Monday, 28 April 2014

Frankie's in the House

A month ago one of the pioneers of modern popular music passed away. Frankie Knuckles, who died at the age of 59, is acknowledged as the founding father of House music. Whether its your kind of music or not it cannot be doubted that House music was a gay “creation” and influenced the music of many gay icons such as Madonna throughout the 1980s and early 90s.

Just after Christmas last year Channel 4 television in the UK produced a documentary called “Queer As Pop: For the Gay Scene to the Mainstream” which charted the development of pop music in the UK since the origins of disco. Frankie Knuckles was interviewed in that programme, where he talked about the origins of house music.

As a tribute to Frankie Knuckles here is a short transcript of part of “Queer As Pop” in which he featured which tells of the origin of house music. The transcript also includes contributions from other DJ/producers.

Narrator : The start of the 80s found ex-disco DJ Frankie Knuckles running the Warehouse Club in Chicago. It was making a new kind of music, music that would conquer all before it – house music.

Frankie Knuckles : House music was born in a black gay club in Chicago. It’s the first legitimate form of music to come along that has come out of the gay community.

Paul Oakenfold (DJ/producer) : The gay clubs were always where the best music was played.

FK : The music I was playing there was a continuation of what I was playing, you know, in New York City.

N : To fill the disco void he began editing on a reel-to-reel player and supplementing records with drum machines to create a new sound.

FK : I started refashioning and re-editing and, you know, using a rhythm-maker and all the rest of this different stuff just to make familiar songs sound just a little bit different.

Store keeper : Its reminiscent of the old disco. It’s the kind of music that is just simple music that’s exciting and gets people moving.

FK : And that’s all it took, just a little twist, you know. I can double this here, I can double that there, and stretch it out a little bit, and put a different intro on it and outro on it, that kind of stuff. And I’m just doing it basically to keep the crowd interested in coming.

N : The age of Chicago and house was dawning.

Mark Moore (DJ/producer) : We started getting these records from Detroit and Chicago. We didn’t particularly know what it was at that time, but it kind of fitted in what we were playing. And so we just mixed them in and gradually we realised “hang on, something’s going on in Chicago”.

Terry Farley : People in Chicago, you know, by and large, they weren’t musicians like they were in New York. You know, Marshall Jefferson was a postman who taught himself how to play a piano.

N : House music was making waves, but it was Marshall Jefferson’s anthem “Move Your Body” that gave that sound the name –
“Gotta have house, music, all night long,
With that house, music, you can’t go wrong”
- and the press wanted to know more.
[blogger’s note : There’s lots of evidence to suggest that the term “house music” dates back to 1982 at the earliest, 2 years before Jefferson’s song.]

FK : I had so many journalists coming at me all of a sudden out of nowhere wanting to talk to me.

SK : All these little people from Chicago just started making these records and it happened by itself, nobody had to hype it, it just happened. And that’s what’s good about it.

N : The phenomenon was now bigger here than in America, and gay underground acts had British chart success. There was a brilliantly camp performance of “Love Can’t Turn Around” by Daryl Pandy on “Top of the Pops”. And Ten City’s “That’s the Way Live Is” was a chart smash that marked just how far house music had evolved from its gay club origin.

PO : I knew it was the cutting edge of music. This is what I loved about the gay clubs, was that the energy and the fun, and they really got into it. And that’s what I wanted to capture, and share the wonder of that community with straight people who weren’t homophobic.

MM : It was only when these other clubs like Hacienda and Spectrum brought in this whole culture of jackin’, rave dancing, whatever you want to call it, that’s when it kicked off.

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