Origins of House Music

House music; you’ve heard and probably used this term before. Unfortunately, most people don’t really know what House music is and how it originated. It started in Chicago in the early 80’s, rising as changing tastes led Disco music to its downfall. The over-commercialization of Disco and its increasingly racist and homophobic insinuations resulted in its rejection by the public, which culminated in Chicago’s 1979 Disco Demolition Night, where Disco records were collected and exploded (that’s right EXPLODED) in the White Sox stadium. At that time, some hip hop and Disco Dj’s had already started to play around with mixing and sampling, but hip hop was still taking baby steps and the already existing Disco DJ’s limited themselves to only provide smooth transitions between songs.

Except one.

After the downfall of disco, a visionary arose in the city of Chicago. Frankie Knuckles, considered by most to be the “godfather of house music”, was a Disco and Electro Funk DJ who used these to set the base for house music. Knuckles started as a DJ resident in the club Warehouse — a Chicago club that played Disco music for the homosexual latino and black communities (third picture below). During those years, Knuckles was experimenting with Drum machines and synthesizers, mixing elements from Disco, Soul, and Electronic pop into tracks that were notoriously longer, while putting more emphasis on the music and its sounds instead. Knuckles started to try out his inventions in the Warehouse and created what is now known as Chicago House, a term used to refer to the earliest House music productions. The term ‘house music’ originated from the Warehouse nightclub Knuckles solidified his immortality in.


1. Street in Downtown Chicago


2. Frankie using the iconic Roland Drum Machine (white one) next to some mixers and samplers.


3. Warehouse Club, Chicago 

Since then, many DJs have followed Knuckles’ lead, bifurcating the path of house music into an infinite amount of sub-genres, each with their own different styles and influences. Some of the most known House sub-genres include Acid House, Tech House, Deep House, and Progressive house. However, as a consequence of the ‘underground’ environment most DJs and their audiences frequented, House was a genre that couldn’t become mainstream. One of the main characteristics of house music is its focus on minorities. Given the context of the US at the time, Frankie Knuckles (a gay African American) and several other pioneer DJs wanted to make music that was, unlike Disco and other popular genres of the time, naturally inclusive. The people who formed the House music scene aimed to create a genre that focused on the music itself. Because of this, namely the displaced LGBT, African American, and Latino communities found shelter in the House scene. This identification with the displaced minorities drove it underground.

Since Frankie, House music has changed a lot and is progressively becoming more and more popular. House music labels, which were originally limited mostly to Trax and Gramophone records, are now increasing exponentially. Now the genre has spread worldwide, with labels, DJs, and events noticeably concentrated in Europe, North America, and recently South America. The inclusive, reproductive, and dance-inducing characteristics of House music make it a unique genre that fuses musical traditions and elements like no other can, making it attractive to a large audience in the globalized world we live in today. You better be prepared because House music will only grow from here. Here are some photos of the diverse events that take place all over the world.


4. Awakenings festival in Amsterdam–one of the biggest techno/house events


5. Elrow festival, London Edition


6. D EDGE club in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Now, to what matters. Here are a couple of DJ sets that have taken place in the last ten years. Each has a different style and setting, which showcases the diversity of the house music scene. The first is the legendary DJ set of Frankie Knuckles himself, when he played classic Chicago House in one of the world famous Boiler Rooms. The next one is geared more towards the techno and tech side of the spectrum, bringing you Boris Brejcha amazing performance in one of the editions of Cercle. To close it off, there is the mesmerizing live performance of Giorgia Angiuli with breathtaking visuals. Enjoy!

PS: If it turns out you want to get the real house music club experience you are in luck–Downtown Chicago is just an uber away, where several house music venues host events every weekend, including the world-famous Smartbar, Spybar, and Berlin.


Article By: Joao Panicali

Cover Image: Scene from Berlin Love Parade


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