Louis Niebur, Ph.D.

Interim Department Chair of Theatre & Dance; Professor of Musicology
Louis Niebur


Louis Niebur is the interim department chair of Threatre & Dance and a Professor of Musicology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He received his Ph.D. in musicology from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research areas include avant-garde and popular music of the postwar era, including music in radio, television, and film, and the significance of music to LGBTQ communities as it has shifted between live music, the jukebox, and the disc jockey in the context of queer spaces. He has delivered and published papers on such topics as San Francisco’s proto-queercore and post-disco scenes, the history of Camp Records and other gay recording labels of the 1960s, electronic television and radio music and sound in Britain, the role of women in early electronic music studios, and the queer function of electronic sound production in electronic dance music. His book, Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Oxford University Press, 2010), was the first monograph to situate the BBC’s electronic studio within the context of popular music. His most recent book, Menergy: San Francisco’s Gay Disco Sound (Oxford University Press, 2022), traces the way disco and high energy dance music channeled the spirit of gay liberation through a shared dance-floor experience.



  • Ph.D., Musicology, UCLA
  • MM, University of Texas at Austin

Menergy: San Francisco's Gay Disco Sound

For most of the US, disco died in 1979. Triggered by the infamous "Disco Demolition" night at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979, a backlash made the word "disco" an overnight punchline. Major labels dropped disco artists and producers, and those mainstream musicians who had jumped on the bandwagon just as quickly threw themselves off. Gay men, however, continued to dance, and in the gay enclave of the Castro District in San Francisco, enterprising gay DJs, record producers, and musicians started their own small dance music record labels to make up for the lack of new, danceable music. Almost immediately this music reached far beyond the Bay, with Megatone Records, Moby Dick Records, and other labels achieving worldwide success, creating the world's first gay-owned, gay-produced music for a dancing audience. This music reflected a new way of life, a world apart and a culture of sexual liberation for gay men especially.

With Menergy, author Louis Niebur offers a project of reconstruction in order to restore these lost figures to their rightful place in the legacy of 20th-century popular music. Menergy is the product of years of research, with dozens of personal interviews, archival research drawing upon hundreds of contemporary journals, photographs, bar rags, diaries, nightclub ephemera, and, most importantly, the recordings of the San Francisco artists themselves. With its combination of popular music theory, cultural analysis, queer theory and gender studies, and traditional musical analysis, the book will appeal to readers in queer history, popular music history, and electronic dance music.


"The deepest dig into San Francisco disco and Hi-NRG music history yet! Riding high off gay liberation, Menergy takes the reader on a rollercoaster of a ride through a magically creative time in Castro and SoMa clubs and recording studios. Most profoundly, this detailed journey shows the influence the 'San Francisco Sound' had on the world." -- Josh Cheon, Dark Entries Records

"Niebur's pioneering, deeply researched history reveals what queer pleasure, loss, identity, and tenacity sound like in their own time and place. A rich reminder that we can't stop dancing." -- Joshua Gamson, author of The Fabulous Sylvester

From the Popular Music Books in Process series:

Menergy! LGBTQ pop music history with Louis Niebur and Barry Walters. From a live zoom session, September 20, 2022.

Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Special Sound traces the fascinating creation and legacy of the BBC's electronic music studio, the Radiophonic Workshop, in the context of other studios in Europe and America. The BBC built a studio to provide its own avant-garde dramatic productions with experimental sounds "neither music nor sound effect." Quickly, however, a popular kind of electronic music emerged in the form of quirky jingles, signature tunes such as Doctor Who, and incidental music for hundreds of programs. These influential sounds and styles, heard by millions of listeners over decades of operation on television and radio, have served as a primary inspiration for the use of electronic instruments in popular music.

Using in-depth research in the studio's archives and papers, this book tells the history of the many engineers, composers, directors, and producers behind the studio to trace the shifting perception towards electronic music in Britain. Combining historical discussion of the people and instruments in the workshop with analysis of specific works, Louis Niebur creates a new model for understanding how the Radiophonic Workshop fits into the larger history of electronic music.

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019536841X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195368413
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Visit the Oxford University Press Companion Site for  Special Sound.