Disco Demolition Night, 1979: When Fed-Up Rock Fans Exploded

By Kellar Ellsworth
Steve Dahl waves to the crowd during an anti-disco promotion at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, July 12, 1979. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images) Right: A 'DISCO SUCKS' banner hangs in the stands as a cloud of smoke rises. Source: DJmag.com

In the late '70s, disco seemed to be taking over the music world, and on July 12, 1979, Chicago DJ Steve Dahl did something about it. His "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park saw the pent-up rage of thousands of disco haters boil over into a riot. As a giant box full of disco records exploded, leaving a smoking crater in the middle of center field, with records whizzing about like frisbees, people stormed the playing surface, and the White Sox had to forfeit the game.

This was a major battle in a culture war that had been raging all over the U.S. A lot of rock 'n roll fans out there hated disco: They hated the four-on-the-floor beat, they hated the platform shoes, they hated the mindless escapism, they hated the peacocking and preening, and they really hated seeing a radio station switch from rock music to all-disco programming. That's what drove Steve Dahl over the edge.

There was also a darker side to the whole chapter -- that many of the rampaging "rock fans" were motivated by racism and homophobia as well as musical taste. Disco, a genre derived from black funk music that first gained momentum in gay dance clubs, was the antithesis of the white, straight rock 'n roll it was crowding off of the airwaves. There's clear evidence that some of the anti-disco zealots were motivated by bigotry -- though obviously not all of them were.

X