Field Notes: Where Disco Never Can Say Goodbye
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Field Notes: Where Disco Never Can Say Goodbye

From Bollywood beats to French funk, Édition Spéciale plays up disco diversity.

Field Notes looks at moments and events from around the city the previous weekend.

“They’re an African disco band, like, a throwback African disco band, which is a crazy fucking concept,” says DJ John McLeod, after I ask him about a song he’s just dropped at The Piston bar (937 Bloor Street West) during the Édition Spéciale dance party this past Saturday night.

That’s pretty standard stuff for the semi-regular gig, as McLeod, alongside DJs Dylan-Thomas Childs and Cyclist, focus on playing disco records and MP3s from across the globe at this event, a testament to the genre’s enduring cross-cultural appeal.

“There are parties that do world music—like Turning Point, which is great—but there’s no world-disco party,” says Childs. “We thought Toronto is such a diverse place that this would fly,” he adds before taking the stage.

As early selections thud from the PA, a pixie-haired girl, one of about 25 showgoers to materialize just after 10 p.m., flails across the dance floor. No matter where it’s from, it seems, disco does not inspire subtlety.

After midnight, the show-going ranks have roughly tripled, while a strobe light shoots variegated rays through haze sent from a smoke machine.

Identifying the origins of all the tunes you hear at Édition Spéciale is like trying to see across the dance floor—not easy. There are disco recordings from Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Japan; choruses belted out in Arabic, French and Cantonese; and obscure cuts from a series of Caribbean compilations called Tropical Disco Hustle.

“It’s hard to describe because some months we’ll have more of an Afro bent, and other months we’ll have more of a European kind of bent, so it’s always a little different,” says Childs describing the Édition Spéciale soundtrack. “But it’s still pretty eclectic every time. It’s just great dance music from everywhere.”

Though Saturday marked just the fourth Édition Spéciale date, Childs, McLeod, and Penner have been pushing disco in Toronto for some time; the party is a themed spinoff of their popular monthly Beam Me Up, which features more familiar North American disco sounds and has been going on since September 2012.

With both parties, Childs and McLeod steer clear of pop disco they say muddles the genre’s reputation, so you will not hear “Stayin’ Alive” despite Childs being an unrepentant Bee Gees fan.

“We can’t really play that and then play something really crazy-weird and rare and get away with it, ’cause then people are coming up to ask for these pop ones,” says Childs. “We’d rather play stuff that we really love, that people might not know, but we think they’ll love,” adds Childs.

Dancers appear to approve—Childs says their parties regularly hit the 100-person capacity at The Piston—and lately a younger crowd has even been taking an interest, notes McLeod.

“Since the Daft Punk album came out, the disco word became friendly again to a mainstream audience,” McLeod says, referring to Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter’s 2013 full-length, “Random Access Memories,” which featured Nile Rodgers of Chic fame.

The old disco jokes do persist but don’t come up as frequently. “We still get people who are talking about polyester suits and doing moves from Saturday Night Fever, but that’s changed a lot,” says Childs.

A few this weekend channeled their inner John Travolta, arms outstretched, fingers pointing. But with a shimmering disco ball above, and the Piston’s faded velour drapes lining the walls, can anyone blame them?

No date’s been set for the next Édition Spéciale. However, Childs and McLeod say it’ll happen sometime this spring. Before that, you can catch their next Beam Me Up party Feb. 4 at The Piston.

Try their Beam Me Up Facebook page for details.