Disco never died in the Windy City, and House Music was born in Chicago in the early 1980s. At that time, there were no clubs of any note in Chicago – until local entrepreneurs, seeing plane loads of party-goers heading for New York every weekend – installed top New York DJ Frankie Knuckles at the city’s Warehouse club.
Knuckles created a seamless flow of classic dance and disco records, using his own pre-recorded tapes, electronic gadgetry and turntable skills to beef up the beats, creating a single, constant rhythm – the thumping 4/4 beat now synonymous with House.
Locals are divided on the origin of the name: some say it’s a contraction of ‘Warehouse’ (the name of the club), while others say it was the particular blend of music played – as in ‘house wine’.
The first House crowds were predominantly black and gay, but other local talents helped create a more inclusive scene. Some were DJ’s (Ron Hardy), others were musicians (Jesse Saunders, Marshall Jefferson, Robert Owens), and some were both.
There are two contenders for the honour of being the first House record – Z Factor’s Fantasy or Jesse Saunders’ On And On (Saunders also produced the Z Factor record).
This local scene existed underground for years before it became popular among British clubbers. By 1987 Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley and Farley Jackmaster Funk had UK hits (Hurley hit #1 with Jack Your Body), and soon the House beat was applied to pop music – a process accelerated by Madonna.
Part of the beauty of the original Chicago House was that there were no musical boundaries: the DJ was king, given licence to create. This open-mindedness – and a new musical canvas on which musicians could experiment – led to House fragmenting into myriad, synthesized variants.
These ranged from ‘deep’ (uncluttered, with the vocalist emphasised) to ‘acid’ (squelchy analogue noises and cries of “ac-iiid”) to ‘ambient’ (the gentler, spaced-out sounds pioneered by the ‘discreet music’ of Brian Eno, often used as chill-out music for the come-down).
In the UK, House became the most significant youth culture since punk, with amphetamine-fuelled all-night raves outraging the Daily Mail.
House music has never gone away. Disco may be dead, but its genes certainly aren’t.