Secret Disco: Hi-NRG


Trans X-Living on Video


Stop-Wake Up


Lime-Babe Were Gonna Love Tonight

Considering the term “Chicano Oldies” is accepted and in popular use, I’d like to create a genre called “Chicano Disco.” Some favorite examples above.

In Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro explains how the influence of the European musicians’ love for synthesized music fundamentally changed the essence of dance music. Whereas disco used to be based on funk, live beats and real drummers bands like Kraftwerk showed there was another way to create a rhythm. The synthesizer with it’s fake handclaps, hi-hats and bass drums helped create a whole new genre of disco music: Hi-NRG.

Hi-NRG had a huge following amongst Mexicans and Chicanos in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s. It was the musical fuel for an amazing DIY scene of DJs, backyard parties and dance clubs that ruled over large sections of the city. It’s a movement that isn’t well known outside Chicano circles in Los Angeles, back then most people could not care less what was going on in our communities.

I wasn’t part of this scene but my brother was a DJ and a member of Boyz in Kontrol, one of the hundreds, if not thousands of party crews that existed at the time. The crews were responsible for organizing parties, dance contests, DJ battles and cruising (cars) spots. While punk may get a lot of credit for being a DIY scene, the disco scene of 1980s rivaled punk in it’s “let’s organize ourselves” philosophy. Unlike punk it wasn’t a political choice, the self organization was done out of sheer necessity. Our neighborhoods offered very few forms of entertainment or diversions for youth.

Towards the late 1980s, the backyard parties started attracting the attention of the authorities, and by using the excuse of minor incidents of violence, these authorities begin to systematically shutdown and target the parties. Some involved with the scene said this heavy handedness by LAPD and the sheriffs department helped to create the revival of cholos and gangs on the Eastside. During the height of the disco scene, to be a gangster or cholo was the epitome of being uncool. Kids would snicker at the site of old veteranos riding on the bus with baggy pants like some anachronistic figure of the past. The disco scene had Latino kids going from neighborhood to other neighborhoods across the city to attend parties and to battle each other on the dance floor. The rivalries that existed and any tension were quickly diffused through dancing and partying. The violence that occasionally happened at these parties was mostly due to fights over girls/boys and the usual love dramas.

When the authorities started cracking down on the party crews and cruising, the essentially were forcing teenagers with lots of energy to stay home. And who was waiting for them? The old gangs who provided them with diversionary outlets. Many of us saw this process play out in front of our eyes. I’m not saying this was the only catalyst for the upsurge in gangs but it was a significant one and gives us a few clues to how we can deal with our current gang problem. The more you try and control youth, the greater the eruption of chaos. Young people need something to do, they have a lot of energy and excitement for their new world that cannot be bottled up and funneled into a path that adults approve of. Let the kids party!

Hi-NRG is still popular among successive generations of backyard partygoers. Go to any baptism, quinceañera, wedding or birthday party on the Eastside or in the San Gabriel Valley and there will be at least one DJ set devoted to the pantheon of Chicano Disco aka Hi NRG.

Please see Pachuco 3000’s post: 30 Years of DJ Culture from East Los Angeles for further reading.

10 thoughts on “Secret Disco: Hi-NRG

  1. Brian L says:

    I was the President of Boyz in Kontrol.. Now you have me wondering who you and your brother are. I would love to hear from you guys!

  2. Let says:

    hi! this is letty from peru! i have to say that lime’s babe we’re gonna love tonight is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE cha cha songs!! thanks for posting this. my big sis was part of the Playful Ones. pretty inspiring stuff for me growing up and wanting to be just like her! miss LA (boyle heights, esp.) terribly. taking a closer look at the cha cha disco happening, for me, it’s the attitude and f*ing CONFIDENCE that resonates the most! and the outfits, too! come visit us soon in s.america! -let

  3. eplc says:

    I am amazed of how universal our experiences where. I was a teen during the mid-late eighties in El Paso Texas and our experiences where almost word for word as yours up to including the party krew BOYZ IN KONTROL!!!! How funny is that. The cruising on Friday handing out flyers for our party on Saturday was epic. The Mexican-American experience is an amazing one that has not been really told in contemporary American Society.

  4. Carlos says:

    That was a wonderful time in the 80’s, and the freestyle/Hi-NRG music scene was sweet and far too short. I recall places like Casa on Washintong Blvd. and the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood being on the lips of all the young teen Chicanos and latinos on Fridays at school, “are you going to Casa?” was the big question. Honestly going to these back yard parties and dancing all night long to this music with a cute disco chicana then cruising home afterwards in the back of some mini truck bumping this music, what a good time. I miss it terribly. Thank you for that wonderful post.http://youtu.be/34uJoEHPwzU

  5. Fernando says:

    Whoa!

    Way cool, the diasporic people and their ever evolving complexity! I agree with all of your assertions and observations. You really struck a chord with me with your commentary on the role our neighborhoods play, I guess there is that spatial aspect that intersects with economics, policy, etc. It’s like first our communities are underserved and underresourced and then by the sheer will of our peoples creativity and necessity we essentially try to take back what is ours, be it through street vendors, street/urban art, diy music scenes, etc. and then we get stomped on? What the heck! Daaang! Much love for the post! And as the legendary Boston Hardcore band SS Decontrol once said, “The Kids Will Have Their Say!”

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