The year was 1977. The disco scene was peaking, bringing with it unprecedented levels of euphoria. A specific set of sociological conditions (post-Stonewall riot, post-onset of the women's liberation movement but pre-AIDS crisis) manifested into an intoxicating mixture of liberation, freedom and expression. Society’s norms and values were being ripped apart and rewritten. Nowhere was this political upheaval more visible than on the disco-soaked dancefloors of New York City.
The eye of the disco storm at the time was one of the most legendary clubs ever, Studio 54. Nightclubs open and close all the time, but only a handful have redefined clubbing culture in some way. This was one of them. Long before documentary photographer Bill Bernstein spent 15 years on tour with Paul McCartney, acting as his personal photographer, he was commissioned by Village Voice to shoot a corporate event taking place in the daytime at Studio 54. He had never managed to get into the iconic club before. Like many of the legacy clubs (see: The Haçienda, Paradise Garage, Shoom, Berghain), entry was not easy, so he hid in the depths of the building, armed himself with Tri-X film, and waited for the regular club night to start. He was determined to capture the essence of whatever really went on at Studio 54.
Finding himself in the right place at the right time, Bernstein then dedicated the next three years to documenting the revolutionary dancefloors of disco’s peak and the characters that inhabited them. Following his ‘Last Dance’ exhibition at Defected HQ (which ran from 19th — 29th April) we asked him to talk us through some of his work from that time.