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'The Get Down' Ripped Off My Club, Disco Fever, Hip-Hop Pioneer Says

By Eddie Small | April 28, 2017 8:29am | Updated on April 30, 2017 4:53pm
 Sal Abbatiello, who ran the pioneering hip hop club Disco Fever in the 1970s, will host a 40th anniversary show for the club on May 6 at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts.
Disco Fever
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THE BRONX — The founder of a famous 1970s Bronx hip-hop club who worked with pioneers including Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow says that "The Get Down" director Baz Luhrmann ripped off his spot for the show.

The now 65-year-old Sal Abbatiello opened his club Disco Fever on Jerome Avenue in 1976, a move he claims was responsible for bringing hip-hop indoors.

"I went to the park. I found Grandmaster Flash — they were all kids back then — so I wound up bringing in Flash," he said. "The first night, 700 people showed up, and I was like, uh, this is it."

The club closed in 1986, but Abbatiello said a version of it called Les Inferno can now be seen in the Netflix original series "The Get Down," something he is not too happy about.

"They ripped me off with that Club Inferno," he said. "That was the Fever."

The show, which focuses on disco and the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York, positions Les Inferno as an extremely popular nightclub for music and dancing, but Abbatiello says it is just a pale imitation of Disco Fever.

"He copied my logo. He copied the sign outside," Abbatiello said. "He made the club look like my club."

Logos

Abbatiello said he and Luhrmann met about two years ago when "The Get Down" was still in development, and the director asked him about serving as an advisor on the series.

However, he never heard from Luhrmann again after that and is upset about what he views as the series' inaccurate portrayal of New York's 1970s club scene, he said.

"He did the wrong thing," Abbatiello said, "especially when you’re trying to portray hip-hop and teach the new kids the history — the correct history."

Netflix declined to comment.

However, in an August 2016 interview with Yahoo, "Get Down" producer Nelson George said that, while the Kipling family's barber shop was inspired by the exterior of Disco Fever, Les Inferno was modeled after a disco called Club 371 on E. 166th Street.

Although Abbatiello maintained that hip-hop now is not quite as vibrant as it was during Disco Fever's heyday, he said this is largely just a function of the music genre becoming older and more established.

"It’s kind of shrunk a little bit now because they can’t reinvent themselves anymore," he said. "Hip-hop has gone through so many movements and generations."

He is not surprised at all that hip-hop has become so culturally dominant since the 1970s and still describes the era as one of the most intense times of his life.

"We were living in the moment, but it was so crazy," he said. "The moment was every day, so something was happening every day that kept making it go up and up."

"All of a sudden the records started getting on the radio," he continued, "and then they started traveling, and the bigger they got, the bigger hip-hop got."

Abbatiello will host a concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of Disco Fever on May 6 at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts featuring more than a dozen hip-hop pioneers including Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Sugarhill Gang, Rob Base and Black Sheep.

The show will start at 8 p.m., and tickets, which range from $45 to $60, can be purchased online.

Abbatiello described Lehman as an ideal venue for Disco Fever's 40th anniversary show.

"It’s a nice sit-down venue," he said. "It's in The Bronx, which is where it belongs because that’s where it was born."