We find a canonical decomposition of a geodesic current on a surface of finite type arising from a topological decomposition of the surface along special geodesics. We show that each component either is associated to a measured lamination or has positive systole. For a current with positive systole, we show that the intersection function on the set of closed curves is bilipschitz equivalent to the length function with respect to a hyperbolic metric. We show that the subset of currents with positive systole is open and that the mapping class group acts properly discontinuously on it. As an application, we obtain in the case of compact surfaces a structure theorem on the length functions appearing in the length spectrum compactification both of the Hitchin and of the maximal character varieties and determine therein an open set of discontinuity for the action of the mapping class group. This is joint work with Alessandra Iozzi, Anne Parreau, and Beatrice Pozzetti.