House Music – Genre Spotlight
Every decade ushers in a style or brand of music that practically dominates the airways and minds of teenagers and young adults. Rock and roll ruled the 1950’s. Pop and R&B reigned in the 60’s while the 70’s took musical creativity to another level with funk, soul and eventually disco. However, by the time the 1980s came-a-calling, a new boldness of melody called house music was gaining ground. The popular sound of drum pulses with an overlay of disco classics soon found its way into recording studios as well.
Fused and influenced by genres such as soul and disco, house is a blend of electronic dance music driven mostly by drum machines. The genre was birthed and popularized in Chicago during the early 1980s. Not long afterwards, other major cities caught on to the craze. Artists like Paula Abdul, Bjork, C&C Music Factory, Daft Punk, Janet Jackson, and Madonna helped push house music to commercial success by incorporating the genre into their projects.
Party goers who frequented Chicago’s The Warehouse nightclub, really went there to dance to the music played by a famous DJ named Frankie Knuckles. When the Warehouse closed in 1983, crowds followed DJ Knuckles to his new club, The Power Plant and making him a pied piper of sorts. As for the term “house music,” many referred to the sound as their parent’s soul and disco music with an electronic twist. It was blue lights in the basement party music. During the 1980’s, Importes Etc. record store kept bins of music played by DJ Knuckles and labeled them “As Heard At The Warehouse,” which was eventually shortened to “House.” The demand for the vinyl recordings was tremendous.
Frankie Knuckles, along with DJ Ron Hardy, started out playing a lot of older Philly disco and Salsoul tracks, electro funk tracks, B-Boy Hip Hop music by Jellybean Benitez as well as music by Kraftwerk. Sometimes other rhythmic electronic instrumentation such as synthesizers was mixed in. Many credit the popularity of house music being due to DJs using this creative blending.
By the mid-1980’s, house music had taken over dance floors everywhere, including across the pond. Farley “Jackmaster” Funk’s “Love Can’t Turn Around” reached #10 on the UK singles chart in 1986. House music was really boosted in the UK in March of 1987 when Knuckles, Jefferson, Fingers, Inc. and Adonis went on their DJ International Tour. Europeans fell in love with house and soon began booking the hottest American house DJs to play at clubs such as Ministry of Sound.
On the tiny island of Ibiza, house music was growing rapidly and being embraced just as fast. By 1987, DJs Trevor Fung, Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling were introducing the Ibiza sound to Great Britain’s club scene. Meanwhile, back in the States, house was developing into a more sophisticated sound. House groups were forming and a proto-techno sound was emerging.
Even though it’s been on the scene for several years now, house influence had not progressed past a few clubs in Chicago, Detroit, Newark and New York City. The Paradise Garage was New York City’s hottest night club with Rheji and Rhano Burrell being the undisputed champions of the “New York Underground” sound.
Also during the late 1980’s, house finally moved out west, particularly to Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Los Angeles practically exploded with underground raves and DJs.
By 1990, mainstream pop artists recorded house music. Megastar Madonna’s “Vogue” was an international hit single and topped the U.S. music charts. The UK continued to experiment with the genre as rave clubs like Lakota and Cream hosting dance scene events. In America, house fans were dealing with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was a government attempt to ban large, unlicensed rave dance gatherings that featured music with repetitive beats. The bill became law in November 1994, but the music still continued to grow. At the same time, major record companies were opening super clubs to promote their acts.
“House Unity Day” was proclaimed on August 10, 2005 by Mayor Richard M. Daley in Chicago in which the proclamation recognized Chicago as the original home of house music. It also proclaimed that the ” house creators were inspired by the love of their city with the dream that someday their music would spread a message of peace and unity throughout the world.” DJs Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, and Mickey Oliver were among those who celebrated the proclamation at the Summer Dance Series. By the mid-2000’s, electro house and fidget house emerged as a new sound, whilst hip hop artists, pop stars, and R&B singers continue to turn to house in order to add appeal to their music.
DJ Frankie Knuckles
Dubbed “the Godfather of House Music,” DJ Frankie Knuckles was born in the Bronx, New York on January 18, 1955. After relocating to Chicago, Knuckles developed and popularized house music. The native New Yorker was so popular for his contributions that one stretch of street in Chicago was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way when the city declared August 25, 2004 as Frankie Knuckles Day. Knuckles was also a successful record producer who co-produced the single “I Want a Dog” on the Pet Shop Boys’ third album in 1988. In 1997, Knuckles won the Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical. In 2005, Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his accomplishments. Frankie Knuckles passed away in Chicago on March 31, 2014 due to complications from Type II diabetes. He was 59.