The social history of Disco and its increasing popularity in a post pandemic world is to be the subject of a UK-US academic conference this summer.

Staying’ Alive: The Many Afterlives of Disco is set to draw people from across the Atlantic to talk about the enduring appeal of the artform and how it reflects a wealth of concerns around gender and race, high and low culture.

It is being orchestrated by historians at the University of Exeter in collaboration with counterparts at the University of Boulder, Colorado, and is scheduled to be held at the former’s Penryn Campus, in Cornwall on 5 and 6 July.

Over two days, the conference will welcome researchers, DJs, activists, non-traditional scholars, and music industry professionals, and will include live performances – far removed from a traditional higher education event.

“The phrase ‘dead as disco’ was once a common term, but yet, 40 years on from its supposed expiration, the music and influence of disco is everywhere,” says William Rees, the conference’s co-organiser, and an Exeter PhD student in History. “From Donna Summer to Daft Punk, Dua Lipa to Beyoncé, disco is on the radio, in the clubs, and on the dance floor – and appears to be enjoying a post-Covid boom. Exploring this resurgence will be among the topics of discussion over the two days.”

The conference’s keynote speaker will be Professor of Musicology Louis Niebur, of the University of Nevada, whose 2022 book Menergy: San Francisco’s Gay Disco Sound (Oxford University Press, 2022), traces the way disco and high energy dance music channelled the spirit of gay liberation through a shared dance-floor experience.

Also speaking at the event will be renowned DJs Ronnie Soares and Luis Mario O. Rizzo, Chairman of The Legends of Vinyl, the organisation dedicated to recognising early pioneers of DJing history and preserving the history of dance and disco. Frankie Elyse, the Scottish DJ dedicated to creating inclusive spaces for women, queer and transgenders peoples at her Polka Dot Disco discotheque, will play a ‘keynote set’ at the end of the first day.

Some of the sessions will be live streamed on the internet, including a roundtable discussion on ‘Pioneer DJs of 1970s New York’ (2pm-3:30pm, 5 July), a panel focused upon ‘Disco’s Afterlives: From the 1980s to Today’ (3:45pm-5:15pm, 5 July), and Professor Niebur’s keynote speech (3:45pm-5:15pm, 6 July).

“This conference will bring together scholars of disco and dance music, industry professionals, and dance activists to discuss disco’s history, present, and future,” adds co-organiser Professor Kristie Soares of the University of Boulder, Colorado. “We will be exploring disco’s disruptive potential; how it blurs the lines between high and low culture; and the past and present economics of disco in the music industry, among other things.”

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