Giorgio Moroder on Disco: 'There Are Some Rules'

Giorgio Moroder
© Christelle de Castro/Red Bull Media House

The dance music pioneer and Daft Punk collaborator explains how to kill it on the dancefloor.

Giorgio Moroder, best known for his Donna Summer collaborations and countless movie soundtracks, including 'Scarface,' recently re-surfaced in glorious fashion to contribute to a track on the new Daft Punk album, 'Random Access Memories.'

On the morning of his first-ever NYC DJ appearance, we caught up with the Italian disco pioneer at the Red Bull Music Academy, where he gave us his five rules for making people move -- and more.

What are the key ingredients of a great disco track?

Well, there are some rules. One is you have to have what we call four-on-the-floor. Every measure you have to have a kick. And you have certain hi-hats, which are mostly "up," like [sings syncopated pattern]. You have to have a bassline which does [sings eighth-note pattern] or [sings sixteenth-note pattern]. Sometimes you have very short melodies, sometimes you have complex melodies. 'Last Dance,' for example, is very complex; 'Love To Love You Baby' is very easy.

Your early hits were in a pre-disco style. When did these disco rules start to become clear to you?

Well, the first time I used four-on-the-floor was 'Love To Love You Baby.' And I thought to myself, "Wait, you can’t do that. Musically, it's not correct." But then we recorded it and I felt, "It works quite well. You can really dance better." So I didn't really want to do it, but then I did it. And since then, you have to do it.

© Paramount Pictures

Do you ever feel constrained by that?

No, because that's so ingrained into disco, into dance. In fact, I did a demo which sounded really good with the sounds of today, but instead of having the four-on-the-floor, I had a [sings syncopated pattern] bass drum. And the DJ came and said, “Wow, this is a great song, but why don't you have the four-on-the-floor?" And I said, "Well, because I wanted to change a little bit." "No, no," he said. "Put the four-on-the-floor back!"

Do you remember a time when you sensed that disco was starting to decline?

Yeah, in ’80, ’81. The last album I did with Donna was 'The Wanderer' and that one did not sell very well, probably because it was just not as good as the others. But definitely, typical disco was getting out of the radio.

More recently, there's been a new wave of dance music, including Daft Punk, whom you're collaborating with. When did you notice this style was coming back?

I think the first song which probably revolutionized the whole thing was ['When Love Takes Over' by] David Guetta with Kelly Rowland. That was one of the first songs played on the radio which was definitely dance. It's all dance now, at least 50 percent. Now the pop world is the dance world.

Giorgio Moroder
Giorgio Moroder© Christelle de Castro/Red Bull Media House

What do you think was the single most successful track you made?

Well, 'Love To Love You Baby' was my first major hit. That launched me, launched Donna Summer; suddenly we were number one in the world. So that's my favorite song. The song which really filled everything in was probably 'Flashdance… What A Feeling.' Good melody, great lyrics. The arrangement was well done, Irene Cara sang it nice, it fit the movie, and with the success of the movie the 'Flashdance' fashion world was created. So that was a song which had a lot of history – not only working well with a movie, but working well, in general.

So you like this cross-platform success, where the music infiltrates the culture?

Yeah, 'Love To Love You Baby' was very controversial, but a lot of women loved it, because they said, "Okay, finally we're liberated. We can moan if we want." A lot of women tell me that.

Red Bull Music Academy continues through the end of May. Follow Hank Shteamer and Red Bull Music Academy on Twitter for more updates.