Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 12:17 UK

Earth, Wind and Pyre

By Jo Meek
Producer, Earth, Wind and Pyre

Banner at the event to blow up disco records
The events of 1979 were seen as a backlash against the dominance of disco (photo by Diane Alexander White)

In 1979 the disco industry was worth an estimated $4bn - more than movies, television or professional sport - and accounted for up to 40% of the singles chart.

But that same year on 12 July, the actions of one disgruntled rock DJ sparked a revolution that some believe signalled the death of disco.

Steve Dahl had left his radio show in Detroit in protest when it adopted an all-disco play list.

He found a new home at Chicago's WLUP Loop radio - it was the station "where Chicago rocked".

With fellow DJ Garry Meier, they tapped into a growing resentment of disco. They thought it was stupid music, so they mocked it and blew up records on air.

Disco dominance

By the late 1970s, disco had become a phenomenon that engulfed the charts and much more.

It dictated everything, fashion, hairstyles, lifestyles. Nothing mattered but Friday and Saturday night.

Everyone from The Rolling Stones to Frank Sinatra had recorded disco tracks.

Boys demonstrate against disco music
The stadium was filled mainly with white teenage boys (photo by Diane Alexander White)

"You did find people who you didn't expect to find doing disco," says singer Gloria Gaynor, who had early on been crowned Queen of Disco by an influential group of disco DJs.

"Rod Stewart did Do Ya Think I'm Sexy and fought me for the No 1 spot on the Billboard charts. I went up to No 1 and I felt real good about that fight."

Disco's dominance was leaving no room for any other music genres.

For Dahl and Meier, the time had come to fight back.

When the radio station was approached by the local White Sox baseball club for ideas to increase attendance, they took their idea of destroying disco records out of the radio station and into a sports stadium before a live crowd.

The promotion was simple: For a mere 98 cents listeners could bring all their unwanted disco records and watch them being blown up in a bin by Dahl and his fans.

On the evening of Saturday 12 July 1979, 70,000 people, mainly white teenage boys, thronged the streets, all armed with 98 cents and a disco record.

They weren't there to watch baseball, but to watch their idol, Dahl, blow up disco records.

Paul Coady was a classic teen rock fan from the southside of Chicago: white, male, full of raging hormones and ready to see some records being blown up.

Gloria Gaynor
Diva Gloria Gaynor says everyone was trying their hand at disco

"The media was talking about this 'wonderful disco culture' - it was very style over substance," he says.

"I think a lot of people who were rock fans at the time felt this stuff was being shoved down their throats and they reacted against it, they were resistant to it, that's why it became so vehement."

Diane Alexander White was there with a camera to record the night's events.

A hot, hazy night when bare-chested men outnumbered the girls three to one, as they swigged on beer and impatiently awaited the arrival of Dahl.

"Steve came out onto the field in a jeep, the place was reaching a fever pitch.

"He'd promised his army that he would blow up records and you don't disappoint young boys. Vinyl shrapnel was flying everywhere," she says.

The fans responded with chants of "Disco Sucks, Disco Sucks".

Disco's revenge

The Bee Gees described the Disco Demolition Night as "the death of disco".

But could one event at a mediocre baseball club cause the collapse of an entire musical genre that had dominated American life?

The Godfather of House music, Frankie Knuckles saw how this publicity stunt - which was more a symbolic act than a deliberate attempt to kill off disco - became the wrecking ball for Chicago's disco clubs.

"When it came to all the other discos in the city it hit them like a tonne of bricks.

He'd promised his army that he would blow up records and you don't disappoint young boys. Vinyl shrapnel was flying everywhere
Diane Alexander White
Photographer

"I remember one of the biggest commercial clubs here called Cinderella Liberty, it went from playing disco to country and western songs, literally overnight.

"Probably a month later they were out of business."

Across America there were other anti-disco events. In LA they buried disco albums in the sand as part of a disco funeral.

But from the burning embers of disco, in a warehouse in a deserted run down area of Chicago, another form of dance music was born.

Frankie Knuckles started to mix European disco and re-edit old disco and soul records, with the help of an early drum machine.

House music was born and, as he says, "It was disco's revenge."

The word 'disco' may have had some negative weight to it, but after 12 July 1979 people still danced and went to clubs, as Gloria Gaynor recalls.

"Disco went underground and evolved. It came back out as dance music.

"I also say that disco music is alive and well and living in the hearts of music-lovers around the world. It has simply changed its name to protect the innocent."

Earth, Wind and Pyre can be heard on Radio 2 on 11 July Saturday at 2200BST.



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