Discothèque: The Revolutions of Dance Music Culture 
Katie Milestone & Simon Morrison (expected 2018)

Discothèque will examine the historical and cultural transformations of the discothèque through a consideration of dance music culture’s most enduring revolutions. It will seek to reveal how these have both reflected and influenced the course of popular culture and urban nightlife since at least the mid twentieth-century.

The discothèque has taken on a variety of forms and guises that arguably reflected the fashions, trends and music of the day. It is the ‘disco’, the dance hall, and the club, and so on. Discothèques, night-clubs and other less permanent spaces for the consumption and enjoyment of (mainly) recorded music thus have an important symbolic role in reflecting the changing nature of urban leisure in Western society. In one sense discothèques are self-contained spaces, or worlds-in-themselves, which are often set against the surroundings of their physical / geographical location – in this sense, the flourishing of dance music culture in the abandoned and unused slaughter-houses and packing plants of Manhattan’s so-called meat-packing district in the 1980s provide one illustration of the peculiar status of the disco as a space seemingly in tension with surrounding place. But, as well as the sometimes unusual nature of their location and environment in providing an understanding of the kinds of places they are, certain factors that are external to space or place – particularly DJs, play-lists, consumers/dancers and technologies – end up dictating the ‘structure and feeling’ of the discothèque in all its forms.

Yet, it would be equally true to say that these spaces do have a deep-rooted connection with place. As such, it can be shown that their spatial context is usually perceived to be highly significant. The sites of dance music culture, in this regard, have become shrouded in aura and myth. From examples such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in the sixties to New York’s Studio 54 in the seventies it can be shown that the discothèque plays an important role in ways of living that are concerned to transcend time and place, and not least to escape the grimness and drudgery of the urban landscape and the alienating drain of work on life.

Underpinning the development of the story will be the role of dance music culture in pushing the boundaries of social rules and paving the way for a greater tolerance of different ways of life. More progressive attitudes to sexuality and drug taking, for example, originate from these worlds. Equally, discos and night-clubs have been places where a range of disparate ethnic groups have found the kind of common ground absent from daily life in modern society. As such, these spaces have been long been associated with innovation and experimentation; they are liminal zones where people feel have felt liberated enough to indulge in habits and practices that are not manifested / permitted elsewhere in everyday life.

The traversing of boundaries extends at the same time beyond personal transformation: the discothèque is no less important in the ‘space of flows’ that gathers in geographically disparate influences through dance music flows between, for example, the US and UK, the Caribbean and Europe, and a plethora of diasporic dance cultures.

What this book seeks to show is how we can understand these unique self-contained spaces. They are worlds-in-themselves where the music comes to life through dance and the collision of strangers, and even disparate cultures, who find – however briefly – a seemingly common goal in life.



KATIE MILESTONE is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has written widely on popular music, its role in urban regeneration, and the dance clubs of northern soul. She is also the co-author (with Anneke Meyer) of the recently published Gender and Popular Culture (Polity, 2011).

SIMON MORRISON is a journalist and broadcaster. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, Mixmag, Muzik, DJ, Clash, and other publications. A collection of his journalism was published as Discombobulated (2010), and he also edited the DJ Guide to Ibiza (2006). His television work includes writing and researching for the nighttime clubbing magazine show Club@Vision for ITV, and fronting a weekly feature on Rapture TV.


By John Scanlan

John Scanlan is the Series Editor of Reverb with Reaktion Books.