Ten Tips On Living Your Disco Dreams
Photograph of the Studio 54 couch by Bill Bernstein, taken from ‘Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs’
I really don’t want to be that person who discusses their dreams in public as if others should care about something that’s happening just in my head. But, here I go. There’s this recurring dream I have – going on a night out, totally sober and ridiculously underdressed. So underdressed, there’s just a pair of white Y-fronts and my furry back protecting my bare skin from the looks of the strangers. The venue is always the same – a dark, large open-plan hall only lit up by flashing neon lights reflecting off the gigantic disco ball rotating in the middle of dancefloor. Then and there, I forget about the fact that I’m sober and semi-naked and just start dancing, talking and having fun with the people around me.
There’s no sign of that big signature neon logo, but I know this is Studio 54. Whether it has anything to do with the actual interior of the legendary NYC nightclub actually looked like, I have no idea. But it’s the emotion of carelessly being captured inside a haven that I imagine partying between the walls of 254 West 54th Street felt like. Being 26 years old, my only experience of those notorious nights out comes from indulging in all the words, photographs, videos, films telling the stories of the times. Whether documentary photography of Bill Bernstein or Chloe Sevigny awkwardly rubbing against Kate Beckinsale in Last Days of Disco – I’ve consciously decided to consume as many different perspectives on the era of disco that I could.
No, I don’t have a time machine that could take me back there, but I do have access to the incredible resources that continued the legend of the times. Some days, I feel like one of those retro 1950s teddy girls who walk around with great updos and cherry-printed tea dresses. But in place of the rollers in my hair and perfect red lipstick, I have distressed flairs full of moth holes and fancy dress glittery platform shoes. It’s sometimes laughable at how a person can be in love with and fantasise about something they never genuinely experienced, except through other people’s impressions. Imagine falling in love with a person you haven’t met or even seen, only heard about how amazing they are through strangers. And now imagine someone told you there’s a chance of meeting that person, for one night only and just a tube ride away from your home.
Thanks to Southbank Centre and their 2019 Meltdown curator (and the godfather of disco) Nile Rodgers, that’s the situation I’m facing this week. This Saturday, August 3rd, the glitz and glam of 1970s is coming back, in London and for one night only. Set in the foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, A Night of Studio 54 is one of the highlights of Rodgers’ weekful of music and dance. “[Studio 54] has come to symbolise the pinnacle of exclusive club culture and some of the wildest nights on record. The images from its heyday are etched in popular culture history, and the fact that icons like Nile and Grace Jones still reference it in their work adds further to the mystique and legend,” says RhodrI Jones, the producer of Meltdown who worked closely with Rodgers on curating the programme taking place from August 3rd to 11th. Each day has several events, all imagined to both recreate or recontextualise the energy Rodgers has been putting into the world for decades. The wide range of genres and acts in different stages of their careers include Sophie, Jungle, Anaïs and Johnny Marr. Everything kicks off on Saturday eve with a gig by Rodgers’ own band Chic, before the spirit of NYC nightlife takes over and we party until 4am in our gold hot pants.
With original Studio 54 DJs John “Jellybean” Benitez and Nicky Siano, the night is imagined to recreate the momentum of what the most fun 33 months in NYC felt like. In addition to the classic four-on-the-floor beats, Southbank Centre had some of the original set pieces and design accents faithfully reproduced, alongside the signature lighting and design features. The newly opened Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer also shares multiple design aspects with the nightclub’s real decor. “The main thing we want to replicate is the atmosphere and excitement that the space conjured up in its heyday – and having Nile in attendance to let us know how we’ve done will be the ultimate test,” says Jones.
It’s been over 39 years since the doors of the legendary Manhattan discotheque permanently closed its glass doors. There has since been numerous attempts to revive those good times, but this Saturday might be the first time the recreation was attempted at this scale. Whether the reckless freedom of the original nights will feel the same, it’s still TBC. But this might be exactly the right time for the most accurate recreation of Studio 54 since February 1980.
In many ways, the political climate in the world is similar to the leading conservatism of the early 1970s, only contrasted with a heavy stream of hyper-activism and raising the consciousness of the liberal crowd. Back then, disco served as an escape from the cruel reality and that might just be the right thing to indulge in 2019 too. Even if only for one night, we can all benefit from dunking our head deep into the waters of rich harmonies and delirious voices playing with a sense of psychedelia, all covered in feathers and sequins. In the words of Richard Dyer who wrote the often-quoted essay In Defence of Disco: “disco is more than just a form of music, although certainly the music is at the heart of it. Disco is also kinds of dancing, club, fashion, film – in a word, a certain sensibility, manifest in music, clubs, and so forth, historically and culturally specific, economically, technologically, ideologically, and aesthetically determined – and worth thinking about.”
In a way, it’s foolish to even think that recreating the true spirit is possible. Bianca Jagger (probably) won’t arrive to the dance floor on a real horse. But in a time where most of us are struggling to the way the world is treating us, this is the kind of reminder that we need. There was a time when all the “other” cultures (queer, black, female…) were faced with the exact same threats they are faced now. While Donna Summer’s I Feel Love can’t really be credited with finding the solutions to all of the issues, it was a form of escapism that helped these people to feel like they belong. That’s what I’m going to look for this Saturday – a feeling of belonging and acceptance. And I might even wear just my Y-Fronts. Just hope they let me in.
‘A Night of Studio 54’ will take place at the Southbank Centre on Saturday, August 3rd, from 10.30pm. See the full schedule of Meltdown 2019 curated by Nile Rodgers here.