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Does Disco Still Suck?

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1 DonnaSummerNot if you don’t call it disco
by Gregg Shapiro

If you call disco “EDM” (aka electronic dance music), you make it safe for straight people—as well as their gay friends who have been dancing to it for years. But there are traces of disco everywhere, and also a renewed interest in disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, who was rediscovered by EDM gods Daft Punk and embraced by their legion of fans. However, as the homophobia-laced Disco Demolition in Chicago (of course) approached its 34th anniversary, the three-day Wavefront Music Festival—featuring Diplo, Timo Maas, Holy Ghost, and Frankie Knuckles—staked its claim in the Windy City, while electronic music fests were held around the globe.

The aforementioned mastermind Moroder (along with his muse, the late Donna Summer) was the driving force behind disco during its heyday. The Donna Summer remix disc Love to Love You Donna (Verve) is less an homage to the original disco diva than it is an excuse for those cursed remixers to get their grubby paws on her classic material and leave what they think is their imprint on it. Because “remix” means something different than it did in the 1970s when it was applied to extended 12” single versions of Donna Summer tracks, only a few of the 13 revisited cuts are worth listening and dancing to. Not surprisingly, one worthy remix is the Director’s Cut Signature Mix of “Hot Stuff” by Frankie Knuckles (a gay DJ who has been around since the birth of disco) and Eric Kupper, as well as the Hot Chip Dub Edit of “Sunset People,” the Gigamesh Remix of “Bad Girls” and the Afrojack Remix of “I Feel Love.”

2 AviciiOn his full-length debut True (Island), Avicii (aka Tim Bergling) is this year’s David Guetta—but so much betta, if you will. Like Guetta, Avicii employs guest vocalists, but what he does with them is far more compelling. Opener “Wake Me Up” finds modern soul singer Aloe Blacc in a country bar, complete with acoustic guitar and electronic beats; disco for the NASCAR set. The country/club theme continues on “Hey Brother,” featuring vocals by Dan Tyminski (of Alison Krauss and O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame) and the addictive “Addicted to You,” sung by southwestern songbird Audra Mae. Avicii breaks up the mountaintop momentum with hardcore dance-floor workouts such as “Dear Boy,” the ballroom blitz of “Shame on Me,” Adam Lambert’s stand-up performance on “Lay Me Down,” and the twisted retro soul screamer “Liar Liar.”

3 GrouploveKaleidoscopic pop band Grouplove begins its second disc Spreading Rumours (Atlantic) with the exuberant “I’m with You,” a song that not only summons Philip Glass but also has a kick-ass dance beat, perfect for hippies and hipsters alike. “Borderlines & Aliens” arrives on a funk-rock flotation device, and “Ways to Go” goes a long way in promoting the electro-funk cause. “Shark Attack” has teeth, “Sit Still” makes it impossible to sit—still or otherwise—and “Raspberry” is tart and tangy. [Editor’s note: Grouplove performs at House of Blues (houseofblues.com/houston) on April 7.]

4 AustraThey’re dancing in Canada if Olympia (Domino), the second album by Austra, is any indication. The mixed-gender sextet has created an irresistible triumph, merging beauty and the beats. The spooky crackling that opens “What We Done?” becomes a plaintive love call when the vocals begin. “Forgive Me” increases the beats, and “Painful Like” adds a funky bass line that is sure to go right to your hips and spine. “Home” takes the classic disco diva approach—Katie Stelmanis’s dramatic vocals draw you in, and then the beats and bass assume control, taking the listener home and back.

5 The1975On its self-titled Interscope/Vagrant debut, UK quartet The 1975 actually sounds more like 1985. Synth beats, retro keyboards, and big drum all give the listener a (false) sense of nostalgia, as the group revives ’80s dance moves from the Moonwalk to the Sprinkler to the Belinda to slam- or break-dancing. Your best bets for strutting your ’80s stuff are “Sex” (with its U2 guitar), the synthy “Heart Out,” and the white funk of “Girls,” to mention a few.

6 BerlinWhen Lady Gaga’s influences are discussed, people invariably mention Madonna, as well as Grace Jones and Cyndi Lauper. But what about Terri Nunn of Berlin? Known for her interesting hairstyles, not to mention distinctive fashion sense, Nunn also knew her way around a dance track. Nunn, and a new Berlin lineup, returns with Animal (Something-Music/Fontana), the first studio disc of new material in more than 10 years. Whether Nunn and her Berlin mates were listening to Lady Gaga or vice versa, Animal is a purebred EDM creature. Propulsive songs such as “With the Lights On,” “Nice to Meet You,” “Don’t Make Me Regret It,” “Secrets,” “Break the Chains,” “Somebody to Love,” and the title tune would all fit comfortably alongside Gaga on any playlist.

7 FitzAfter listening to Fitz & The Tantrums’ 2010 debut album, it was easy to lump them in with soul revivalists such as JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. But on its second album, More Than Just a Dream (Elektra/Dangerbird), Fitz & The Tantrums expands and updates its repertoire to move in a dance-oriented direction. Opener “Out of My League,” from which the disc’s title is drawn, is a soul dance sensation. The dance mood is maintained on the thumping “The Walker” and the vintage disco of “Last Raindrop,” as well as the dizzying “MerryGoRound” and “Break the Walls.”

8 UltraA number of other artists are also clamoring for your dance dollar. On Good Mood Fool (Secretly Canadian), Luke Temple (of Here We Go Magic fame) puts listeners in a booty-shaking good mood on songs such as “Those Kids,” “Katie,” “Jessica Brown Findlay,” and “Love Won’t Receive.” Ultra Naté has been making us dance since the early 1990s (her songs “Free” and “Found a Cure” are classics of the genre) and continues to do so on Hero Worship (Peace Biscuit) via songs such as “Everybody Loves the Night,” “Unconditional,” “Right Now,” “Planet Called Love,” “Save Me,” and “Hero” (featuring fellow dance diva Jocelyn Brown). Dance-floor philosopher Robert DeLong (think Owl City’s Adam Young after he grows up and grows a pair) gives you something to think about while moving your feet from start to finish on the amazing and suitably titled Just Movement (Glassnote). Dance multi-hyphenate Colette continues to represent the Second City on her latest full-length When the Music’s Loud (Candy Talk).

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Gregg Shapiro

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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