Gino Soccio's Ameridisco High
June 25, 1979
This is the last time the following soon-to-be-considered-common-knowledge insight about disco will be offered, so please memorize or clip and save. Insight: Disco was not invented by the captains of monopoly culture so they could banish rock, soften brains, and snort cocaine at Studio 54. Fact: Disco developed its own independent network for publicity and distribution, largely through the disco club d.j.s, with no help from the large record companies and no radio play. So as the giant pop conglomerates only now climb on the bandwagon to get some of that disco dough, don't worry about disco watering down rock, worry the other way around. Will disco's eccentricities be pruned as music biggies drool over the sales figures of Donna Summer's disco-rock Bad Girls? Will number one on the disco charts be enough in the era of triple platinum?
If Gino Soccio's already halfway-to-gold disco album Outline is any indication, there's nothing to worry about--yet. Outline was the first record released on Warners' new disco label, RFC, and "Dancer," the first 12-inch single from it, topped the disco charts all spring. RFC got a lot of music-biz attention for being the first disco division created by one of the giants, and for bringing real disco people into the corporate fold, including its head, Ray Caviano (who modestly loaned the label his initials) and Record World columnist Vince Aletti.
If there's a corporate touch anywhere on Outline, it's on the jacket, which unlike most disco features neither a nearly naked woman nor a robot but a Magritish-Mondrianish bit of, you know, tasteful art. The music itself shows no signs of a corporate search for demographics. This is not crossover: not disco-rock, -pop, -soul, -jazz, or -country-folk. It's just disco-disco, sharpened and redefined, in which Soccio, who lives and records in Montreal, removes the quasi-symphonic orchestrations from Eurodisco. As he told me in an interview, it's the Eurodisco form with an American feel. Is that Ameridisco?
Instead of having the disco riff (da-dum da-dum da-dum-dum) and variations (da-dum da-dum da-dum-doom) played by Euroviolins, and then guitars, and then synthesizers, and so on, Soccio states, restates, and varies the riff on the bass track. And most of the tension and drama that propel the cut come from variations in the bass track--in the many layers of piano and sequencers as well as the bass itself. While a spacey Eurodisco embellishment of flutes, synthesizer shreds, and female trio chanting floats on the treble.
On close listen these riff variations are tight and devilishly clever, like a speeded-up Kraftwerk (or even Steve Reich) crammed onto the bass track. Which may be why it's so compelling when you're not listening closely. If you do get hooked by it, the effect is not spare or cerebral, as Outline seems to some, but very stoned, as if all that bass is pulling you down to the beat. Not like an old psychedelic spaced-out guitar-solo free-your-mind high either. This is a very low-down, very repetitive, druggy, body high. Compulsive dancing that's also frothy. Like peak time at a disco.
Actually I wouldn't know. We usually have to go to bed early these days and no longer dance till dawn. But I like the idea of peak time at a disco, and "Dancer" reminds me of it. I like to dance, I like the idea of dancing, and I like the idea of dance music. It's a good, traditionally pop, communal, ecstatic metaphor for music to organize itself around. Eurodisco as a form allows play for the Beethovenish aspirations that have been around pop since Sgt. Pepper, but it undercuts the accompanying pretension, since the artistic noodling has to keep 'em on the dance floor or it ain't disco. For a young (23-year-old) producer like Gino Soccio disco provides a lively ready-made metaphor for communicating with his audience, and a musical form still undefined enough to be interesting to work in.
But how long will that format keep sounding new? Outline is a refinement, a work of judgment and taste, drawing back rather than expanding. It brings Eurodisco closer to soul and funk, where the best disco is coming from now. "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" and James Brown's "It's Too Funky in Here" have more life in them than anything current from the Euromasters. Maybe Outline signals a Euro-retrenchment toward funk as funk finally stretches out and hits its disco stride. Stay tuned.
For the moment, anyway, Gino Soccio has shown that corporate disco can be disco for the disco connoisseur and sell very well as that and nothing more. The trick is to reach the clubs and then everyone else. Outline hasn't reached everybody else--that cerebral, spare-sounding problem, I suppose. But I never get tired of listening to it. At my giddiest it makes me imagine bullshitting about shared communal values in a way I haven't since flower power days. It crystallizes the ecstasies of the me generation so precisely it makes them transcendent, pointing toward a new model for previously promiscuous energy that's been socially transformed.
Oops, I almost forgot. It's only disco.
Tom Smucker, Village Voice
A version of this review was published in In These Times, on August 29, 1979 as "Disco-Disco -- Do ya think it's funky?" on the same page as an analysis by Don McLeese of the anti-disco riot at Chicago's Comiskey Park on July 12 of that year.