Once upon a time in the land of forgotten origins there came a sound. It was the sound of bass drums booming like shifting continental plates, of infectious beats that moved the people long into the night, interspersed with sound bites from a society in decay.
The music is House, it’s origins as diverse as the samples in the mix. It’s known by many monikers; Acid House, Brutal House, New World Disco, TECHNO-Industrial Music, etc., but regardless of how you try to label it, House always defies pin-point categorization. Unfortunately many people are confused as to what House music is, and how it brings the dance club ethic full circle, or where it comes from. Some people believe that House music has its roots on the Island of Ibiza off the coast of Spain, a popular converging point for summer vacationers.
During the mid-`80s Ibiza’s principle attraction was the night clubs, usually located in old two and three story Victorian “houses,” with multiple dance floors intermingling the decade old sounds of the club’s disco albums with newer, fresher tracks from various cities in Europe.
All night hours, non-stop dancing and a lax enforcement of intoxicant laws brought monstrous crowds of jet-setters dissatisfied with the stale sounds of European disco. Unfortunately the resort towns closed up for the winter, and many club goers were left without an escape. To fill the void clubs like Ziggy’s, The Future and The Spectrum began popping up all over London. Clever recreations of Ibiza style clubs, they emerged first in old warehouses and eventually moved into the poshest nightclubs in town.
The club scene there has had its share of ups and downs, the most evident being media hype charging that the “acid” element became the whole reason for going, that the clubs were really just excuses for idle youth to drop LSD and Ecstacy while staring at strobes and laser lights. These charges were further compounded by the infiltration of low level organized crime, mostly skinheads like the Inter-City Front that intimidated club goers and staff, often strong-arming the profits or striking out against rival gang members.
Perhaps the Brits created this version of the origin of House music to justify the fact that Northern Soul fans have responded to it more fervently that club goers in the states. Their claim to its creation is often discredited by the sheer volume of American House music imported into Europe and the mega-success releases of bands like KRUSH “House Arrest (The Beat Is Law),” M.A.R.R.S. “Pump Up The Volume”, NITRO DeLUX “This Brutal House” and “Acid Over” by Tyree Cooper.
Even though House music, by virtue of it’s flowing , ethnic subtleties defy possessions in an age when pop distribution markets have flooded the world market, it is generally agreed upon that House has its roots in a place, and that place was a former factory called “The Warehouse” in Chicago. The man credited by legend for its creation is none other than DJ Frankie Knuckles.
Knuckles sampled bites from various hits, mixed them up, added synthesizers and infused the hypnotic beat of the club’s drum machine. The crowds on the floor went crazy and danced themselves into a frenzy. His new techniques spread to other local clubs as the demand for the Hip-Hop sound increased into the ghettos and finally, the world. As newer more sophisticated synthesizers became available deejays began to chant their own phrases and sample sounds from many sources to create tracks in an infinite variety.
Hitting it big, Knuckles made the move to the Big Apple where he thrills the crowd at The World and says”House music is accepted worldwide now-even the snobby clubs uptown play it. Every major artist making a dance single asks for a “House Mix.” Prince, Madonna and Sheena Easton all have house singles out.”
The sampling that once added special effects to a track has become the “whole” of House music. Bare booming baselines, sequencer looping and multi-level drum tracks, the sounds of flesh beating wood and metal, the bands creating contrast by playing off on one another have all been synthesized by the machine imitating the master’s voice. Even the singer becomes digitized, bringing an unearthly quality unlike the disco of days gone by.
The lyrics are often no more than catch phrases from everyday life, vivisected by vocal-coderization and “The Song” has been replaced by “The Track,” that has no defined beginning, middle or end. The quality of the groove is no longer dependent upon just creativity but also technical knowledge.
Regardless of what it takes, the dancers know what they like. As one exhausted club-goer put it, “Dance music at it’s most elemental has always had a tribal feeling- pounding beats and an erotic pulse, tugging away until a kind of communal rapture takes hold. Something had been missing in the jungle-of-the-cities, and House music fills that throbbing void.”
There you have it; the result- mechanical mantras as soundtracks to a cybernetic bacchanalia, a neo-pagan insurrection against the head’s dominance over the body.