the history of house
from its roots as a derivative of disco, reinventing to today's many different styles and sub-genres, house music has been keeping people dancing for well over 20 years. but how did this niche underground sound become the globally recognised soundtrack to club culture that exists today? where did it come from? who invented it? and who danced to it? house-keeping digs a little deeper to find out more..
in the beginning: the death of disco
in the early 80s disco music was dying. despite a good run for 10 good years, disco was suffering from a barrage of terrible records, mostly crass versions of pop songs. but the underground scene had started to move away, creating a rawer and deeper form designed for the dancefloor. disco had already produced full 12" records for djs, with extended percussion breaks designed for mixing, a concept this new music took further. using synthesised sounds and simple drum machine patterns, this derivative merged the structure of the 12" disco track with the prevalent electronic pop sounds associated with kraftwerk and eurobeat.
everything comes in twos
it was two djs in two clubs in two cities which indisputably contributed to the emergence of the house music we know today. they were frankie knuckles in the chicago club the warehouse, and larry levan in the paradise garage in new york. both were home to very different music styles, but were immensely popular for the same reason they broke down the barriers of race and sexuality, abandoning the segregation policy that was the norm for other clubs. the music played in the paradise garage evolved logically from the club disco of salsoul and prelude, intermixed with re-edits of rnb songs, to morph into a style known as garage. in chicago, the influences were much more european. the warehouse opened in 1977 with a sound characterised by electronic synths and drumbeats which became known as house music. these clubs effectively became breeding grounds for local producers experimenting with new affordable music technology, aimed solely at the dancefloor.
sowing the seeds of house
opinions differ over what was the first house record, but most agree jessie saunders made it, with his releases as z-factor on mitchball and precision records in 1983. many records were available only in the tight chicago scene, yet by 1985 a steady stream of local producers had emerged. most producers were making tracks to exclusively play at parties, giving little thought to releasing records. the scene was growing, helped by support from ron hardy, the dj at the music box nightclub, along with djs like farley jackmaster funk whose hot mix 5 radio show on wbmx broke many new records. steve silk hurley was one of the first producers to realise the popularity of his tracks. his track "music is the key" was so well received by crowds he decided to release it himself by forming his dj international record label. the label began to put out more musical and vocal based records, particularly the stuttered vocal style. this differed from the drum heavy programmes associated with the other pioneering chicago house label, trax records. both labels would become instrumental in the growth of house music, not just in chicago but across the pond as well.
the garage band of brothers
at this time, the new york garage scene was developing at a lesser pace. recognised producers such as tony humphries, timmy regisford and boyd jarvis followed on the work of shep pettibone and jellybean benitez, with releases on the easy street, supertonics and ace beat labels. tony humphries had been on the kiss fm radio since 1981 and his club night at the zanzibar club helped boost the jersey garage sound. the emphasis was on songs, with latin and rnb songs over deep club rhythms.
the chicago house explosion
1986 was the year house music developed its identity and exploded on to the mainstream. farley jackmaster funk's wbmx radio show was playing house every night. parties and club nights spread out of the gay scene to the wider us club scene. a wave of new talent had arisen, inspired by ron hardy's music box night, where hopeful producers would bring their latest tape recordings for ron hardy to play out. vocals and melody were becoming more prominent, epitomised by productions from adonis, larry heard and marshall jefferson. marshall's track " move your body "b ecame the house music anthem, and was released on both trax and dj international. it was to gain major recognition in the uk, being played on the pirate stations and london's first house club, delerium. a deal with dj international and london records brought the chicago house movement to the uk. a national club tour along with a number of significant releases gained the attention of the uk press, and by the end of the year house music had gone mainstream. in september 1986, farley jackmaster funk's "love can't turn around" charted at number 10, then steve silk hurley went 9 places better with his number one hit "jack your body" four months later. suddenly jackin' house was everywhere, the word "jack" originally used to describe the way people danced to house, now incorporated into a host of records.
new york catches up
the influence of the vocal melodic house sound of chicago was not lost on the new york scene. producers such as david morales, clivilles and cole, and todd terry were busy developing their freestyle take on the house sound. and despite the paradise garage closing in 1987, garage had firmly established itself with a number of high quality songs, such as blaze's "if you should need a friend" and arnold jarvis' "take some time out", supported by labels such as quark.
the bellville three
over in detroit, a much more underground scene had been developing. taking inspiration from the success of chicago house, a group of three college friends were experimenting with european electronic music but adding a p-funk twist. juan atkins, kevin saunderson and derrick may were the pioneers of techno. they would go on to make some of the most celebrated and sampled dance tracks ever made. none more so than may's rhythim is rhythm "strings of life". but it was kevin saunderson who would cross over to the commercial house sound with his group inner city.
by 1987 house music was no longer unique to the two founder cities. in the space of four years it had become a global music scene. the uk in particular was pivotal in raising the profile of house music. the boom in uk club culture was epitomised by the hacienda club, which was one of the first to play house music all night. other clubs would follow, like shoom, spectrum and delerium. furthermore, the uk's open charting system enabled house music to penetrate the domestic market much more easily than in the us. tracks like m/a/r/r/s "pump up the volume" which reached number 1 for three successive weeks reflected the growing commercialism of the house sound. however, no sooner had jack house taken off then another style came along and blew up even bigger. they called it acid.
the phuture's acid
it was ron hardy's music box where the roland 303 sound was first heard, thanks to producers like dj pierre, spanky and herbert under their phuture guise. their track "acid trax" was little known outside of chicago, but a number of subsequent tracks using the famous squelching sound soon began to infiltrate the dancefloors in the uk. bam bam's "give it to me" and armando's "land of confusion" helped propel acid to the wider clubscene. in 1988 acid house became the soundtrack of uk dancefloors, with warehouse parties like hedonism springing up across the country. it was to become the biggest youth cult scene since punk music, symbolised in the media by ecstasy high clubbers chanting "aciieeeed!". uk producers began to get in on the acid bandwagon, with a guy called gerald's "voodoo ray", richie rich's "salsa house" and baby ford's " oochy koochy" becoming huge club hits. like in the us, radio stations were instrumental in the growth in popularity of house in the uk. jazzy m's " jacking zone" on lwr had half a million listeners while steve jackson's "the house that jack built show" ran for years on kiss fm.
the winds of change
chicago was beginning to lose its pulling power to the uk. when wbmx closed down, house music could no longer be heard on the windy city airwaves. soon the chicago producers began to shift their allegiance to labels outside their home town. the first house lps were released first in britain, whereas ten city, the first house act went to new york's atlantic records. this was the year of house anthems. songs like joe smooth's "promised land", ce ce rogers "someday", ten city "devotion", sterling void "it's alright" and inner city's " big fun" took house to a new level of sophistication and popular appeal. songs were developing, taking their influence from house and classic philly sound elements. a new jersey garage sound emerged, promoted by tony humphries. many records crossed over to mainstream success, both in the us and uk, notably adeva "in and out of my life", paul simpson "musical freedom" and phase ii "reachin". finally, new york was getting on the house music map. todd terry's freestyle sample tracks such as royal house "can you party" and "bango" were massive in the uk clubs. new york labels nu groove and cutting began to take over where dj international left off. they would release tracks by some of today's biggest producers; louie vega, kenny dope gonzalez, david morales and george morel.
diversification: the other scenes
the house scene was quick to split into new sub-genres. "balearic" became associated with an eclectic style of djing championed by danny rampling, paul oakenfold and nicky holloway, who had been to ibiza. "hip-house" was chicago another incarnation, combining raps on house tracks like tyree cooper and kool rock steady "turn up the bass". and then came rave.
the summer of love
1989 was the year the acid house scene morphed into the rave scene. throughout the summer promoters put on massive raves in the countryside outside london to accommodate thousands of ravers all night long. the scene was fuelled by pirate radio blasting the airwaves and promoting these raves. anthems like 808 state "pacific" became the soundtrack to the summer.
here to stay
by the end of 1989 house music had reached the far corners of the globe. more and more labels, producers and clubnights were launched, creating a worldwide scene stronger than ever. new york had strictly rhythm, canada had big shot records, italy had irma and spain had raul orellana. new styles like lil louis' "french kiss" or "sueno latino" gave the scene a greater maturity and variety. even techno, which had suffered under lack of support outside detroit, reinvented itself with new producers like carl craig. despite the lack of penetration in the us charts and the hash of poor imitators, the music that was defined by its 4/4 beat had truly become universally accepted.
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