“Is it possible to build up one’s own discotheque?” Disco hits East Germany in 1972 with some love tagged on.

21 April 2017

Area Studies | Cultural Studies | History | Theatre

In the imagination, the iron curtain between East and West during the Cold War era seems to be something impermeable. Especially in terms of cultural exchange and particularly in terms of popular culture. The mind may conjure up a picture of drab, dour and joyless scenes in the East versus a liberated and fun West. Not fair at all it seems - the documentaries and cinemagazines from Socialism on Film give a quick put down to this assumption. In this case the cultural export in question is disco music and the place is East Germany (the German Democratic Republic). It turns out we weren't so different after all.

Disco is a style of music closely associated with the United States of America with its roots in the soul and rhythm and blues music originating from the African American community. At this point we must give a special nod to the Godfather of Soul James Brown whose invention of funk music paved the way for disco (and then hip hop, kids), for better or worse. So for disco to crop up in communist East Germany in this edition of a GDR cinemagazine is somewhat surprising. What’s more surprising is that this film, GDR Magazin 1972 B25, dates from the early days of the genre. Disco was in its infancy and was not to reach its peak until the mid to late 1970s.

 

The film investigates the production of disco music in the GDR and the youth who listen to it. Naturally the filmmakers can’t resist the classic communist trope of saying that even music production is running at full speed and efficiency. But the film also discusses the ‘social’ purpose of the music in that it increases people’s knowledge and brings people together to meet and talk: disco as a tool of socialist progress. Then we’re treated to some East German youth getting down to some pretty psychedelic grooves – no dancing the Boogaloo, Funky Chicken, Mashed Potato, Camel Walk, Hustle, Bump, or Bus Stop but they’ve got their own moves going on.

In a final nod to the oneness of humankind during this era of division, the same film also features GDR citizens talking about love. A number of vox pops show East Germans giving answers about what love means to them that don’t seem dissimilar to what anyone around the world would answer. But my favourite bit of the film is this clip of man clearly in the dog house. True universality that all can empathise with across seemingly deep political, social and cultural divisions. 

 


Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda is a collection of documentaries, newsreels and features that reveals the world as seen by Soviet, Chinese, Vietnamese, East European, British and Latin American film makers. This project makes available Stanley Forman's ETV/Plato Films archive which is held at the BFI National Film Archive.

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About the Author

Felix Barnes

Felix Barnes

I have been an editor at Adam Matthew since September 2013. Since then I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with some fascinating collections including Global Commodities, the Foreign Office Files for China, American History, 1493-1945, Frontier Life: Borderlands, Settlement and Colonial Encounters, Socialism on Film and J. Walter Thompson: Advertising America.

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