Pass The Popcorn: ‘The Legend Of Cool “Disco” Dan’ Explores DC’s Graffiti Roots In Funk & Go-Go

zo Zo is a staff writer at Okayplayer where he covers…
The Legend Of Cool "Disco" Dan Explores The Roots Of DC's Graffiti Culture

The Legend Of Cool "Disco" Dan Explores The Roots Of DC's Graffiti Culture

There’s never been an individual who has represented the graffiti culture of our nation’s capital like Cool “Disco” Dan.  The Legend of  Cool “Disco” Dan an incredibly in-depth new documentary that follows the ’80s street art legend it’s named after, but also explores the go-go roots of DC’s distinctive and influential street art scene, Disco Dan’s family and epic come-up and ultimately, the city’s racial politics and punk movement that later challenged them.

The Henry Rollins-narrated piece is drwan from various interviews and footage compiled by director Joseph Pattisall and executive producer Roger Gastman, sewn together to tell the many tales–ranging from heroic to disturbing–of Chocolates City’s phantom tagger. The film follows Dan’s transition from the suburban DC enclaves of rural Maryland, to his move to North East DC and the influence of 70’s funk LP covers on his fascination with drawing at a young age, taking notes from the likes of acclaimed album artists and illustrators such as Ernie Barnes (Marvin Gaye‘s I Want You) and Pedro Bell (virtually every P-Funk album.) 

The bulk of the film is dedicated to exploring both the history of DC’s notorious graffiti culture and its deeply embedded ties to the cities hallmark go-go community, which was proliferated by groups like Rare Essence and the widely heralded king of go-go Chuck Brown. Exploring the vigorously segregated history of the district, TLOCDD details the origin stories of its street art culture in the go-go clubs and crews of its tumultuous past. TLOCDD in a sense uses Disco Dan’s story to tell another lost tale: the missing link between the “Chocolate City” and the group that coined the term, namely P-Funk. The film reveals for instance, that the very artists that influenced go-go at large (particularly P Funk) are those that Dan found himself taking cues from in his early years, furthering a mysterious connection that has never quite been explored between the Detroit-based funk pioneers and the DMV. In addition to influencing DC’s flourishing graffiti community through the person of Cool Disco Dan, the musical and cultural link is perhaps best embodied by the fact that many of the instruments that P-Funk played onstage in the late 70s were sold by their manager to Chuck Brown’s band–a figurative and also literal passing of the funk torch(es).

Unfortunately, a particularly heinous crime brought the iron hand of the capital’s police force down upon the entirety of the go-go community and commenced a crack down on the culture at large, sparking the shutdown of countless go-go clubs. Coupled with some terrible PR from an 80’s film that was supposed to celebrate the many charms of community–but only really focused on that egregious crime and the more violent aspects of the community’s crews–the go-go community began its decline and artists like Dan were forced to find new ways and places to display their work. Dan’s indiscriminate approach to tag placement made him the deeply mythological phantom menace of DC, who played tour guide to the city’s often ignored districts and helped unite a community that was constantly staring at power, money and bureaucracy every step of the way. As one DC cop put it “You couldn’t walk 50 feet in DC without seeing one of Disco Dan’s tags.” And so, his tag became the everyman’s “Welcome to DC” sign.

Whether you’re a funk fanatic, graf enthusiast or simply looking for some insight into DC’s tale of two cities, The Legend Of Cool Disco Dan delivers on all accounts. The film provides a deeply intimate and endlessly educational experience that will have you begging for more Dan, who is the perfect host for a trip through DC’s less -advertised charms. So peep the tailer below and go cop the DVD or stream the doc over at to experience a tour of DC that will inevitably alter your perception of the nation’s capital for better or worse.

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