It’s been over 20 years SINCE the first identifiable house tracks were put on vinyl; 20 years that have seen the technology of the music and thus the music itself change and branch out in many directions. House music has changed but the basic structure remains intact.?
It’s been 18 years since it was said that house music was just another fad that would soon wither as quickly as it started was. But the music has grown and it has gradually dawned on people that House is not just another phase of club culture, it is club culture, the continuing future of dance music. The reason? It’s simple. People like to dance to it.
House music gets its name from the old Chicago night-club called the Warehouse, where resident DJ Frankie Knuckles, mixed old classic R&B, eurobeat pop and synthesised beats into a frantic amalgamation of recycled soul. Us Chicagoans remember the Warehouse as being the most vibrant scene in the city in those days, the pioneering nerve centre of a thriving dance music scene where old Philly classics by Harold Melvin, Billy Paul and the O’Jays were mixed with upfront disco hits like Martin Circus’ “Disco Circus” and imported European pop by synthesiser groups like Kraftwerk and Telex.
In the mid 70’s, when disco was still an underground phenomenon, sin and salvation were wilfully mixed together to create a sound that somehow managed to be decadent and devout. New York disco labels like Prelude, Salsoul, Westend and TK Disco literally pioneered a form of orgasmic gospel, which merged the strings of Philadelphia dance music with the tortured vocals of soul singers like Loletta Holloway, who left a successful gospel career to record hits like “Love Sensation” and “Hit and Run” which have become working models for modern day house.
Today’s house music is not a break with black music of the past. It is an extreme reinvention of the dance music of yesterday, a kind of 4-way love affair with the cities of New York and Chicago and the sounds of gospel and disco music.
If one were to take a survey of early house anthems, the results would look like a readers guide to disco, including colonel Abram’s Trapped, Sharon Reid’s Can you handle it, Fat Larry’s Act like you know, Positive Force’s We got the funk, Jimmy Bo Horn’s Spank and D-Train’s You’re the one. And more often than not, you would find that those who were there relished the sound where the church and the dancefloor are thrown together with wilful disregard for religious propriety, such as in songs like First Choice’s Let no man put asunder. Religion weaves its way through the house sound in ways that confound the non-believers.
For major house pioneers like Frankie Knuckles and old clubheads like myself, the DJ console is a pulpit and the DJ is a high priest. The dancers are a fanatical congregation who dances in joyous celebration of the salvation that the music brings them. They will dance until dawn, demanding that the music go on unbroken for hours and sometimes even days. The music is an evocation of spirit, the dance is a ritual and mixing is the religion.
House music is a relentless sound designed to take the dancers to new heights. It has its origins in gospel music and its future in spaced Trance Dance and Techno and it finds itself as the backdrop to the prevailing drug subculture. But beneath the abstract surface of the most far out Techno track and beyond the haze of the high is the same compulsive dance command. It’s the beat. When people hear house music, they lose their inhibitions and freak out. It’s an instant dance reaction and through their body movements they tell the story of their lives. They recount their blessings and reveal their sins.
An individual become one with the crowd, one with the DJ and in one voice they cry out for salvation; for life; for immortality, “Save us! Save us! Save us funky music! Save us!”
So it was in the beginning, is now and forever shall be. A story as old as religion itself and as timeless as the eternal rhythm of life. The truth is, however, if you can’t dance to house music or at least feel the impetus to do so upon hearing its divine choruses, you may already be dead.
Can I get an Amen?