In search of the soul of disco [February 1977]

For the layperson, the word ‘disco’ instantly conjures up images of Saturday Night Fever, Studio 54, multicoloured dancefloors and cavernous bellbottoms – such was the influence that the genre had on popular culture.

Back in the mid 70s, however, a select number of DJs, such as Mo Claridge, also known as Mojo Sound System (later the owner of reggae/dub imprint Ballistic Records), were calling for disco to return to its roots: aka the soul and funk sounds that emerged out of largely black neighbourhoods.

In February 1977, Cliff White of New Musical Express met up with Claridge to discuss the state of disco in its mature state – and the creeping commercialisation of the genre.

“There is a lot of garbage marketed as disco music but it’s up to the DJs to suss it out and discard it,” Claridge explains. “Actually the records that are deliberately advertised as disco tracks are generally the worst kind. I just play soul records that I like and which I know will appeal to my audiences.”

As the article shows, Claridge is a purist when it comes to soundystems – “As far as I’m concerned the system only needs to be very loud and very clear. That’s the important thing — clarity. When you’re playing good music it should be heard right” – and has little time for the ‘New York sound’ permeating the charts.

“Well there’s what I call white soul, and that’s primarily the basic New York sound and the European sound — with the emphasis on brisk rhythm, persistent high-hat and loads of strings. I don’t play ’em much because I don’t like that sound, and the people I play for don’t either. It’s pop really with a dance beat.

“We go more for the funk side, kind of jerky with very strong bass. A punchy sound.”

Surefire party starters in Claridge’s collection include Double Exposure’s ‘My Love Is Free’, Loleatta Holloway’s ‘Hit And Run’, Jean Carne’s ‘If You Wanna Go Back’ and a smattering of James Brown cuts.

“Even if they hadn’t heard ’em before, tracks like ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ and ‘Body Heat’ had such great intros that they were guaranteed to get everybody on the floor,” he says.

And as for the then-new trend towards 12-inch extended mixes?

“If they’re too long people get bored so I fade them into something else. About four or five minutes is the optimum length, providing it’s a strong riff. Tracks that are seven or eight minutes are generally a waste of time — unless I need to take a leak.”

The article’s author, Cliff White, also wrote for Black Music magazine and Smash Hits, before going on to work for reissue company Charly Records, and spearheading a series of James Brown re-releases, efforts that earned him a Grammy. He died in January 2018.

[Read the full length version of Has Disco Soul Sold-Out?, by Cliff White, New Musical Express, 12 February 1977 by clicking here]

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