After some time away, I have now returned to review some more music awesomeness! The one for today has a particularly interesting story. Scouring the internet, I really couldn’t find much on Stephen Encinas nor this single – a quick Google search for the artist only resulted in links for this record and a few scant photographs of him floating here and there. An interesting (albeit unreliable) source for the song’s origins come from this site, which states that the single – recorded in Trinidad and Tobago – never got proper distribution during its release in 1979 and thus fell into obscurity. Supposedly, it was deemed lost for the longest time until around 2012 when copies of the record were discovered in a Trinidadian warehouse. While I haven’t found much other information about Stephen Encinas himself, this source also states that “Disco Illusion” was the only record he ever cut. Thus, much like Nathalie, Kimski, and Les Apaches, we’ve got yet another ghost artist on our hands!
Listening to this song, it actually is pretty remarkable that something like this managed to slip through the fingers of producers and collectors all across the world. First of all, as the title implies, this is a disco song; it being recorded in the sweet spot of 1979 means that it lies pretty close-knit to the disco tropes and traditions that had been the popular norm at the time. Of course, I could also surmise that Stephen Encinas might have become yet another casualty of the backlash of disco that would have been occurring around this time, making something like “Disco Illusion” seem a bit antiquated in lieu of the new sounds emerging at the turn of a new decade. It’s not hard to see how the general public would begin to turn away from tracks that begun with such lines such as “Disco time, smokey lights are dimmed and flashing / You and I in a trance huggin’ and kissin'”. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that this was meant to be a cheesy parody of the scene as a whole – then again, the mood emitted by the production sounds too genuine to be at all tongue-in-cheek.
As uncool as it may be, I am forever a disco apologist. Thus, maybe it doesn’t mean much when I say that I love this song – but really, what’s not to love? There is a certain charm to the unpolished nature of the production, which still manages to swim along as smooth as any Rodgers-Edwards production of the time. With each cadence of the shimmering percussion and each round of the totally funky bass riff, one could practically imagine the platform shoes and disco ball aesthetic spinning around like this record would had it found its way in such clubs. I wasn’t lying when I said that this sounded like a parody of disco – the lines are practically all carbon copies of the same ol’ “dance ’til you drop” themes found in all the popular disco tracks of the previous five years. It does nothing particularly new or innovative, but boy is it such a fun listen nonetheless.
There’s just so much to enjoy here – the flimsy male and female vocals throughout, the spaceship noises that come in about halfway, the guitar riff that wants to be “Good Times” so badly, the corny whispers of “disco…” and “emooootion…”. I’m a little sad that this didn’t take off as well as it deserved, but it’s also understandable. With all the more exuberant, over-the-top dance tracks making constant rotation at the time, the sleek sophistication of “Disco Illusion” would have nevertheless been lost in the mess of disco madness. Still, it’s such a well-composed, magnificent piece of work that has somehow managed to transcend time itself. Only the best recordings could possess such a power – there’s no reason why Stephen Encinas and “Disco Illusion” couldn’t be invited into this very fold.