Unfortunate initialisms can happen to the best of us. Just ask the World Taekwondo Federation (or the Tokyo Institute of Technology for that matter). The fact that the English Disco Lovers share their initials with the English Defence League (EDL), however, is no accident. They formed as a way of subverting the EDL online – to make anyone searching for xenophobia encounter a load of puns and glitterballs instead. Fifty thousand Facebook fans and counting have united around the slogan ‘one world, one race, one disco’. Now they’re emerging into the real world this week to host a disco party for charity. Daft Punk and others may have made disco the sound of the summer, but this EDL are making the genre about more than just getting lucky.
The group’s leader is Alex Jones, a 21-year-old south Londoner currently working a full-time job as well as studying at university. ‘It can be pretty overwhelming,’ says Jones. ‘When it first got going, I’d be replying to a couple of hundred messages every day. It was incredible that so many people were enjoying it, though friends would tell me to get some sleep.’
The name came about after a camping trip Jones took last year. ‘One of the tents came with a St George’s Cross,’ Jones recalls. ‘Someone wrote “EDL” on it as a joke, and I changed it to “English Disco Lovers”. We were laughing and chatting about a manifesto and I started doodling all these reconfigurations of the EDL logo.’
Though Jones, who comes from a Quaker background, has marched and demonstrated many times (against Iraq and rising tuition fees among others), he found the tone of protest against the EDL’s marches unsettling: ‘You had the EDL chanting and being aggressive, but then the people on the other side were doing exactly the same thing. I felt they were just fighting fire with fire.’
By contrast, English Disco Lovers have inspired people to combat hatred with humour. Their Facebook page is a trove of goofy chants and slogans that reference disco greats. ‘No need for violence and destruction, strut your stuff to Brass Construction’ is a recent example. ‘Being racist is just silly, let’s crank up some vintage Philly’ is another, a play on Philadelphia’s soulful disco history. One of Jones’s proudest moments so far was when the campest of disco classics was used to counter the thuggish grunt of a recent EDL march in Brighton: ‘Loads of people were telling us how great it was to see smiling people dressed-up and singing: “Go on now go, walk out the door, just turn around now, ’cos you’re not welcome anymore” at the EDL.’
But why disco? Why not the English Duvet Lovers or the English Doughnut Lovers? ‘It’s ideal because of the rich history disco has,’ says Jones. ‘Lyrically, it promoted equality, acceptance and the idea of people coming together. Disco became synonymous with minority groups and therefore became a target for anyone who didn’t like them. So in a way, this is about flipping that on its head and saying, “We’re going to stand up and dance – what are you going to do about it?”’
Confronting the far-right online has unsurprisingly made Jones’s group a target. ‘I spit in your fucking cowardly faces’ is just one comment Jones picks out while flicking through recent messages. ‘You’re all bunch of twats’ reads another, while outright racism is also in the mix for good measure: ‘I want Islam eradicated. I am going to do what I can to make that come about,’ read a sinister message recently.
In defiance, Jones thinks it’s vital to transfer from online into the real world. They’d hardly be disco lovers if they didn’t want to party, after all. That’s why Time Out has teamed up with them for their event this Thursday at the Shoreditch Butchery (above XOYO). It’s being curated by Durrr – one of Time Out’s favourite DJ collectives – and features sets from disco dons and London legends Rory Phillips, The Lovely Jonjo and Kiwi. More importantly, the door money (a snip at just £3) will be going to charity.
London has a rich history of music events designed to stand up to bigotry – from Rock Against Racism in the ’70s to Love Music Hate Racism in the noughties. With the English Defence League increasingly becoming accepted in the mainstream, we think this chance to both dance and defy fits into that rich legacy very nicely indeed.
Support the English Disco Lovers on Facebook.