Today In History: The Day Disco Died
Today in 1979, a misguided attempt to promote a baseball game culminated in an orgy of mayhem that would hasten disco towards its cultural demise. Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, two radio DJs on Chicago’s WLUP “The Loop” FM pitched an idea to the White Sox, who were slated for a rescheduled doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers – fans would be given discount tickets if they brought a disco record with them, to be put in a dumpster and exploded between the games.
Disco was, at that time, dominant on the airwaves. It provoked a widespread public backlash. Dahl framed the dumpster stunt as a gesture towards “the eradication and elimination of the dreaded musical disease.”
An uptick in game attendance was expected. What nobody saw coming was a torrent of about 40,000 people flooding Comiskey Park to take advantage of the $0.98 tickets. An additional 40,000 people congregated outside the stadium. There were, apparently, too many people in attendance to actually collect the disco records they brought. Those records would soon become weapons.
After the first game, the crowd was already going ballistic. When Dahl exploded the dumpster, people mobbed onto the field, destroying the grass and setting piles of disco records on fire. The scoreboard flashed entreaties for everyone to go back to their seats, but it was too late. The second game was canceled.
In total, there were nine reported injuries and thirty nine arrests. Disco Demolition Night did not kill disco, but it accelerated its decline as a popular genre. Record labels rebranded disco as “dance music,” a term still used today. By 1982, disco was no longer a prominent musical genre in the United States.
Disco is typically associated with tackiness, drugs and sexual promiscuity. It was, however, an important musical genre, pioneered by black, Latino and gay people. Its immediate spiritual heirs were techno and house music, which exploded in the mid-eighties.