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Thursday, November 27, 2008






The Disco Box (Rhino, 1999)


Enero de 1999. Rhino Records lanza al mercado una caja de cuatro CDs conteniendo los mejores -y adquiribles- momentos de la música disco desde sus inicios en 1973, pasando por su apogeo, su fase de meseta, su orgasmo en 1978, su fase de resolución y finalizando con su ocaso en 1984. podría ser, hasta ahora, la colección definitiva de uno de los fenómenos musicales más interesantes y activos, además de polémicos.


Polémico porque o la quieres o la odias, más no le eres indiferente. Disco es fiesta, parranda, y también angustia y posición política. No es rock and roll; es más, los "rockeros clásicos" detestan la música disco (ojo, Cacao no). Recordemos que en 1978 las radios hacían encuestas para saber quienes eran mejores, si los Beatles o los Bee-Gees, y que luego, saturados por tanto stayin' aliiiiive aprendimos a odiarlos. Durante el auge máximo, se hacían eventos multitudinarios donde los "verdaderos" amantes de la "buena música" destruían discos de 45RPM y LPs, rompiéndolos y hasta haciéndolos detonar. Si no es rock and roll, ¿qué es? ¿Soul acelerado? Probablemente. Recordemos que muchas de las canciones disco eran originalmente baladas que, al acelerarse, se convertían en números bailables. George Clinton definió a la música disco como música Funky a la cual el ritmo se le había alterado de tal manera que no hayan blancas en las barras, sino solamente negras. Al ser un ritmo constante, un golpeo de bombo de 4/4, puede llegar a saturar y a molestar, además de provocar. 

La Disco molestó, claro que sí, pero la mediocridad de las nuevas tendencias de los noventas hizo que reapareciera en 1995, apoyada por bandas como Jamiroquai, por el auge de los D.Js de música trance y por películas como Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert¸ Muriel's Wedding (sobre todo con la música de ABBA,) Boogie Nights y 54. Madre de la música electrónica y de los raves, la Disco Music encontró en la década pasada un excelente catalizador. Resulta que la música disco es música para bailar, y lo curioso es que, rayos, es bastante buena si uno quiere mover el esqueleto. Efectiva para sacudir las caderas, sudar un poco y quemar grasas, es la banda sonora de nuestra vida diaria. Yendo al trabajo, la radio adulto-contemporánea nos suelta I will survive. Unos la pueden tomar como un grito de guerra, otros como un himno gay. Uno puede escuchar I love the nightlife mientras baila con la chica más guapa de la fiesta o mientras llora por el amor no correspondido en la esquina de ésta... please don't talk about love tonight... es música para olvidar las penas bailándolas; y con sus líneas de bajo y sus percusiones, funciona.

Pros de la caja:

  • Cuatro CDs a un precio decente (aunque pudiera parecer caro, pero los de Rhino son así porque sus colecciones son exactamente eso, colecciones con todo bien emperifollado, que le vamos a hacer), cada uno con un promedio de 19 canciones muy bailables.

  • El libro que acompaña a la caja incluye un ensayo interesantísimo sobre la evolución de la música disco. Además, recomienda álbumes originales y avisa si están disponibles o no. Algo digno de Cacao.

  • La primera canción es "Love's Theme" de Love Unlimited Orchestra (léase Barry White), grabada en 1973. Importante pieza clave para la música disco.

  • El orden de las canciones es estrictamente cronológico.

  • Si la fiesta está al borde del colapso, estos CDs la pueden salvar. Hay tanta música de donde escoger...

  • Son versiones originales, de los artistas originales, tal como aparecieron en su momento.

  • No son regrabaciones posteriores ni versiones "en vivo" de esas que abundan en el mercado y que en verdad no son nada más que gato por liebre.

    Contras de la caja:

  • El compilador exageró llegando hasta 1984, cuando ya la música disco había desaparecido por completo. Como la compilación es cronológica, se llega hasta "Fresh" de Kool & The Gang, una canción disco fuera de época.

  • La ausencia de Bee Gees y ABBA. Los derechos no fueron cedidos a Rhino. O de seguro los precios de éstos eran elevados.

  • La ausencia de música disco europea, especialmente de Italia. Se extraña a Massara con su "Margherita," a Raffaella Carrá y a Umberto Tozzi. Pero en verdad, la Disco Italiana se merece una caja de cuatro discos también, aunque Disco Italia: Essential Italo-Disco Classics (1977-1985) es un excelente comienzo.

  • Las versiones de las canciones son las de los singles, y no hay ninguna versión larga. Ejemplos: "Good Times" de Chic aquí dura cuatro minutos, insuficientes en comparación a los ocho originales, "Disco Inferno" de The Trampps no alcanza el clímax de la versión de diez minutos y "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" de Sylvester no dura los necesarios seis minutos y medio. "Ring My Bell" de Anita Ward? la del 45, no la de los 8 minutos.

Disco Italia: Essential Italo-Disco Classics (1977-1985) came in 2008 to remind us Italy didn't invent Disco but perfected it. Speaking of social tension (see Nicolette Valdez's article at the end of this review), Italy and specially the Bologna region didn't have it easy in the mid seventies, and all the stress of the modern times had to be let out on the dance floor. Italian Disco is about having fun with a broken heart as well, but its blending of european sounds and attitude, plus a sense of creativity american and british acts couldn't find, althought it inspired the Italian artists in creating something like a proto-house genre. The sound was cheap and reflecting the amateurism of the DJ's and musicians who were stumped trying to imitate, or embellish, a sound from scratch.
 
There's "Wojtyla Disco Dance, Pt. 1" by Freddy The Flying Dutchman & The Sistina Band to prove the evolution of House Music and to state, like Darwin, that it came from Italy and influenced artists like Pet Shop Boys and Madonna in the eighties. The input from Boney M and Silver Convention can be heard in DD Sound's "Burnin' Love," the epic produced by Angelo LaBionda and released in 1977:



From the very first track, Five Letters' "Tha Kee Tha Tha" and its high and low bass game, we realize we're gonna love the simplicity, the charisma and the magic of the Bologna region. Disco Italia features 13 Spaghetti Dance tunes by Italian acts that don't sing an italian word (everything in eee-nglish, baby) and is a great beginning to go deep into the mystery of Italo-Disco, and discover more artists that will make us... dance the blues away. We can't wait for more.





Social Tension, The “Others”, and Disco Music





by Nicolette Valdez, Spring 2002






The music that came to be known as disco was born out of a fusion of soul, gospel, and funk styles in the early 1970’s. The identifying characteristics of disco music were the emphasized or “four on the floor” dance beat, throbbing bass, and synthetic instrumentation. The earliest and truest supporters of disco were predominantly black and Latino gay men. Clubs where disco music was played became safe-havens where this ostracized group could shed all pretenses and embrace their true selves without repercussion. Many of the popular songs played in these venues had elements of irony and camp that only the gay population was aware of. This allowed the Latino and black homosexual community, which was usually excluded in everyday life, to be part of the inside crowd, have their own secrets, and to finally have a place where they belonged. Another aspect of disco music that bolstered the fraternity and brotherhood of its followers was the presence of the black diva. Her purpose was to act as the voice of the silenced minority and, because of her standard gospel training, to bring a sense of spirituality to the dance floor. Needless to say, due to the group of people who supported it, disco suffered a huge backlash in the late seventies and early eighties. “For many, the rise of anti-disco sentiment let them mask their prejudices toward blacks and gays in the guise of ‘musical taste.’ ” [1] Nevertheless, disco functioned to uplift its people and community and served as the language of tolerance and acceptance for a persecuted people.


As the sixties ended, the United States was experiencing heightened friction and tension as a result of the assassinations of revered leaders, the struggle for civil rights, and the Vietnam war. “For all their liberation movements and monumental achievements, the sixties were a dark night of the soul for many Americans. Free love and flower power ran smack up against a level of hatred and violence that stood out even in such a hate-filled and violent century.” [2] One June night in 1969, a gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York Police Department. While police harassment of gay bars was not unusual at the time, this specific incident catalyzed the emergence of an ignored spirit of righteousness and rebellion in the people of the Village. The retaliation turned into a full-fledged riot that continued for several nights.[3]



“Like other dance music before it, disco appeared when it did because it was what people needed.” [4] These were troubled times especially for the gay and minority communities who were overtly persecuted by governmental agencies and bigoted citizens without much consequence. Dancing all night to disco music allowed a sort of escapism where one could forget all of the bullying, social upheaval, and political turmoil surrounding them. The underground disco clubs in the early seventies were popular places that gay men and kids of blue collared workers went in search of a release from daily life. “At disco’s peak, getting down with the music was the best way to get your mood up and get on with your life. That was a major challenge for a lot of people.” [5]



Perhaps disco worked so well as a tool for escape and a passive form of opposing the moral majority because of its roots and musical characteristics. As disco came into its own as a genre it borrowed many identifiable traits from its forefathers, so to speak, as well as from the contemporary styles of the time. “From Latin music, it takes its percolating percussion, its sensuous, throbbing rhythms; from the ‘60s ‘funk’ music of James Brown and Sly Stone, it borrows a kicky bass-guitar line; from Afro-Cuban music, it repeats simple lyric lines like voodoo chants; and like early rock ‘n’ roll, it exploits the honking saxophones of black rhythm and blues.” [6]



However the obvious parentage of funk, soul, gospel, and Latin music was not enough to keep disco music from becoming an orphan of sorts. Despite the direct influence each of these styles had on disco, none of the genres wanted to claim responsibility for the origination of disco. Disco music became an unwanted child created from already stigmatized parents, not unlike the listeners of disco themselves. Two of the primary reasons for the abandonment were the emphasis on the beat and the synthetic instrumentation of the songs.



Disco put the foremost importance on the beat, it was in fact disco that created the “four-on-the-floor” dance beat.[7] Many disco club patrons could not help but dance when they not only heard the music but felt the powerful thumping bass and fast driving drums vibrating their bodies. The power of the insistent beat to compel the dancers into a frenzy of desire was regarded by mainstream society as dangerous. “The most common topos in disco lyrics, the exhortation to ‘get out on the floor’ and ‘get down,’ suggests that the power of the beat to make us dance is commensurate with the power of desire to lead us into sexual acts, even those considered forbidden, unnatural, even unnameable by our culture.[8]



The fact that most of the percussion and supporting instruments present in disco music were mechanized simply furthered the condemnation. Most other styles of music at the time were synthesizer free and relied solely on “real” instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, and brass. Breaks where instrumentalists would improvise a solo were still valued as to showcase one’s skill. The synthetic studio perfected quality of disco music lead to analogies that likened gay men to the “artificial clones” and caused the music to be called manufactured and soulless. To these claims Walter Hughes responded that it was the synthetic disco beat that catalyzed the realizations of a new and authentic self for the gay community who were anything but artificial clones. “Minority status can free us from being trapped in miserable, straight, white, Christian enclaves, just as the disco beat compels us to contemplate new forms of social and personal integration.”[9]



The same reasons that caused the moral majority to find disco so threatening, gave the minority gay population solace and strength. By accepting such a stigmatized musical style as their entertainment of choice, the black and Latino gay men were forming a passive resistance against the power structure. In identifying with something that society’s established norm disapproved of so vehemently the gay community was purposely being dissident and rallying against convention.



Besides functioning as a vehicle for the gay community’s subversive retaliation, disco music also acted as an expression of tolerance and acceptance. The clubs that played disco in the early seventies were “underground,” meaning that they were secret places whose locations were only known by a certain group of people.



It was in the underground that society’s “outcasts”--blacks, Hispanics, gay men, the working class--found community and flourished. Small dance floors in vacant buildings, even private homes, became havens from an intolerant world where patrons could enjoy profound freedom and the purest of democracies. All were equal in the Land of Pleasure. From this ethnic, sexual, and socioeconomic mélange would arise the extraordinary musical, social, and cultural phenomenon that became disco.[10]

It was in these special hideouts that the black and Latino gay men were surrounded by people like them who were accepting and supportive of their lifestyle.



The culture at the time had dictated that straight white men listened to rock music, straight black men listened to funk, and straight Latinos listened to various regional and folk styles. Disco was for “others.” [11] This meant that this special community was not only shunned because they were ethnic minorities, but inside their already persecuted racial groups they were also ostracized because of their sexual preference. Therefore, the common denominator present in the first days of disco was oppression.



The “others” that society used to compare themselves to in order to demonstrate normalcy were people in desperate need of acceptance and a place where they could belong and be free. Many gay men felt it necessary to disguise their true sexuality during the day from “prying heterosexual eyes” for safety precautions. For the most part, black and Latino gay men only found the feelings of belonging and freedom they longed for in the everyday life on the dance floor in underground disco clubs with their community of fellow outcasts. [12]



Mitchell Morris, professor of Musicology and Music History at UCLA, remembers, “Whenever we entered the bar, we seemed to sense a sudden accession to freedom; we could speak the language of our desire without fear of reprisal. Needless to say this was addictive.” [13] The desire to be their true selves and to be around others who were either like them, or at least accepting of their behavior, compelled gay men to seek out disco clubs where music that truly embodied their wants and angst was played.



Most of the disco songs that struck a chord with the gay community were either dealing with the physicality that the music compelled or had an element of irony or camp. Songs like the Village People’s “Macho Man” were laden with ironic and campy sentiments for the gay community. The beginning of “Macho Man” is a critique of the United States’ preoccupation with masculinity. The criticism is usually not realized by the “average” listener who only hears the literal reading of the importance of being macho. This is why this song, ironically, has been played in sporting commercials and various films in order to depict true masculinity.



The song goes on to state that “every man oughta be a ‘macho macho man’ to live a life of freedom, Macho makes a stand, to have your own lifestyle and ideals.” This can be read strictly and be deemed appropriate by society to sing along to or if one chooses to analyze a bit closer one could understand the social commentary being made. It is not a stretch to assume that the Village People, a group of six gay men, were wishing that every gay man could embrace their sexuality and lifestyle without fear of being harassed. The gay community reveled in readings like this, which afforded them the feeling of being the few with the privileged information. The irony present in the songs of disco was a sort of secret language that only the gay population grasped and could identify with. They were the group who truly understood the meanings behind the campy songs and for this they were, for once, the ones who could laugh at society’s mainstream for their ignorance and arrogance.



Besides the campy readings, disco music was also sought after for the semi-religious experiences that the discotheques offered. Because of their sexuality many gay men were shunned from church. Those who disguised their sexual preference and still attended services were taught that their behavior was depraved and sinful. These people ran to the disco clubs or their spirituality. Many singers like Thelma Houston, Martha Wash, and Izora Rhodes, who were part of the disco genre, were trained in the gospel churches and they brought their religious stylings to their recordings. “The gospel sentiments and feelings were secularized and appropriated by a community of people (gays) who the church shunned. In other words ‘Dance all night and save your soul’.” [14]



The religious motifs were also conceptualized in the desire and sexuality of the dancers, which at times turned the dance floor into a hedonistic church. There was a club in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen called the Sanctuary that was once a Baptist Church. “From his booth at the Sanctuary’s altar, the deejay administered a thumping sacrament to legions of adoring parishioners.”[15] This club and others like it functioned as quasi-spiritual environments that were genuinely accepting of the lifestyle choices of its congregation and instead of condemning the gay community these clubs tried to create a paradise for their patrons right on the dance floor.



There was another key to disco music besides the campiness and conceived spirituality that allowed the black and Latino gay community to identify so well with the genre, and that was the Diva. The gay men in the disco culture aligned themselves with the black diva because of the issue they had in common, oppression. Both gay men and black women were lacking in power relative to the straight white men of the time. The club deejay Danae said that, “Gays like to hear black women singers; they identify with the pain, the irony, the self-consciousness.”[16] However, black women were not completely devoid of potency and force as opposed to the gay men. This meant the black diva had a voice, as oppressed as it may have been, and the gay minorities latched on to that bit of power and lived vicariously through the diva’s assertion of it.



Not only did the black diva give gay men a voice, she made them the focal point of the evening. In most disco songs the diva directly addresses the audience or the listener giving them a sense of power and purpose. While dancing to disco, thriving on its sensuality, and reveling in its campy nature the gay male couldn't help but think that this music was expressly made for people just like him. These seemingly tailor-made songs made the outcast of everyday life the star of the world for the night.



However, the divas had a more important role in disco than turning the audience into stars. Through the diva’s sexual hunger her gay devotees vicariously lived. “The fact that a heterosexual woman singing about her desire for men can become a vehicle for gay male identification is clearly the foundation for the institution of the disco diva.” [17] The black diva takes pride in her sexual voraciousness and is unapologetic for her desires and fantasies to which she openly admits. The disco diva’s “unabashed sexual expression” is what the gay minorities envy and value in the songs.[18] It is this aspect that the gay men who frequented discos wished they could express in their daily life. However, this was of course impossible so by the light of day they had to bury their desires and live vicariously through the words of the disco diva. But by night, with the diva supporting her devotees with her breathy tunes and orgasmic moans the gay community got to fulfill their fantasies and revel in their sexual hunger.



On of the best examples of the close relationship between the gay male listeners and black diva involves two women, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, otherwise known as the Weather Girls. Mitchell Morris, in his article about the two women, asserts, “The Weather Girls helped teach some of us about the possible aspects of being gay, and this was true in the image they projected, the lyrics and structure of the song, and its place in the musical texture that defines the disco culture.” [19] The image the duo projected was the significant characteristic that allowed the gay community to identify so successfully with them.



Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes were two extremely large African-American women that were originally called “Two Tons o’ Fun.” These two women did not fit with what the majority of society deemed good-looking just as the gay community’s sexual preference did not fit in with what was deemed acceptable. “Fat women are held to be food-crazed in the assaultive stereotypes; their desires overflow propriety. Gay men are held to be equally sex-crazed, ready to molest any man at all they encounter. Both groups seem to have a historical pattern of falling in with one another as allies.” [20] But the essential issue was not simply that they were large, but that they unapologetically celebrated their size, which presented a parallel for gay men to read involving the unabashed embrace of their true sexualities.
 

This reading was furthered by the qualities of camp exhibited by the Weather Girls. Most weather girls doing the news on television in the seventies were stereotypically slender, blonde, large breasted women with a “vapid, bubbly manner;” Wash and Rhodes were anything but this.[21] It was camp at its finest when “Two Tons o’ Fun” adopted the new name, “The Weather Girls,” knowing that they were the antithesis of what television weather girls actually were. This irony furthered the connection between the Weather Girls and the gay community. “The numinousness of their size makes it most likely that when they say ‘we’re your weather girls,’ the part of the audience that will hear the remark as directed at them will be gay men.”[22] Now gay men had their own “weather girls” who could direct them all the hot spots, but most importantly whom they could relate to and celebrate in each other’s freed sense of sexuality.



Despite, or perhaps more appropriately stated, because of the increased number of black and Latino gay males empowering themselves by identifying with disco, the genre suffered a huge backlash in the late seventies. This was a result of the homophobic and racist sentiments of the day. “White males, eighteen to thirty-four, are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks, and Latins, and therefore they’re the most likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security.”[23] To claim that “disco sucks” is not an opinion it is willful ignorance, “racism feeding on paranoia.” [24]



A Chicago deejay by the name of Steve Dahl at the height of the “disco sucks” movement in 1979 claimed, “Disco music is a disease. I call it Disco Dystrophy. The people victimized by this killer disease walk around like zombies. We must do everything possible to stop the spread of this plague.” [25] In 1979 Dahl staged a “Disco Demolition Derby” in Chicago’s Comiskey Park baseball stadium that took place halfway through a double header between the White Sox and the Tigers. More than 100,000 records were dynamited and set on fire. The racist and homophobic mob stormed the field and incited a riot causing the White Sox to forfeit the second game. The annihilation of disco records, especially because they were symbols of this ostracized community, was reminiscent of Nazi book burning.



However, “discophobia” was not limited to white rock fans; many black funkateers hated disco as a “soulless, mechanistic travesty of da funk.” [26] Homophobia was not solely a white prejudice and became very problematic for black culture. On one side, the black community wanted to claim as many people as possible as part of their culture in order to present the strongest front possible to the bigotry and hate aimed at them. One the other side, however, homosexuality was seen as a dangerous threat to black masculinity and strength and therefore some openly gay African-Americans were no longer accepted as part of the community and were no longer protected. “The black community’s silence regarding this backlash was largely determined by its own ambivalences about black homosexuality. The historical protections that the black community placed around gays and lesbians masked a profound homophobia.”[27]




Despite the profound hatred aimed at disco and its followers, disco was and remains to be a music of community liberation. Disco music was made to uplift its people and community in a time of social strife and political upheaval. Disco promoted the actualization of one’s true identity and brought ostracized people together to form a brotherhood where everyone was accepted and their sexuality was freed.



Some people say that disco is dead but that is incorrect, disco is very much alive today. While disco can still heard occasionally in its original form, the true testament of disco’s longevity is seen in the success of its offspring: House and Hip-Hop. Both genres were greatly influenced by disco and have gone on to have success stories of their own and also evolve into new genres furthering the powerful disco legacy.


[1] Andriote, John-Manuel. Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco: 4.
[2]
Andriote. 9.
[3]
Collin, Matthew. Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House: 10.
[4]
Andriote. 9.
[5]
Andriote. 9.
[6]
Graustark, Barbara. “Disco Takes Over,” Newsweek: 58-59.
[7]
Fink, Robert. Music History 138: History and Practice of Electronic Dance Music: 1/22/2002.
[8]
Hughes, Walter. In the Empire of the Beat: 150.
[9]
Hughes. 152.
[10]
Andriote. 20.
[11]
Fink. 1/22/2002.
[12]
Andriote. 21.
[13]
Morris, Mitchell. “It’s Raining Men: The Weather Girls, Gay Subjectivity, and the Erotics of Insatiability”: 214.
[14]
Fink. 1/22/2002.
[15]
Braunstein, Peter. “The Last Days of Gay Disco.” The Village Voice.
[16]
Kopkind, Andrew. “The Dialectic of Disco.” The Village Voice: 14.
[17]
Hughes. 152.
[18]
Ibid.
[19]
Morris. 215.
[20]
Morris. 219.
[21]
Morris. 218.
[22]
Morris. 219.
[23]
Marsh, Dave. “The Flip Sides of 1979.” Rolling Stone: 28.
[24]
Christgua, Georgia. “Disco! Disco! Disco! Four Critics Address the Musical Question.” In These Times: 21.
[25]
Reynolds. Simon. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture: 23.
[26]
Reynolds. 24.
[27]
Neal, Mark Anthony. “Another Man is Beating My Time: Gender and Sexuality in Rhythm and Blues.” New Approaches to Twentieth Century American Popular Music: 137.
Works Cited
Andriote, John-Manuel. Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco. New York: Harper Entertainment, 2001.
Braunstein, Peter. “The Last Days of Gay Disco.” The Village Voice 1998.
Christgua, Georgia. “Disco! Disco! Disco! Four Critics Address the Musical Question.” In These Times 6-12 Jun. 1979: 21.
Collin, Matthew. Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London, Eng.: Serpen

t’s Tail, 1997.
Fink, Robert. “Class 5 - Disco and Hip Hop.” Music History 138: History and Practice Electronic Dance Music. University of California Los Angeles. 1/22/2002.
Graustark, Barbara. “Disco Takes Over.” Newsweek 2 Apr. 1979: 59-64.
Hughes

, Walter. In the Empire of the Beat. Article from the reader for History of Rock n’ Roll. Compiled by Baur.
Kopkind, Andrew. “The Dialectic of Disco.” The Village Voice 12 Feb. 1979: 11-16.
Marsh, Dave. “The Flip Sides of 1979.” Rolling Stone 27 Dec. 1979: 28-30.
Morris,

Mitchell. “It’s Raining Men: The Weather Girls, Gay Subjectivity, and the Erotics of Insatiability.” Audible traces: Gender, Identity, and Music. Ed. Elaine Barkin and Lydia Hamessley. Zürich, Switz.: Carciofoli Verlagshaus, 1999.
Neal, Mark Anthony. “Another Man is Beating My Time: Gender and Sexuality in Rhythm and Blues.” New Approaches to Twentieth Century American Popular Music. Ed. Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey Melnick. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.
Reynolds. Simon. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. New York: Routledge, 1998.

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