A Look Into The History of House Music In America
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A Look Into The History of House Music In America

Created by °1824. Written by Walter Bloxton with graphics by Dana Criniti, and edited by Liv Winters.

When we accept guests posts from outside sources, typically we’re looking for editorials that provide education and insight into varies topics of music and culture.

Today we are proud to feature a fantastic editorial on the History of House Music. With the United States currently undergoing a revolution in thought and racial equality, this editorial shines a light on how the African American & LGBTQ communities of the 1970s and 1980s have shaped house dance music in America, and in the world.

Published by a group of young creatives,°1824, who are changing the narrative in the music world through innovative multimedia campaigns.

You can find their work by heading to their creative Instagram here. Read on to learn more about °1824 and the history of house music in America.

What is °1824?

°1824 is Universal Music Group’s network of young creatives focused on content and the connection of artists directly to fans. °1824’s creators produce more than 40 content projects a month, including original episodic series, official music videos and live performances. The team books over 100 events annually, including speaking engagements, experiential activations, screenings, and HBCU homecoming events Learn more about °1824’s work on Instagram at @1824.

Purpose Behind This Editorial  

Anytime electronic music is heard on the radio, in a club, or on your favorite playlist, it is an offspring of house – but the origins of the genre are often unknown. This brief history of house music outlines its birth, gentrification, and modern day influence. The stories of legends like DJ Frankie Knuckles should be common knowledge in the electronic music space. The following post was created to celebrate and feature Black musician’s and Black culture’s impact on one of the many music genres we love.

A Brief History of House Music

Early Origins

The beginning of house music is linked to the end of disco, which saw a spike in popularity in 1977 after the film success of Saturday Night Fever. While disco took over radio waves, it also took over the club scene as it was played in establishments like The Loft,The Gallery, Continental Baths& Paradise Garage in New York. These clubs were the result of civil unrest in America and served as a safe haven for minorities, including African-Americans, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights activists. 

Death of Disco

Some Americans loved the new wave of disco, while others hated it. In 1979, during a baseball game’s halftime at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, a local radio DJ screamed for the “Death of Disco” into the crowd. Thousands of individuals came to the field to burn records during this demonstration, known as Disco Demolition Night. 

Many believe Disco Demolition Night was fueled by prejudice & racism since the creators, DJs, and listeners of disco were primarily members of minority groups. African Americans in attendance that night said many of the records burned were actually just black records that would never qualify as disco. 

The Warehouse

In 1977, New York DJ Frankie Knuckles was offered a new gig by Chicago club owner Robert Williams – a gig that would eventually earn him his nickname “Godfather of House.” Dubbed the Warehouse, the club was a three-story building with a perfect basement for large, bass booming speakers. Similarly to New York clubs, the Warehouse started off as a private gay club; but as word began to spread, the Warehouse opened its doors to a broader crowd. 

The Birth of “House”

Knuckles DJ’d at the Warehouse from 1977 to 1982. He would spin two of the same records to better manipulate the songs, and incorporated drum machines (most famously the TR-808) to layer new drums underneath the samples. The music he played was so coveted that people would go to record shops asking for “house music,” meaning the music spun at the Warehouse. High schools such as Southside Chicago’s Mendel Catholic High School began to spin “house music” at dances, propelling it from the Warehouse to the Chicago mainstream. 

The Warehouse Closure

In 1982, Robert Williams closed the Warehouse after the city of Chicago deemed it structurally unsound. He opened a new club called The Muzic Box, which hosted a new DJ named Ron Hardy. Knuckles opened and DJ’d at his own club, The Power Plant. In 1984, he broke one of the genre’s biggest records titled “Your Love,” produced by Knuckles and Jamie Principle. 

Record Success

In 1984, Jesse Saunders released “On and On”, marking the first house song that was pressed on vinyl and sold. It is said to have sold 10,000+ records in its first week, a success that inspired DJs throughout Chicago to release their own records. Larry Sherman, the owner of Chicago’s sole record plant called Precision Record Pressing, saw an opportunity in the rising genre. He created a record label named Trax Records and signed most of the DJs in Chicago. While he gave them an opportunity to release their own records, controversies around royalty payouts and exploitation were reported. 

The Genre Develops

Throughout 1986, Trax Records released a slew of house favorites, such as “Move Your Body” by Marshall Jefferson. It was the first house record to feature a piano, and Jefferson is often credited as the person who introduced musicality to the genre. DJ Pierre (from the group Phuture) created the subgenre “acid house” after experimenting with a TB-303 alongside his friend Spanky. Their first single, “Acid Tracks” was given to The Muzic Box’s DJ Ron Hardy, who broke Pierre’s music into the house scene after playing it for four consecutive hours.

Europe and the Mainstream

In the late 80s, the house music climate shifted. Chicago had a new mayor that enforced strict curfews, which limited club goers. Local radio DJs had to comply with new radio standards and stopped playing house altogether. Meanwhile, house was finding a new life in Europe as it became inextricable from the European club and party scene. European DJs created their own mixes by sampling house records themselves, or even the songs other house records sampled. This sampling went uncredited, ushering in the gentrification of house music. 

Modern Ties

Today, house music is a genre with a plethora of subgenres, though its origins are often unknown. Anytime electronic music is heard on the radio, in a club, or on your favorite playlist, it is an offspring of house. Two modern artists that rely heavily on house soundscapes are The Weeknd and Chicago native Kanye West.

Sources: Fader, I Was There When House Took Over the World, Ebony,
Splice, Pump up the Volume: A history of House Music, Groupon, The Guardian, XXL.

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