So, what is House Music? It’s a style of electronic dance music that originated in America. It is influenced by elements of disco, soul and funk – features electronic drums, effects, samples, vocals and incorporates a prominent bass drum on every beat.
It is inseparable from the technology that gave birth to it and has its origins deep inside the circuits of the sound synthesizer which was pioneered by Dr. Robert Moog and his contemporaries.
It has evolved and created many different sub-genres over the years and modern day interpretations are far removed from their early predecessor, but one thing remains constant – it has always been about the groove.
House Music’s roots lie in New York’s underground dance scene where as early as 1970 DJ’s would segue records together into one interrupted groove, pioneering the technique of playing two records simultaneously to create something new – for the first time.
As disco surged into its upswing during the mid-1970’s Walter Gibbons a resident DJ at club Galaxy 21 hired Francois Kevorkian, a young French drummer, to play live so that the rhythms would enhance the bottom-heavy beat on the dancefloor, that beat would become synonymous with house music.
It was the same Gibbons who’s extended mix on vinyl of Double Exposures “10 Percent”, where he stripped the original arrangement down to its percussive components, extensively editing it to shape the first 12” dance mix. Arguably, from that moment on house music was born.
In 1977, New York DJ Frankie Knuckles was introduced by legendary DJ Larry Levan to two Chicago entrepreneurs to run Chicago’s Warehouse Club. There he experimented with different possibilities of developing an original expression – mixing disco and European electronic music. The club is now considered to be the birthplace of House Music.
Interestingly, around this time an unknown German band called Kraftwerk were picked up by Capitol Records and a single called “Autobahn” began climbing the Billboard chart, being played on jukeboxes all over America.
It wasn’t just New York & Chicago who were paving the way for this new genre. In Detroit, electro was beginning to take a firm hold – with its strong funk tradition. It hadn’t become infatuated with disco like other parts of America had.
Meanwhile, in New York, Larry Levan opened up the club Paradise Garage which broke away from the mainstream sound that most others were playing and began to develop a unique variant of the emerging house theme – garage – taking its name from the venue it was originally developed.
After 5 years Frankie Knuckles had moved to a new venue called the Power Plant, whilst at the same time up and coming DJ’s Ron Hardy & Lil’ Louis were carving out their own distinctive sounds elsewhere in Chicago.
Larry Sherman, owner of Chicago’s only vinyl pressing plant was approached by local DJ’s Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence – who had previously created their own versions of groove and new wave sync tracks. They subsequently produced a vocal track called “Fantasy” and somewhere inside all this was the first house record.
It didn’t take long for Sherman to investigate the phenomenon and subsequently set up the first house record company TRAX. Sherman significantly discovered an eager postman called Marshall Jefferson whose special talent was the driving force behind TRAX records. Jefferson has subsequently been termed as the godfather of house.
On the radio, 5 local DJ’s including Steve Hurley and Farley Keith Williams were beginning to spin an influential blend. Significantly, Williams under the name of Farley “Jackmaster” Funk would score house music’s first major hit “Love can’t turn around” in August 1986, which was the first to cross over from the club scene.
It is important to note, at the same time there was parallel Development continuing to evolve out from Detroit – a sophisticated, experimental sound built on constant innovation and progression, namely techno.
Jack Your Body – Silk Hurley (January 1987), French Kiss – Lil Louis 1989, Inner City – Big Fun, Good life, Marshall Jefferson – Move Your Body (House Music Anthem), Adonis – No Way Back (Summer 1987).
Over the Atlantic, as the UK began to emerge from the post-punk era whose lasting legacy was to install an alternative and eclectic framework within European culture. With the synthesizer becoming more affordable bands like the human league, cabaret Voltaire making music completely electronic, began creating the climate for the instrumentation of house.
In 1983 New Order’s “Blue Monday” dominated the charts and dancefloors across Europe and by the time Frankie Goes To Hollywood had firmly smacked pop music on the nose with “Relax” and “Two Tribes” even the most fervent musical Luddite was becoming used to synthesizers and drum machines.
Style Magazines like i-D and The Face revised their music policies and began to reflect the increasingly Americanised tendencies of the London underground club scene. By the early part of 1987 house music still didn’t sound like a revolution to most people.
A sea of change was around the corner. In London, an embryonic house scene was beginning to emerge in various clubs where DJ’s like Pete Tong, Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold played. Further North in Manchester Mike Pickering was championing the new sound in the Hacienda and the Sub Club in Glasgow.
Fuelled by the arrival of the new drug Ecstasy, the new music made a perfect match. A firm and rapidly expanding scene was starting to become established, outside of the clubs house music was being extensively promoted on the airwaves and by a proliferation of pirate radio stations and little parties starting up everywhere.
As the Summer of ’87 drew to a close, something significant was beginning to happen. An ad-hoc collection of DJ’s and Musicians put together a house based track called “Pump up the Volume” under the name M/A/R/R/S astonishing the music industry by reaching No.1 and the same feat was emulated again in April 1988 when Mark Moore’s S’Express topped the charts with “Theme from S’Express”.
The arrival of the first British Acid House record “Oochy Koochy” by Baby Ford was a significant landmark for indigenous dance music producers, who were eager to contribute their own take on Chicago’s new 303-driven sound. When D-Mob featuring Gary Haisman appeared on Top of the Pops in October with “We call it Acieed” they sparked a furore which resulted in the BBC placing an outright ban on all records which used the word “acid” in either the lyric, the title or act’s name.
The biggest acid record of 1988 and arguably one of the most classic British House records ever made was Stakker’s “Humanoid”, which pushed a snaking analogue riff through a series of contortions. Its classic status became assured when it became the only British record ever to be licensed to Larry Sherman’s Trax Label in Chicago.
In Manchester house music was thriving, with the Legendary Hacienda club attracting most of the movers and shakers. While down south singles like the Beatmasters’ epic “Rok Da House” and Tim Simenon’s Bomb the Bass smash “Beat Dis” were having huge commercial success, in the North 808 State had finished completing the Seminal “Pacific State”.
Early in 1989, A Guy called Gerald provided Manchester’s first significant dancefloor success with the dizzy drug-funk “Voodoo Ray”. This sparked the city’s rough’n’ready guitar bands such as Stone Roses, Happy Mondays – to start getting in on the act, all rewiring their rhythm tracks in accordance with the new dance beat with tracks like “Fools Gold” and “Madchester Rave On” ram-raiding Top of the Pops.
As the summer of 1989 drew to a close, a strange amalgam of hammering pianos, beats and vocals arrived at the top of the charts. And stayed there. Black Box’s “Ride on Time” enjoyed 22 weeks on the chart announcing, irrevocably, the arrival of Italo-House.
The amphetamine rush of Ecstasy inadvertently provoked the European development: the chillout and from this three elder statesmen Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty & Alex Patterson ex-punks, attracted by the similarities of the spirit of ’77, formed The KLF who went on to become one of the seminal acid house bands.
In the Autumn of 1989 one-time indie band The Beloved reappeared in expensive bagginess, sporting a neat line in winsome melancholy with the single “The Sun Rising”, whilst at the same time a trio of Italian DJ’s released “Sueno Latino” both capturing perfectly the rapidly emerging Ambient House movement.
This new arrival on the club scene quickly became synonymous with Alex Patterson’s – of KLF fame – The Orb who produced the classic “Little Fluffy Clouds” and landmark album, with the genre, “Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld” whose influence spread throughout Europe.
By the early 1990’s as “Rave” culture was become increasingly popular and linked with a European version of techno which drew its inspiration from Joey Beltram’s steroid-induced rewrite of the Detroit sound. Both “Energy Flash” & “Mentasm” ripped through the rave scene and installed a harder, faster aesthetic which splintered into several sub-genres.
From thereon in as new styles emerged, Trance, Hardcore, Breakbeat, Jungle, Ragga, Drum ‘n’ Bass all taking their influences from its spiritual forebear acid/house music one thing still remained – House music cannot survive on one person and its development has been due to the combined efforts of many. “Not everyone understands House music; it’s a spiritual thing; a body thing; a soul thing.”
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