In the 1970s, when the country was disheartened by the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam war, and New York City was getting dangerously decrepit, disco percolated as an escapist entertainment full of elaborate orchestrations, female vocals, and line dances. In 1977, the dazzling dance palace Studio 54 emerged like a mirage, and the same year, the Paradise Garage opened downtown to primarily black and Hispanic LGBTs, disco providing a fantasy-laden catharsis that the oppressed and the jet setters could dive into with equal glee.
Well, the thump-thump came back Friday (and also tonight), when I Feel Love — “an immersive music experience” presented by Casablanca Records in a Bedford-Stuyvesant warehouse called the Brooklyn Sanctuary — revived the pulsing feeling of the 1970s’ cares-to-the-wind clubbing. The personnel certainly had cred. Performing both nights were Italian-born electronic dance wiz Giorgio Moroder, 76, who produced and/or co-wrote Donna Summer singles like “I Feel Love,” and Nicky Siano, 61, who DJ’d at Studio 54, helping provide the soundtrack for the glittering ’70s. Friday also brought younger talent like producer/DJ duo Oliver and French DJ/producer Kungs, and for Saturday, they’d scheduled “speed garage” remixer Armand van Helden and DJ duo Soul Clap.
On buying the $40 I Feel Love tickets, patrons were warned, “You should be comfortable standing, walking, climbing stairs, being touched, interacting with participants, or being alone.”
At 10 p.m. on Friday, the mixed crowd was pouring in to the sweltering space — mostly twenty-somethings, some in leisure suits and shiny halter tops they’d only read about, though mature types were also there, for some disco deja vu. Fashion show producer Jan Malan, 54, was thrilled to spot Randy Jones, the original cowboy from the disco group the Village People, exclaiming, “I grew up on their music and Donna Summer in South Africa. It made me gay.”
Meanwhile, Jones — in his trademark cowboy hat — said he was looking forward to the night, laughingly adding, “though I’m not sure I’m ready for the stairs, the darkness, and being touched.”
A hallway of mirrors led to the Bazaar Room, a white hangout with silver mylar cubes hanging from the ceiling and people milling around to old songs by Sister Sledge and Lipps Inc. There were also ambient areas like a rec room with beach balls being tossed around, and an open trailer with a bed, but once the gigantic main room was opened, throngs swarmed in there to party amidst hanging glitter balls and columns with projections.
Moroder took over the DJ booth at 11:30 p.m. and immediately went into Summer’s orgiastic “Love to Love You Baby,” followed by her dramatic “MacArthur Park,” plus “Take My Breath Away,” the 1986 Berlin song Moroder won an Oscar for co-writing. But whereas in the ’70s, everyone would have been wildly dancing, for Moroder’s set the crowd mostly stood, looking at him, as if in the presence of a high priest. They raised their fists in the air to the beat and simply got off on his presence, making this more of a divo concert than a dance affair.
“Disco music is perfect,” said Moroder between spins. “It’s beautiful. I love it!” In the crowd, 26-year-old musician Mike Greco, wearing bell-bottoms and a polyester shirt, said, “People could express themselves and be freer in the 1970s. I think we’ve gone backwards in a lot of ways.”
The party provided other diversions, like a drag queen leading a conga line through the dance floor, and people handing out cards asking revelers to look for a man with a briefcase (though when you found the guy, he had nothing to offer you but the same card). “Where’s the touching?” exclaimed one party-goer over the disco sounds. Apparently the ’70s were truly over — though the thumping music lives on.