Even globally celebrated underground disco-DJs need their sleep. In a Skype call to his London flat late Monday night, 44-year-old party professional Luke Howard seems a little worn out, at least until he’s asked about his music posters. Howard then picks up his laptop and scans his living room walls to better show off his collection of vintage images of Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Patti LaBelle, Donna Summer, and Candi Staton.
“So, yeah, I’m a bit of an eBay addict,” Howard says. “I’m kind of saving up to get them all framed and turn my apartment into a disco museum.”
Actually, Howard owes his professional success in part to his canny avoidance of a collector’s preservationist impulse. For almost 10 years, Howard has performed most weekends and hundreds of days in between as part of the four-man DJ collective Horse Meat Disco, along with DJs Severino, Jim Stanton, and James Hillard. Often working in two-man teams, the collective regularly performs at a legendary Sunday night dance party at the Eagle pub in South London, as well as all over the world — including at the Good Life on Friday, in Horse Meat Disco’s Boston debut. In part, the success comes because of the DJs’ skills at making disco sound contemporary and classic at once.
“They’re just reworking very rare disco to make it fresh for this time and age,” says Gabi Aguilar, co-curator of the monthly “Social Studies” underground dance parties at Good Life. “It’s like disco with, you know, house beats from now.”
SOCIAL STUDIES PRESENTS: HORSE MEAT DISCO
The appeal of this mix can be heard on the collective’s three “Horse Meat Disco” collections, readily available on iTunes. In long mixes grounded on a base of contemporary house beats, the carefully attributed obscure disco originals are lovingly preserved and reanimated at once. Even better are the numerous mixes available on Horse Meat Disco’s Soundcloud page, in which disco classics also appear, making for higher peaks.
Not only do the mixes largely sound more contemporary than almost any classic Donna Summer album, they also extend the appeal by tempering the melodramatic camp that for so long has confined disco to the gay subculture into which the music retreated after its worldwide successes in the 1970s and early ’80s.
Even so, it’s no secret that Horse Meat Disco’s success springs straight out of the out-and-proud gay subculture. “We are a gay party,” Howard says. “But we like to sort of bill ourselves as the queer party for everybody.”
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the collective has long been housed at a bar opened expressly for that purpose by Ian Cullen and his partner, longtime entertainment business professional Mark Oakley.
“After seeing Horse Meat, we could see the potential and the future — there was just something magic in the air,” says Oakley, who gave up his position in TV marketing to open the Eagle. “And really after the first couple of years it’s just been like a juggernaut: It just seems to keep building and building.”
On most nights, the Eagle concentrates on what the 50-year-old pub owner describes as “a men’s-only cruise offering,” including a major transvestite festival: “It’s an amazing night, there must be 450 beautiful trans who make their way down with their admirers and have a party.”
But the club “transcends all boundaries” on a Horse Meat Disco Sunday. “On a typical Horse Meat night, you’ll see the most eclectic mix of people: from punks to hunks, chunky bears to supermodels,” says Oakley. “Gay, straight, pink, yellow, green, it doesn’t matter. Horse Meat Disco speaks to everyone.”
The supermodels may have been lured from the crew’s appearances at various Chanel store openings around the world. But it’s the elitism of the current giant nightclub scene that both Horse Meat Disco and the local Social Studies promoters most want to avoid.
“When you go to a massive rave of tens of thousands of people — I don’t know how many — I wouldn’t enjoy that personally. I like a smaller atmosphere where you can actually see the people and be a part of the crowd, and not just sort of on some stage,” Howard says.
“When I was going to clubs,” he continues, “You were focusing on the community of the other dancers in the club; not staring at a DJ, who doesn’t do very much except punch the air occasionally.”
Sometimes that community of dancers is family in a literal sense, too. In Boston, Howard expects to reconnect with his American cousin Laura, who is from Boston.
“When I was young, her and her sister used to come to the UK, and one summer, in 1977, they bought ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer,” he says. “Thirty-seven years ago [we] all spent the summer dancing to ‘I Feel Love,’ and I’m still dancing to ‘I Feel Love,’ and still playing it. So I guess I have a lot to thank my American family for, and my cousin Laura. . . . It’s going to be fun.”