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 History of the Discotech  
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Post History of the Discotech
History of the Discotech – The Paris Connection
by: Peteunea Platter

Until Nazi Germany's brutal occupation, Paris nightclubs had been some of the top hosts of the American Jazz movement. Black American jazz musicians, artists and followers had discovered Paris after the Harlem Renaissance through the stories of black servicemen returning from WWI. These artists were grateful to the French for the opportunity, respect and pay equality that wouldn’t be seen in America until 40 years later.

The French, for their part, were obsessed with all things Negro due to the Primitivism movement in art and the spirit of "Negritude". New forms of art were finally able to bloom under this broad acceptance and generous patronage. Paris served as a welcome home to many jazz luminaries..

With the rise Naziism throughout Europe, many Black expats returned home, anticipating better chances with the old Klan than with the new Reich. Notably, Josephine Baker and Thelonious The Nazis wasted no time shutting down their vibrant cabaret society and nightlife- jazz was the first target. As a collaboration of Black and Jewish musicians from America, jazz was anathema to Hitler's vision of a "Pure Society". Every revolution must have its soundtrack, and jazz soon became the theme music of the French Resistance.

New bars and clubs began to open underground – literally!. These late-night basement joints were run like the American speakeasy and included the use of passwords, memberships and revolving locations. The new form of nightclub was called "discotheque", the French for "record library". Live acts and known venues were too dangerous to chance, as today's trespassing ticket was a one-way trip to the labour camps in 1941. The latest jazz records from the United States were eagerly awaited by this new underground.

The term "discotheque" soon grew to mean any type of nightclub that played recorded instead of live music. Virtually overnight, "Le Discotheque" opened on rue Huchette in 1941, an underground bar dedicated to jazz records. These early clubs served as refuge and solace for dusty Resistance fighters, sympathizers and dancers. They weren't extravagant venues, but cozy hovels that served a stiff drink, good music and renegade opinion. In the daylight hours, the French experienced enough discomfort at the hands of Vichy collaborators and de Gaulle guerillas. The music was the only thing that stayed consistent, and the Underground clung to its identity

With the end of the occupation in 1944, jazz flowed once again, and the clubs became bigger, better and a bit snobbier (sound familiar?). The black expatriates returned in a second wave that would last through the sixties and incubate jazz for the coming birth of the Cool. In 1947, Paul Pacine's passion for jazz records, the discotheque scene and American liquor came together to form the first real plush drum, the Whiskey au Go-Go. The Whiskey featured the latest in American jazz and spirits, which drew ever-larger crowds of dancers. The foundation for the animal called Disco was now complete.

America was just entering its "Golden Age of Radio". Deejays until that time had primarily served in a commercial capacity as advertiser and news anchor. Deejays playing their own records between news, ads and soap operas established the deejay as music selector.

At the same time in the South, African-American laborers transformed the 1889 Edison Phonograph machine into the "Jukebox," the first tool for the wide scale distribution and appropriation of independent black music. "Juke" is rural black vernacular for the possessed movement of the body as in dance or lovemaking ('jack your body,'?) After a long day of harassment and back breaking labor in the hot sun, that one record and a cold beer on a Saturday night could transform a simple machine into medicine. Because the proprietors of these Love Shacks owned the jukeboxes, both national and local records could be loaded as soon as they were pressed.

Due to the cultural mores of the time, black music was produced by specialized subsidiaries and labelled "race records". Local music (most often blues) was produced a single at a time, and was often dependent on the ability to collect money from hobbled friends as well as finding a studio that would rent their facilities to blacks. White owned stations wouldn’t play even the most ethnically ambiguous records (even some Italians) until the 50's, so the jukebox came into its own. The juke joint would establish the early tradition of the nightclub as the first place to hear new music in the African American community. This focus would allow disco music to develop from the discotheque itself in the years to come. --

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Written by Peteunea Platter of

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Mon Aug 27, 2007 8:53 am
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