most influence on modern music, where hip-hop surfaced reggae grew in popularity, and electronics entered the music game through harmonizers and synthesizers. The time when rock ‘n’ roll expanded into various genres garnering qualifiers like glam, art, folk, and punk. We can thank the 70s for electric based music and hybrid genres like sampledelia and dubtronica. The decade introduced us to music that would mark the quintessential youth years for generations to come with artists like Led Zeppelin, whose song “Good Times Bad Times” plays in American Hustle’s trailer, Queen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Talking Heads, Grateful Dead, and Joy Division. Even disco, the seemingly uncomplicated and most flamboyant genre that the 70s gave us, had a deeper more complex side.
I cringe at the thought, but disco of the early 70s was one of those things that actually was cool before it became cool. The rhythmic fusion of funk, soul, and synthy harmonies that is disco began in night clubs, and belonged to the minority, the gays, and the population of disheartened Americans seeking solace - or at least amyl nitrites amidst the glow of mirrored balls and trippy lights. The death of disco came as a duel effort made by pop culture and the backlash from punk rockers who criticized it for being materialistic, vapid, and politically unengaged. Towards the end of the decade disco packed up its platform shoes, and returned to the closet, leaving behind glitter and dreams of civil restitution.
The trend, the culture, and the brooding meaninglessness of it all that is disco, was thought to have phased out with some of the baby boomers that birthed the movement, but after this summer’s music hits people are asking if we are seeing a resurgence of disco in mainstream music.
Like other movements founded in the 70s, strong elements of the sound remain a source of influence and inspiration, but in short, no, disco has not been resuscitated from the 70s. Disco could not be rescued from its own time. We know when disco died, it wasn’t pretty, but it happened. However, the layering of electric instruments and syncopated baselines, accompanied by repetitive vocals that characterized disco music is, dare I say it, back. We heard it on the radio from Arcade Fire’s latest album, Reflektorm, andfrom Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories—a collaborated with Nile Rogers of Chic— we even heard it in the music of pop R&B singers like Bruno Mars and Robin Thicke, and hip-hop artists like Kanye West in his last album, Yeezus, embraced the funkiness of the 70s disco aesthetic into their work. Broken Bells, James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse’s single “Holding On for Life” release before their next LP, After the Disco, continues to show signs of disco’s timeless influence with souring vocals and heavy base guitar.
Our interest in 70s culture, whether it be disco or rock ‘n’ roll, has not waned.
Our admiration of the time, and our human desire to dance our problems away continues to set the tone for a long stunt of club music because that booming baseline makes you forget, and disco balls still distract from, well, anything really. It was a fair reaction then and is a fair reaction now. Today we have abandoned the glamour and decadence of the decade and replaced the scandalous with the sensational. Long live the 70s, and long live the influence of disco!