ICYMI: Queer Disco Pioneer Patrick Cowley
Pioneering disco producer Patrick Cowley would have turned 69 last year. He died young, an early loss in the HIV/AIDS crisis. But the sound he left behind on the San Francisco gay dance floor leaves a legacy that still surges today.
Pushing the boundaries of what electronics could do for dance music in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Cowley helped to create Hi NRG and also invented the sound of gay sex—no, really. Over the past decade, the soundtracks that Cowley created for early gay porn movies have become some of the most celebrated vinyl reissues out there. Taken along with his string of Dance Chart hits, Cowley’s soundtracking of gay desire provides an alluring glimpse into queer hedonism in the pre-AIDS era.
In honor of his 69th year, here are our top 5 Cowley moments.
Cowley’s biggest solo hit was the dance floor sizzler, “MENERGY,” a hi NRG gay sex anthem careening with vocoder vocals and Cowley’s signature synth sound. After the success of its 12” single, MENERGY would also become the title of his debut album, which was later repackaged as Megatron Man. After Cowley passed away, disco diva Sylvester even recorded a version of the track.
Do you wanna funk?
Cowley met Sylvester in 1978 and became a member of the singer’s traveling band. And while Cowley did lend arrangements to the disco smash “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real,” “Do You Wanna Funk” was their enduring collaboration. Originally released under both artist’s names, the track would go on to become Sylvester’s biggest hit.
Somebody To Love Tonight
Featuring on Sylvester’s album Stars, this epic track merged the looser sound of Cowley’s gay porn soundtracks with Sylvester’s disco-funk approach. An even vibier instrumental demo popped up on the second posthumous Cowley reissue Muscle Up, and it stands well on its own two feet.
Deep Inside You
The sinewy slither of “Deep Inside You” is a groove that catches on and won’t let go for the track’s nine pulsating minutes. Also appearing on Muscle Up, its no surprise that the tune originally laid under X-rated scenes. Further reading into Cowley’s recently released sex diaries, Mechanical Fantasy Box, testifies to the salacious drive epitomized by this particular moment in SF cruising culture.
Taken from the soundtrack for 1982 porno Afternooners, “Surfside Sex” is one of Cowley’s most irresistible grooves. Like a lot of his porn contributions, it’s as good for dancing as it is for fucking. Recorded the same year as his death from HIV/AIDS, it merely hints at what the rest of the decade might have had in store.
Want more Cowley? Check out the treasure trove of reissues available via Dark Entries Records, and enjoy the Afternooners promo art below.