Funk vs. Disco: What's the Difference?
Author: Katie Kelley
Funk and disco are two genres beloved for their ability to make us stop whatever we’re doing and dance. We can’t quite pinpoint it, but there’s just something about this music that seeps into our bones—into our soul—and awakens our human instinct to move to a beat.
This notable similarity—along with a few others—can cloud the water between funk and disco.
When the beat launches you into another galaxy, you may not mind the extraterrestrial blend of musicality. But when the record ends and reality sets in, you might be left wondering:
What’s the difference between funk vs disco?
Get ready for takeoff, intergalactic groovers. We’re about to light the way to understand the nuances between funk and disco music once and for all.
What’s the Difference Between Funk and Disco?
In their purest, most textbook forms, the difference between funk and disco lies in their construction of rhythm. Funk music emphasizes the first beat of every measure, while disco utilizes a pattern known as “four to the floor,” where every beat is emphasized.
But, of course, that would be too easy.
As we know, music is anything but black and white. It moves like water—fluid, flexible, and suspended in the beautiful constant of change.
Funk and disco are so intricately interwoven because they were invented very closely together during a monumental time in American history.
The 70s Era of Dance
Welcome to the 1970s: a time when we claimed social justice, waved pride flags, and raised female voices in power against political scandal and economic unrest.
With all of this justice fighting, the people of the U.S. needed to let loose.
Both funk and disco gave them the space:
- Disco music – the Disco genre arrived slightly later on the scene, adding techno-based rhythm to underground dance halls to create a safe haven for marginalized groups.
Powerful Forces of Nature
Both of these genres were immensely powerful in their own musical right. To aid their force, both were amplified by the heart and souls of millions of people liberating themselves from economic, political, and social oppression.
So, what are two equal forces of musical nature to do? Do they resist like fire and earth to create a stone wall, or do they flex like water to one another’s waves as they crash over the celestial beat?
A Fusion of Elements
Whether the intermingling was intentional or not, funk and disco have indeed intertwined through the ages and elements.
But don’t worry—this battle isn’t all shields and swords.
Each musical genre offers something unique to the music that gives it a category all its own, so at the end of the day, everyone has a seat at the table.
To understand the nuanced differences between funk vs disco, let’s take a closer look at each musical genre in more detail.
What is Funk Music?
Funk music is distinguished by its famous “one” beat, supporting rhythmic syncopations, blues-inspired harmonies, and layers of delectable musical detail that grooves ‘til dawn.
Defining Characteristics of Funk Music
If you’ve never listened to funk music before—may we suggest you start? Authentic funk music will lead with one or several of these traits:
What is Disco Music?
The Disco genre is an upbeat, dance-infused style driven by consistent pulses of rhythmic emphasis, synthesizers and other electronic instruments, and uplifting, catchy lyrical statements.
Disco was synonymous with dance in the ‘70s. Thousands of people threw on their most colorful attire and gathered underground in discotheques to dance the night away under the glistening disco ball.
Defining Characteristics of Disco Music
As people, especially those in marginalized communities, relied on discotheques to provide a safe space for fun, the music itself provides a reliable, steady, danceable beat, featuring:
Where Funk and Disco Fuse
While there are some distinguishable differences between funk and disco, there are certain areas where their electrical lines cross. Herein lies the expertise on how to listen for the difference:
- They both get people dancing – This seemingly-trivial detail didn’t happen by accident. The Black community escaped racial oppression during the Civil Rights Movement by moving together to the beat of funk. And in a homophobic climate in the 80s, members of the LGBTQ+ community danced safely to disco with their loved ones.
How to Listen to Both
Because who says you have to choose just one?
If you’d like to fine-tune your ear to the unique qualities of funk vs. disco, you can start by listening to both genres in their most classic forms. As your needle grooves through each album, you might begin to hear the lines blur—and that’s when you know the night has just begun.
Zeroing in on Funk
Funk music reigned supremely cool from the late 60s through the 70s. You can’t go wrong with any album by James Brown during this period as he wiped the stage with his slick talent, but we recommend these especially groovy favorites:
- Ain’t It Funky – James Brown, 1970
- There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone, 1971
- Machine Gun – The Commodores, 1974
- Mothership Connection – Parliament, 1975
- That’s The Way of the World – Earth, Wind & Fire, 1975
- Soul Searching – Average White Band, 1976
- One Nation Under A Groove – Funkadelic, 1978
- Wait A Minute – James Taylor Quartet, 1988
Dancing into Disco
Disco claimed its fame from the late 70s through the 80s—some disco-pop fusion even carried into the ‘90s. Put on your gold flare pants, hang that disco ball, and lace up those dancing shoes. We dare you not to have a smile on your face through these disco albums:
- Saturday Night Fever – Bee Gees, 1977
- Bad Girls – Donna Summer, 1979
- We Are Family – Sister Sledge, 1979
- I’ve Got You – Gloria Gaynor, 1976
- From Here to Eternity – Giorgio Moroder, 1977
- C’est Chic – Chic, 1978
- Off The Wall – Michael Jackson, 1979
- Gold: Greatest Hits – ABBA, 1992
Throw A Funk or Disco Party with Victrola
There’s one sure similarity between funk and disco music: everyone is invited to the party. Both funk and disco know how to move people in dance and in celebration. No matter what style you tap into, you’re hearing remnants of historic liberation.
At Victrola, the only side we’ll make you choose is the one to start the record on. We carry the best funk albums and albums of all genres, from groovy funk to thumping disco and beyond. We provide you with everything you need to design your perfect listening space.
We’ll see you on the dance floor.
Treble. 10 Essential Disco Albums. https://www.treblezine.com/002-10-essential-disco-albums/
MasterClass. Funk Music Guide: Understanding Funk Music.
MasterClass. All About Disco: Inside the History and Influence of Disco Music.