BBC Two and PBS have commissioned a three-part series from BBC Studios to examine the rise – and fall – of disco, and celebrate its continuing musical and cultural legacy.

Disco Inferno: The Sound of the Underground (w/t) is produced and directed by Grace Chapman, Louise Lockwood and Shianne Brown, series produced by Catherine Abbott and the executive producer is Alexander Leith for BBC Studios Productions Documentary Unit.

It was commissioned by Jonathan Rothery for the BBC, and Bill Gardner is the Executive in Charge for PBS.

Told by the original musicians, promoters and innovators – as well as modern day musical icons – this will be the story of the people who forged a new form of music and dance – and pioneered a social movement. This series will revel in iconic disco tracks and remarkable archive footage, analysing and exploring the anthemic songs and sound they established. Disco Inferno will reveal the surprising and overlooked history of disco: its origins, its triumphs, its fall…. and its legacy.

Disco’s origins are often forgotten and its wider significance. Disco originally belonged to the marginalised and dispossessed: gay, black and Hispanic people and women. It was their weapon in a battle for community, identity and inclusivity; and once unleashed, it took on a life of its own.

This series will bring the overlooked pioneers together to tell a revisionist history of the disco age. Their experience speaks to the big issues of today: Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment. This is an extraordinary story – where young black women became divas, black and Latino men turned into superstar DJs and openly gay men became Svengali producers. Together they unleashed a sound that took the world by storm, spreading to Europe where it gave us ABBA, Grace Jones and Boney M.

But the mainstream took hold of disco’s pioneering vision and obscured what it really stood for. The subsequent hate-fuelled backlash is one of the most extraordinary instances of cancel culture in recent history. But the story of disco is also a survival story. The music and its ethos flowed out of America into Britain and Europe, and evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture. Such is its legacy, it is still a force to be reckoned with today.

Jonathan Rothery, commissioning editor for the BBC, says: “There’s no doubt that disco had an enormous impact – not just on the musical landscape at the time of its emergence and far beyond, but as a social and cultural force for change. This documentary series from BBC Studios, which the BBC has supported together with PBS, will highlight many new or untold stories of the genre. I’m looking forward to sharing Disco Inferno with audiences on BBC Two.”

Bill Gardner, vice president, Multiplatform Programming and head of Development for PBS says: “Music is a powerful unifier, bringing together people from all backgrounds and identities, and PBS is committed to sharing stories like ‘Disco Inferno’ with audiences across platforms. The story and power of Disco isn’t just about the music and how it moved people, but in its social and cultural impact. PBS is proud to partner with the BBC to tell the unique story of Disco – told by those who were there- with themes of pride and celebration that still move people today.”

Abigail Priddle, creative director, BBC Studios Productions Documentary Unit says “Disco was such an influential genre in the history of music, with a legacy that remains potent to this very day. We’re thrilled to be working with the BBC and PBS on this fascinating series, exploring the times, places and people that shaped one of the world’s greatest soundtracks.”

BBC Studios is handling global distribution.


Pippa Considine

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