Disco is back. The Seventies’ most loved and loathed musical genre is enjoying a 21st-century resurgence. Daft Punk scored the biggest dance smash of the year with their homage to the genre, Get Lucky, driven by Nile Rodgers’s increasingly ubiquitous rhythm guitar. The racing hi-hats, staccato guitar lines, falsetto vocals and syncopated beats of disco have been filtered through contemporary hits by Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Bruno Mars. Superstar DJ producers, including David Guetta, Skrillex and DJ Cassidy, have all embarked on disco-themed projects. And now, arguably the greatest band of the genre, the American powerhouse Earth, Wind & Fire, are back at centre stage with uplifting live performances and their most sleek and luscious album since their glory days, Now, Then & Forever.
“It’s really a feel-good music”, says suave frontman Philip Bailey, “and this society, if there’s anything we need, man, we need to feel good about something.”
Bailey was just 21 when he was recruited, as a vocalist and percussionist, for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1972 by band leader Maurice White. Now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Maurice White retired from the stage in 1995, leaving Bailey as de facto leader of a 14-strong ensemble, spearheaded by the longest-serving members, bassist Verdine White (Maurice’s cousin) and percussionist Ralph Johnson.
“It’s almost like R’n’B has come full circle,” says Verdine White, the only one who still really looks the part, in tassled white leather, long black hair and indoor shades. “Kids been coming home with sampled records, their friends and parents might go: ‘Now let me show you who did it originally’, and so curiosity brings them back to us.”
“Everything repeats itself,” says Bailey. “There ain’t but so many notes on the scale, there ain’t but so many chord changes, for real, and there ain’t but so many beats. So things come back to you a different way. Don’t matter what they call it. People want to dance, and they need something to dance to.”
“That’s the truth,” chuckles Johnson, who dresses like a Midwestern businessman in sober suit and tie, and talks in short phrases with a gravel-deep boom that would make him a natural for voice-overs of God.
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