When you think about the roots of dance music do gay clubs or black and Latin culture come to mind? Probably not, but by the end of this article, we hope the gay bar scene comes to mind!
To discuss the origins of dance music, we have to recognize the influences of gay bars and gay clubs, black and Latino culture, homophobia, and racism. The journey of modern-day dance music is a complicated one. Therefore, we have to delve deep into it to understand its true history.
Dance music includes anything from ballroom to EDM, classified as a series of steps and movements that match the speed and rhythm of music. In this article, we will specifically be discussing electronic/modern dance music.
House, Disco, Techno, all can be traced back to the same roots. These roots have been all but forgotten as the mainstream took over this scene.
In honour of pride, in this article, we will tell the story of dance music and give its creators the credit that has been washed from history. We owe dance music to minorities and it is our responsibility to recognise that.
We hope this article will open your eyes and educate you on the queer POC influences of this much-loved genre.
Be sure to stay until the very end so you don’t miss out on any key information!
Let’s get into the history.
This article is divided into sections based on the main influences of dance music. We will talk about disco, house, techno, separately and why the scene today is so different from its roots.
It is also impossible to discuss the history of dance music without talking about sexuality and race, here’s why:
Disco is where we have to start when discussing the birth of electronic dance music. The history of disco is complex and political, involving national outrage and racism.
In the 1970s, queer POC, mainly African-Americans and Latino-Caribbeans, aswell as a few straight allies, formed small creative safe spaces to express themselves.
Queer POC during the 70s were not welcomed by many. Facing racism from the white gay community and homophobia from their black and Latino communities, they only had each other to turn to.
An escape from the harsh reality of homophobia and racisms, music was an essential part of these gay nightclubs. With the main influences of this music being Latin, funk, and soul music, disco was born.
Now enter The Loft. If you’re a true fan of disco, you will have heard of The Loft in passing. David Mancuso held a series of parties in his apartment in Manhattan.
He allowed the newly conceived disco to grow and thrive for the first time. A mix of sexuality and racial diversion bloomed in The Loft like it never had before.
Disco started to spill out from the Loft into more gay bars. Eventually, straight clubs followed the gay bars’ lead and gained popularity during the 70s. Following this clubs like Studio 54 and many other popular venues opened, centred around disco.
As its audience grew, its connection to gay bars and the black, Latino communities were lost. That was of course until its roots were used against it.
At the end of the 70s, the disco era was crashing. The new sounds were coming in and the trend of disco was dying. Now we enter the anti-disco period.
The gay, black, and Latino roots of disco were used to oppose the genre and its culture. Now a political issue of gay and POC endorsement, disco got the attention of wider audiences. This was not well-received.
T-shirts sold with ‘disco sucks’ on them. This of course refers to the gay influence of disco and many labeled the genre as unlawful. The situation gained so much traction at one point, people staged a riot at a football game and burnt countless disco records.
What remained of disco after this period was minute compared to its history. Clubs like Paradise Garage in New York become one of few venues to still host disco nights for their loyal fans. The sound in these clubs eventually broke off into a sub-genre and garage was born.
Fundamentally disco was the start of dance music, influencing most sub-genres.
In this section when we talk about house music, we mean Chicago House specifically being the sole origin of house. The first name to come to mind is Frankie Knuckles of course. Not only a legend within house music but a legend within music itself, a true pioneer.
Equally, legendary Paradise Garage resident Larry Levan recommended Frankie Knuckles to club owner Robert Williams. This was after working with him in gay bathhouses.
Frankie played gay bars and became the resident at the gay nightclub The Warehouse. This is the holy grail of house music, consisting of gay, black, and Latino audiences.
A combination of disco, funk, hip-hop, Italo disco, and European electro-pop transitioned Frankie from disco into the new sounds of Chicago house.
As house developed throughout the 80s, it developed into a more bass drive, harder-hitting sound that is more recognizable as house music today. Through the use of synthesizers, subgenres started to develop and house spread its wings.
As acid house took off the genre swept across Europe and had gay DJs of colour playing to straight white crowds for the first time. Of course, the appreciation of gay POC was lacking and the roots are forgotten as it became mainstream.
The story of techno and gay people is more complicated than the other genres we have discussed. Techno was born in Detroit and to understand its history we have to discuss the economic situation of Detroit at the time.
Predominantly black, Detroit in the 80s became the centre of the American car manufacturing industry. This influx of investment meant black communities were climbing the class ladder for the first time.
Whereas Chicago’s club audiences were a mix of equally oppressed gay, black and Latino people, Detroit’s black and gay segregation was more prominent.
As Detroit’s black communities gained a class status, Detroit’s clubs became straight dominated with less gay tolerance. As techno started to develop in Detroit’s black ran clubs, gay people were left out of the narrative.
But when looking more closely, we can see that this is a false representation of the birth of techno.
In these segregated clubs techno was undoubtedly born. Influences from electronic rock, electro-funk and European synth pop to name a few melded together into a heavily synthesized hard-hitting beat that would become techno.
So as much as the black influence on techno is very prominent, gay influence appears to have no part to play. When we look deeper into techno history we realise this is not actually the case.
The DJs that brought new techniques and sounds from New York and Chicago were black and gay.
Whereas history does not recognize the gay influence on techno, the pioneers of techno recognize gay black DJs like Ken Collier as the father of DJ culture in Chicago.
The gay influence was less apparent for Detroit techno. However, their influence on the nightlife was fundamental and thus techno would not exist without both black and gay people.
Of course with music being subjective, it is hard to pinpoint the first use of a genre and its true technical roots.
As much as the gay POC American underground scene was the root of much modern dance music, outside influences of course still had an impact.
We have to give credit to pioneers like the German group Kraftwerk who also massively influenced electronic dance music. Despite the fact they are very different from the sounds that were being heard in America, their influence is still hugely prominent, mostly within pop.
However, the more ‘straight’ and white appearance of Kraftwerk can potentially explain their wider recognition.
This article is a focus on the dance music genres of disco, house, and techno from American queer black and Latino gay clubs, however.
As much as there are countless other influences, the gay POC narrative is mostly left out so desserves special attention especially during pride.
Now you have a deeper understanding of the queer and racial influences of electronic dance music. It is now time to discuss why this history has been lost.
Rather than talking about times of music hardship like the anti-disco movement in this section, we will discuss today’s modern dance music scene instead.
With the gay, black, and Latino roots of dance music, we will now look at why mainstream dance music today is overwhelmingly straight and white. When we see line-ups for big festivals and events we repeatedly find a lack of diversion in sexuality and race.
If you google ‘electronic music DJs’ the first two results are David Guetta and Tiesto. White straight men leading a scene that was born from gay POC. This issue goes deeper than line-ups, with venue owners, club promoters, all being prominently straight and white.
The erasure of the roots of electronic dance music has inevitably led to this lack of diversions. Without crediting gay POC for the creation of this genre, there is less social pressure to include them.
We see more and more a push to include minority groups into the mainstream scene but progress is slow. However, in the modern day underground dance music scene we see a very different story.
Berlin is the modern day centre for techno and raves. Underground music has always thrived in Berlin and has become a place of inclusion for gay people. Additionally, Berlin has a sensational gay bar scene.
A mixture of early hours raves, kink sex clubs, and techno warehouses are all hotspots for gay people and all races. With a gay bar or gay dance club on every corner, the celebration of gay people in Berlin is far more obvious than in other places.
Upon arriving at the renowned Berlin club Berghain, looking ‘too straight’ or ‘normal’ will immediately have you turned away by door staff.
The celebration of diversion and sexual expression in Berlin is unmatched. It simulates the inclusive scenes that dance music was born in.
As much as the exclusion of straight or white people is obviously not the goal, the celebration of gay and POC is essential for their inclusion.
This proves that when the queer influence of dance music is recognized, the celebration of queer people comes as a result in spaces welcoming to anyone, gay or straight, black or white.
Today, we see a conscious effort for inclusion in the dance music scene. This, of course, people welcome with open arms. However, the reality is not quite as idealistic. We now see gay and POC culture ‘trending’, being adopted by straight white people.
Cultural appreciation becomes appropriation when the involved minorities are not celebrated and given full credit. We see events with vogue dancers and drag artists but still an overwhelmingly straight white crowd.
These people will enjoy the entertainment of queer culture and listen to black roots music but in reality, do not celebrate or support either community.
Of course, people should share and enjoy music, no matter of gender, sex, race, etc. But we must recognize and give credit to its roots and appreciation of minority influences. We must do this before we can equally enjoy the scene.
An example of this would be the modern-day prominent DJ figure, black trans woman Honey Dijon. Breaking through into the mainstream a few years back, Honey Dijon has been the talk of boiler room lovers and house music fanatics for some time. She is not simply confined to the gay bar scene.
However, the matter of her being trans and hugely influenced by the original gay black and Latino DJs is left out entirely. We recall seeing one video where you can faintly hear someone saying “I can’t believe that’s a dude” whilst enjoying one of her sets.
People enjoying the creativity of queer POC whilst retaining internalised homophobia, transphobia, and racism, is exploiting minority groups and their creativity.
This lack of education and recognition leads to the exclusion of gay and POC in modern day dance culture. Until we teach dance music lovers the forgotten history it will never become the scene of inclusions it should be.
Now we’ve discussed the complicated history of dance music, we hope you more deeply understand the need to push inclusion in the scene.
When talking about any minority group, too often their achievements are not recognized and the success of their creativity is enjoyed exclusively by others.
We hope you enjoyed this article and ask in return that you consider what you have learned when next enjoying dance music. Support clubs that are inclusive, attend festivals with POC line-ups, celebrate gay and POC culture for all its glory!
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to share this article on social media and share the love for pride month. Also, don’t forget to tag us @musicgateway!
Most importantly though, check out our Music Gay-Way playlist on Spotify for some of the top LGBTQ+ tunes!
If you haven’t yet got your Pride playlist sorted yet, then you’re in luck – you can take this one! Let our playlist be your soundtrack for June. Enjoy!