Disco was right! NASA’s Glitterball Images Were Predicted by Pop Music

What did you see when Nasa revealed the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope? Your answer might depend on your astrophysics snap as much as it does your record collection.

For example, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and ex-astronaut, was amazed by “the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant Universe yet.”

However, music fans were more interested in comparing the images to dream pop, funk and disco album covers from the Cocteau twinsParliament and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in an aesthetically appropriate, if astrophysically inaccurate, response to these new insights from heaven.

clouds under a starry sky
The first image of the Carina Nebula from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Very progressive rock. Photo: NASA/PA

Los Angeles Times reporters Corinne Purtill and Sumeet Kulkarni were also enthralled by the cosmic implications, describing the arcuate rotation in the telescope’s initial image as “galaxies swirling around a central point, like light thrown off a disco ball.” is described.

So is the entire universe just an aesthetically derived re-imagining of 1970s disco-futurism?

While the scientifically inclined view these images as startlingly new depictions of light spanning eons, those more closely watching the clubs and disc racks than the night sky can look down at the other end of the telescope and feel like we were there before.

Check out Interstella 5555, Daft Punk’s anime rendering of their 2001 album Discovery; watch vintage disco videos like Magic Fly’s Space; or stream archived Italian DJ mixes, and the visual connection between the outer boundaries that James Webb overlooks and the interior of the disco dance floor becomes apparent.

Music has long been obsessed with extraterrestrials: from Haydn’s astronomical opera Il mondo della luna and Gustav Holt’s The Planets to Ziggy Stardust and Dark Side of the Moon.

But it was the futuristic disco pioneers of the 1970s who began to sharpen and beautify the images we saw from outer space, giving the stars more luster and the cosmos a brighter spectrum of colors. Now, James Webb’s stunning, funkadelic imagery suggests they were right: space really is that groovy. Or, as legendary Afro-Futurist jazz hero Sun Ra exclaimed: Space is the Place.

three album covers side by side with space images
Covers for albums by Lonnie Liston Smith, Tangerine Dream and Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto. Composition: Columbia Records, Eastgate Music and Arts, EMI

Still, the cosmic entanglement of disco and space runs deeper than sleeve art. David Mancuso, creator of Loft club night in New York, is the DJ widely credited with laying the foundations of disco. His sets favored spacey albums like Dexter Wansel’s Life On Mars and Lonnie Liston Smith’s Space Princess.

Larry Levan, resident DJ at Paradise Garage who kept disco alive in the 1980s, chose an equally otherworldly playlist with tunes like Galaxy by War and Ednah Holt’s Serious, Sirius Space Party.

However, the person who really took disco into space has to be Italian DJ Daniele Baldelli, hired in 1979 by a club called Cosmic in Lazise, ​​a resort town on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. There, Baldelli combined conventional soul and funk records with British and European techno-pop, imported African and Brazilian sounds, and fragments of German “cosmic music” (known as krautrock in English) from bands like Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel.

Baldelli and other cosmic DJs like Brescia, Italian Beppe Loda and Claudio “Moz-Art” Rispoli from the Baia degli Angeli beach club on the Adriatic coast were very popular. Local music producers began to reverse engineer the sound so they could have their records played by the DJs. This led to spacey, hi-tech records like Capricorn by Capricorn or Feel the Drive by Doctor’s Cat finding favor with up-and-coming house and techno DJs on the Italian peninsula, in neighboring Germany and in the distant clubs of Chicago and Detroit. These collector’s cherished singles reached new audiences in the late 1990s and early 2000s thanks to reissues from labels like Belgium’s Radius Records, clubs like London’s Horse Meat Disco and modern producers like Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas.

In response to the Webb images, Nasa’s media team, perhaps more vivid about the location of the candy-colored space gas and forming stars in our cultural universe, reminded us all that the shimmering wall of interstellar matter in the Carina Nebula is colloquially known as the Cosmic well-known is Cliffs – a title that sounds like a 1980s Italo disco deep cut by Kano.

Now, 40 years after disco Demolition Night attempted to end the genre, disco’s cosmic vitality seems as immortal as the starlight of the Webb telescope. So maybe Nasa should show a little love?

In 1977, at the height of disco, NASA launched its Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes. Each was fitted with a specially commissioned 12-inch gold-plated copper vinyl record covered with recordings from Earth, along with easy-to-understand playback instructions for whichever alien -Crate digger hits the probe first. Titles featured included Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode; Excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier; and a speech by Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations who was exposed as a former Nazi Party member in the years following Voyager’s launch. Come on NASA, that’s not very cosmic. Next time you head to the record lathe to swing the finished disc deep into the universe, maybe choose something a little more disco?


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