Multi-million music industry begins in Chicago
Before the music festivals, European DJs touring with their electronic music and the term EDM, it was House and it started in Chicago.
As Frankie Knuckles, the Godfather of House said to writer Tim Lawrence, “House music is Disco’s revenge.”
It was July 12, 1979, at White Sox Stadium, Comiskey Park, in Chicago. After the game between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers, Steve Dahl, a shock jock morning DJ, and anti-disco campaigner had blown up a giant crate of disco records in the middle of the field for his Disco Demolition. Soon thousands of people who came not for the game but the demolition stormed the field with disco records.
Dahl’s hatred of disco started when he got fired from the radio station because the station is transitioning into disco. Dahl only brought disco records to the demolition, but for many others who joined Dahl afterward, they hate disco for a different reason.
For them, it was because their fear and dislike towards the queer, Black and Brown folks and disco was viewed as their music.
The backlash on disco is what birthed house music. House music started off using disco records as the base and mixes other genres of music.
“It started with people that were viewed as the externally extra edge of the society,” said Edward “Vader” Moses, a Chicago native DJ, rapper, emcee, and dancer. “House music started literally out of the need for endangered queer LGBT black and brown youth to express themselves openly.”
In 1977, a New Yorker by the name of Robert Williams opened up the Warehouse, an all-night dance club at 206 S. Jefferson St., and invited another New Yorker, Frankie Knuckles (Francis Nicholls), to be the resident DJ. Knuckles would mix disco, funk, soul and electronic music together at the club. People would go record stores and asked for the “warehouse music” referring to what Knuckles had played and eventually the term “house music” was coined.
House DJ Julio “Illanoiz” Calderon recalled that people used to call it, “jacking music” because that’s what people did when they heard this kind of music. Jacking is how people would groove to house music.
“House music used to be called jacking music because people used to jack each other,” said Calderon.
Like all new genre of music, it wasn’t defined right away. It wasn’t until 1984, when the demo tape of “Your Love” by Knuckles and Jamie Principle spread through Chicago’s underground club scene like wild fire, and then house music was defined. It was marked as the year zero of evolution of house music.
House music grew and it grew fast. More dance clubs opened up in Chicago. Robert William, owner of the Warehouse split up with Frankie Knuckles and opened up Muzic Box with DJ Ron Hardy. Frankie Knuckles went on to Power Plants, another dance club. The population was no longer just gay black or brown people but people of all color and sexual orientations.
“Especially the older guys, who were introduce to the sounds of house that they were hearing about it in the 80s and they were like ‘I got to go to this spot,’” said Kelsa Robinson, a Columbia College professor of the Dance Department. “The music opened up their mind. They feel in love with the music and that put them in contact with gay folks and they brought their guards down and know them as friends and view points changed.”
The radio stations started to play house music. Knuckles wasn’t the only one that’s spinning at clubs and producing music, Larry Levans, Ron Hardy, Vince Lawrence, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and many more were all important when it comes developing the house sound.
The first house song that was recorded on record is “On & On” by Jesse Saunders. By 1985, everyone was trying to make house music. Much later on, Calderon recalled they would take samples of disco records and tried to create their own remixes. But it still remained underground.
After the burst of house in Chicago, house took a giant step from dance clubs of Chicago to United Kingdom then through Europe in 1986 and the early 90s. From there, house music begins to take different forms and names.
It wasn’t just using disco samples anymore. DJs were mixing it with techno music from Detroit and calling it, “tech house.” People around the world are developing their own sound of house.
“The two members of Daft Punk, a world-renowned French electronic duo, were actually studying aboard in Chicago,” said Moses. “They bought up records and brought them back to France. It turned out to be called as the French touch or filter house, where they take the root of what house got established, which is a disco root and over producing it and filtering it but when you put it in a big room, people went wild for it.”
British popularized it, then it went mainstream. To sell these music, the term “Electronic Dance Music (EDM)” was termed, a generic blanket term.
While it occupied Europe music charts, it remained isolated in the United States. It wasn’t deemed safe by the white folks until the
“EDM has no wall,” Moses explained that each genre of music has its wall. “For instance, dub step is 140 beats per minute (bpm), the split is 70, you are dividing it in half and that’s a wall. This genre normally has these walls, production technic, classic tracks or defining moment.”
EDM has no wall because it’s just a generic term by non-musician. They want to sell this music but there are too many types of house music depending on the wall and choice of instruments.
Not everyone is a DJ and not everyone is going to be interested in the history of the music. It takes more than a Google search to understand this music. Like many underground cultures, it isn’t well documented.
“For a greater majority of people, they just know that they like to dance and there is a specific sound that they are looking for,” Moses said. “It’s liberating but it’s limiting. It’s one of those thing where speaking in generic belies the potential of becoming something more.”
Moses remembered the first time he discovered house music in 1995 at the shower of his parents’ home where he was listening to Bad Boy Bill spinning on B96. “My mom had introduced me to disco. My dad was very much into funk and classic rock but this was a love child that was some where in between,” said Moses.
Ever since then he has been on a journey with the sounds. From digging records, rapping, DJing, dancing and eventually find himself not just in the music but what the music provided for him and others.
The name ‘house’ came from the Warehouse but what started the Warehouse was the need for the queer, Black and Brown folks to freely express themselves. Not only was the music made repetitive and easy to follow, the music also created a safe space for the outcast of the society.
“The reason they call it house not only because the warehouse but because it felt like home,” Moses said.