Roller Boogie '80s
f you told someone today that you were about to head out to have some fun at the roller disco, you’d probably receive some restrained chuckles and possibly win this year’s award for Taking Irony Too Far. But was there something deeper to roller disco than the novelty of dancing on skates? Some hidden emotional core behind all of the sweatbands, sun visors, and leg warmers? I’m not sure how many dancers were cognizant of it, but skating was indeed the perfect physical extension to the disco and boogie music they were dancing, err, skating to.
As disco went back underground at the beginning of the ‘80s, it went through a bit of a stylistic makeover. Boogie, a slower take on disco with a thicker back beat, became popular in clubs, and disco labels like Salsoul, West End, and Prelude continued to flourish with a mass of underground hits. These labels reduced the diva and the orchestral quotient of disco, and added in an array of synthesizers as well as a stronger soul/R&B vibe to their tracks. The effect was that a lot of post-disco dance music had a breezy, gliding quality to it instead of feeling bombastic and excessive. A gliding quality that is similar to, you guessed it, roller skating.
The roller disco craze didn’t last that long (although it stuck around long enough to spawn a bunch of ridiculous Hollywood movies,) but the ideas still remain. For many people, dance music is the ideal genre to listen to while driving, jogging, working out, or just taking the train to work. Not to mention the numerous amount of albums that double as a travelogue (Carl Craig’s Landcruising, Model 500’s Deep Space, Triola’s Im Funftonraum.)
All of this leads to Roller Boogie ‘80s, the first in a series of limited edition mixes by Kenny Dope, who is one-half of the production team Masters At Work. If you are a fan of underground disco, you’ll probably recognize a lot of the tracks here, as many are still staples for DJs today. Kenny is not digging too deep into his crates here, and the result is almost akin to a greatest hits selection of laid-back disco in the early ‘80s. The big hits include Taana Gardner’s million-selling single “Heartbeat,” Junior’s throaty R&B smash “Mama Used To Say,” and Slave’s smooth funk jam “Watching You” (which later was appropriated by Snoop Dogg for “Gin & Juice.”) Just about every other track is a perennial underground classic that has been included on numerous disco compilations throughout the years, like the irresistible “I Like What You Are Doing To Me” by Young & Co., the jubilant “Walking Into Sunshine” by Central Line, and the still devastating soul-funk of “Just A Touch of Love” by Slave.
Although most of the tracks are left intact, Kenny occasionally interjects with some record scratching in the background, as well as including slightly annoying samples of people saying stuff like “Kenny Dope man!” every few tracks. On the positive side, just about all of the re-edits he does on this mix are pretty good, and the mixing is never intrusive.
With a tracklisting full of hits and an overall breezy feel, Kenny Dope accomplishes something you wouldn’t think was possible: he romanticizes roller disco as something legitimate, a pseudo-genre where there was a stronger kinship between the music and the club than just simple dancing. While this could be nostalgia for a time that never really existed, there’s something to be said for music that is able to externally connect with society (or vice versa) and still be stress-free, feel-good, and exempt of any political motive.