skip to main | skip to menu

House Music Antiquity

"By 1981 they declared that Disco was dead and there
were no more up-tempo dance records. That’s when I
realised I had to start changing things to keep feeding
my dance floor".


Although some house a ficionados will refuse to admit it, the development of house music has much of its success accredited to the rise and fall of disco. As a result, to appreciate the history of house music, we need to look further back than the 1980s and the development of the TR909 and TR808 drum machines; we also need to examine the growth of disco during the 1970s. This is because disco still forms a fundamental part of some of today’s house music and in many instances older disco records have been scrupulously sampled to produce the latest house tracks.

Pinning down an exact point in time where disco first appeared is difficult since a majority of the elements that make disco appeared in earlier records. Nonetheless, arguably it is said to have first originated in the early 1970s and was derived from the funk music that was popular with black audiences at that time. Some big name producers such as Nile Rodgers, Quincy Jones, Tom Moulton, Giorgio Moroder and Vincent Montana began to move away from recording the self-composed music and started to hire session musicians and produce hits for artists whose only purpose was to supply vocals and become a marketable commodity.

Donna Summer became one of the first isco-manufactured success stories with the release of Love to Love You Baby in 1975 and is believed by many to be the first disco record to hit and be accepted by the mainstream public. This ‘ new’ form of music was still in its infancy, however, and it took the release of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever in 1977 before it eventually became a widespread phenomenon. Indeed, by the late 1970s, over 200 000 people were attending discotheques in the UK alone and disco records contributed to over 60% of the UK charts.

As with most genres of music that become popular, many artists and record labels jumped on the wave of this new happening vibe and it was soon del- uged with countless disco versions of original songs and other pointless and poorly produced disco records as the genre became commercially bastardized. As a result, disco fell victim to its own success in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the campaign of ‘disco sucks’ growing ever more popular. In fact, in one extreme incident Steve Vahl, a rock DJ who had been against disco from the start, encouraged people to bring their disco collections to a baseball game on the 12th July 1979 for a ritual burning. After the game, a huge bon fire was lit and the fans were asked to throw all their disco vinyl onto the fire.

By 1981, disco was dead but not without first changing the entire face of club culture, changing the balance of power between smaller and major labels and preparing the way for a new wave of music. Out of these ashes rose the phoenix that is house, but it had been a large underground movement before this and contrary to the misconceptions that are spread around, it had actually been in very early stages of evolution before disco hit the mainstream.

Although to many Frankie Knuckles is seen as the ‘godfather’ of house, it’s true foundations lie well before and can be traced back to as early as 1970. At this time, Francis Grosso, a resident DJ at a converted church known as the Sanctuary was the first ever DJ to mix two early disco records together to pro- duce a continual groove to keep the party goers on the dance floor. What’s more, he is also believed to be the first DJ to mix one record over the top of another, a technique that was to form the very basis of dance music culture.

Drawing inspiration from this new form of mixing, DJ Nicky Siano set up a New York club known as The Gallery and hired Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan to prepare the club for the night by spiking the drinks with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD/acid/trips). In return he taught both all about the basics of this new form of mixing records and soon after they moved on to become resi- dent DJs in other clubs. Levan began residency at The Continental Baths while Knuckles began at Better Days, to soon rejoin Levan at The Continental Baths 6 months down the line. The two worked together until 1977 when Levan left the club to start his own and was asked to DJ at a new club named the Warehouse in Chicago. Since Levan was now running his own club, he refused but recom- mended Knuckles who accepted the offer and promptly moved to Chicago. ince this new club had no music policy, Knuckles was free to experiment and show off the techniques he had been taught by Nicky Siano. Word quickly spread about this new form of disco and The Warehouse quickly became the place to be for the predominantly gay crowd. Since no ‘house’ records actually existed at this time, the term house did not refer to any particular music but simply referred to the Warehouse and the style of continual mixing it had adopted. In fact, at this time the word house was used to speak about music, attitude and clothing. If a track was house, it was from a cool club and some- thing that you would never hear on a commercial radio station, whereas if you were house it meant you attended all the cool clubs, wore the ‘right’ clothing and listened to ‘cool’ music.

By late 1982 and early 1983, the popularity of the Warehouse began to fall rapidly as the owners began to double the admission price; as it became more commercial, Knuckles decided to leave and start his own club known as the Powerhouse. His devoted followers went with him, but in retaliation the Warehouse was renamed the Music Box and the owners hired a new DJ named Ron Hardy. Although Hardy wasn’t a doctor, he dabbled in numerous pharma- ceuticals and in turn was addicted to most of them but was nevertheless a very talented DJ. While Knuckles kept a fairly clean sound, Hardy pounded out an eclectic mix of beats and grooves mixing euro disco, funk and soul to produce an endless onslaught to keep the crowd up on the floor. Even to this day, Ron Hardy is viewed by many as the greatest ever DJ.

Simultaneously, WBMX, a local radio station also broadcast late-night mixes made by the Hot Mix Five. The team consisted of Ralphi Rossario, Kenny ‘Jammin’ Jason, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Mickey ‘Mixin’ Oliver and Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk. These DJs played a non-stop mixture of British new romantic music ranging from Depeche Mode to Yazoo and Gary Numan, along with the latest music from Kraftwerk, Yello and George Clinton. In fact, so popular was the UK new romantic’s scene that a third of the American charts consisted of UK music. However, it wasn’t just the music that the people tuned in for it was the mixing styles of the five DJs. Using techniques that have never been heard of before, they would simultaneously play two of the same records to produce phasing effects, perform scratches and back spins and generally produce a perfect mix from a number of different records. Due to the show’s popularity it was soon moved to a daytime slot and kids would skip school just to listen to the latest mixes. In fact, it was so popular that Chicago’s only dance music store, Imports Etc, began to put a notice board up on the window, documenting all the records that had been played the previous day to prevent them from beingoverwhelmed with enquiries.

Meanwhile, Frankie Knuckles was suffering from a lack of new material. The ‘ disco sucks’ campaign had destroyed the industry and all the labels were no longer producing disco. As a result, he had to turn to playing imports from Italy (the only country left that was still producing disco) alongside more dub-in fluenced music. More importantly, for the history of house, though, he also turned to long-time friend Erasmo Rivieria, who was currently study- ing sound engineering, to help him create reworks of the earlier disco records in an attempt to keep his set alive. Using reel-to-reel tape recorders, the duo would record and cut up records, extending the intros and breakbeats and lay- ering new sounds on top of them to create more complex mixes. This was soon pushed further as he began to experiment by placing entirely new rhythms and bass lines underneath familiar tracks. While this undeniably began to form the.basis of house music, no one had yet released a true house record, and in the end it was Jesse Saunders’ release of On and On in 1984 that landmarked the first true house music record.

Although some a ficionados may argue that artist Byron Walton (aka Jamie Principle) produced the first house record with just a portastudio and a keyboard, the track entitled ‘Your Love’ was only handed to Knuckles for him to play as part of his set. Jesse Saunders, however, released the track commercially under his self- financed label ‘Jes Say’ and distributed the track through Chicago’s Imports Etc. The records were pressed, courtesy Musical Products, Chicago’s only pressing plant owned and run by Larry Sherman. Taking an interest in this scene, he investigated its in fluence over the crowds and soon decided to start the first- ever house record label ‘Trax’ Simultaneously, however, another label ‘DJ International’ was started by Rocky Jones and the following years involved a battle between the two to release the best house music. Many of these consisted of what are regarded as the most in fluential house records of all time including Music is the Key, Move Your Body, Time to Jack, Get Funky, Jack Your Body, Runaway Girl, Promised Land Washing Machine, House Nation and Acid Trax By 1987 house was in full swing, while still borrowing heavily from 1970s disco, the introduction of the Roland TB303 bass synthesizer along with the TR909, TR808 and the Juno 106 had given house a harder edge as it became disco made by ‘amateur’ producers. The basses and rhythms were no longer live but recreated and sequenced on machines resulting in a host of 303-driven tracks starting to appear.

One of these budding early producers was Larry Heard, who after producing a track entitled Washing Machine released what was to become one of the most poignant records in the history of house. Under the moniker of Mr Fingers he released Can U Feel It, the first-ever house record that didn’t borrow its style from earlier disco. Instead, it was in fluenced by soul, jazz and the techno that was simultaneously evolving from Chicago. This introduced a whole idea to the house music scene as artists began to look elsewhere for in fluences. One of these was Todd Terry, a New Yorker and hip-hop DJ, who began to apply the sampling principles of rap into house music. Using samples of previ- ous records, he introduced a much more powerful percussive style to the genre and released 3 Massive Dance Floor House Anthems, which pushed house music in a whole new direction. His subsequent house releases brought him insur- mountable respect from the UK underground scene and has duly been given the title of Todd ‘The God’ Terry.

Over the years, house music mutated, multiplied and diversi fied into a whole number of different subgenres, each with its own name its and production eth- ics. In fact, to date there are over 14 different subgenres of house consisting of progressive house, hard house, deep house, dark house, acid house, Chicago house, UK house, US house, euro house, French house, tech house, vocal house, micro house and disco house…and I’ve probably missed some too.

Written By Rick Snoman, Dance Music Manual


Column 1

Column 2

Column 3