The beginnings of House music

It all started in Chicago’s Southside in 1977, when a new kind of club opened. This new Chicago club called The Warehouse gave House music its name. Frankie Knuckles, who opened The Warehouse, mixed old disco classics and new Eurobeat pop. It was at this legendary club where many of the experiments were tried. It was also where Acid House got its start.

House was the first direct descendant of disco. In comparison with disco, House was "deeper", "rawer", and more designed to make people dance. Disco had already produced the first records to be aimed specifically at DJs with extended 12" versions that included long percussion breaks for mixing purposes. The early 80s proved a vital turning point. Sinnamon’s "Thanks To You", D-Train’s "You're The One For Me", and The Peech Boys "Don’t Make Me Wait", a record that has been continually sampled over the last decade, took things in a different direction with their sparse, synthesised sounds that introduced dub effects and drop-outs that had never been heard before.

The Warehouse

House music did not have its origins just in American music. The popularity of European music, specifically English electronic pop like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell and the earlier, more disco-based sounds of Giorgio Moroder, Klein & MBO, as well as Italian productions, they all gave rise to House music. Two clubs, the already mentioned Chicago’s Warehouse and New York’s Paradise Garage, which promoted European music, had at the same time broken the barriers of race and sexual preference (for House music was in part targeted at the gay community). Before The Warehouse opened, there had been clubs strictly designed to segregate race. However, The Warehouse did not make any difference between Blacks, Hispanics, or Whites; the main interest was simply music. And the music was as diverse as the clients.


People who influenced House

Frankie Knuckles

One of the leading DJs at that time was New York born Frankie Knuckles, also called the Godfather of House. Indeed, he was more than a DJ; he was an architect of sound, who experimented with sounds and thus added a new dimension to the art of mixing. In fact, he took the raw material of the disco he spun and added pre-programmed drum tracks to create a constant 4/4 tempo. He played eight to ten hours a night, and the dancers came home exhausted. Thanks to him The Warehouse was regarded as the most atmospheric place in Chicago. The uniqueness of this club lay in a simple mixing of old Philly classics by Harold Melvin, Billy Paul and The O’Jays with disco hits like Martin Circus’ "Disco Circus" and imported European pop music by synthesiser groups like Kraftwerk and Telex.

Frankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles

Frankie said, "When we first opened in 1977, I was playing a lot of the East Coast records, the Philly stuff, Salsoul. By ‘80/81, when that stuff was all over with, I started working a lot of the soul that was coming out. I had to re-construct the records to work for my dancefloor, to keep the dancefloor happy, as there was no dance music coming out! I’d take the existing songs, change the tempo, layer different bits of percussion over them, to make them more conductive for the dancefloor."


Larry Levan

Larry Levan

Frankie’s friend Larry Levan was a black teenager from Brooklyn like Frankie. In fact, it was Larry who first suggested opening The Warehouse in Chicago. However, things took a different turn, and in the end Larry Levan spun in New York’s Paradise Garage. Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles were indeed two very important figures in the development of House music and the modern dance scene. Perhaps there would have been no fame for the two without the producer, DJ and devoted lover of dance and music, David Mancuso, and his dance parties for gays called Loft parties. "The Loft" was a house party intended for a very black and a very gay crowd.

Larry and Frankie attended the Loft parties regularly. It was not only a place of joy but also a place where they became acquainted for the first time with the techniques of House music. Mancuso taught them about creating a perfect House music: about sound, lighting, production, music and DJ techniques.


Ron Hardy

Larry Heard By the mid 80s House had emerged in Chicago as a fully developed musical genre through the efforts of Knuckles and those inspired by him like DJ Ron Hardy of Music Box fame. Ron Hardy was another DJ from the gay scene. The sounds they produced differed in that the basis of Knuckle’s sound was still disco, whereas Hardy was the DJ that chose the rawest and wildest rhythm tracks he could find.

Besides Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, and Ron Hardy, there were other important figures in the development of House music such as Steve "Silk" Hurley, DJ Pierre, Larry Heard, Adonis, Marshall Jefferson and Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, who was a Chicago DJ and producer, as well as a creator of the first international House hit, "Love Can’t Turn Around". DJ Pierre, on the other hand, contributed to the development of Acid House. As a result, a track called "Acid Trax" was produced.

Ron Hardy


The creators of House music

There have been various views of who is the inventor of House music. For example, Leonard Remix RRoy asserted that he had given birth to House in May 1981. LRRoy was a remarkable and much respected DJ. He also claimed that he had invented the term "House music" in the spring of 1981.

Chip E. A person who regarded himself as a creator of House music in March of 1985 was Chip E. Yet, there remains a third founder, for he produced "Love Can’t Turn Around", one of the biggest selling "House" records. His name is Farley "Jackmaster" Funk. In fact, this big House "cross-over" hit was written, produced and arranged by Jesse Saunders. Jesse, however, did not call himself the creator of House music, but rather used the term "originator", which did not mean that he had invented or created the genre of House music. By "originator" he meant that he "started and/or fused a sound with a lot of different ingredients". Generally speaking, one can say, that there was not just one creator or inventor; on the contrary, House music evolved through the means of collaborative efforts of a few people like Frankie Knuckles, Vince Lawrence, Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, as well as the promoters and labels that made easy the distribution of early House.

The original disco-mixer Walter Gibbons, a white DJ, had a new and immediate impact on the development of Chicago House music. His independent 12" record called "Set It Off" immediately became an underground club anthem. The "Set It Off" sound was primitive House, haunting, repetitive beats ideal for mixing and extending.

Walter Gibbons

The roots of House music

House music was created in and by the African American community. Musically, House music evolved in Chicago and New York from African-American musical traditions like gospel, soul, jazz and funk as well as Latin salsa. Spiritually and aesthetically, it developed in the U.S. out of the need of oppressed people, African Americans, gays and Latinos, to build a community through dance , and later in the UK, out of the need of young people dissatisfied with the meaningless materialism of Thatcher’s England, to build an alternative community of music and dance via Acid House. From a different point of view, House music in the U.S. was associated with black people, with gay clubs, basically with things that white America would not even acknowledge.

House was just perceived as "gay" music for blacks and thus scorned by whites, although its aim was to unify people of all races, backgrounds and sexual orientations. According to Frankie Knuckles, many people could not and still cannot deal with the fact that House music started in gay clubs. Thus, narrow-mindedness, racism, and even corporate music politics played an important role in preventing House music from flourishing in the U.S. in the eighties.

House music had its origins in gospel, soul and funk rather than in commercial disco music. Furthermore, Chicago jazz, blues and soul had an immense influence on the creation of House music. There were significant Midwestern musical influences that led to the creation of the Chicago flavour of House music. No doubt, the Midwest had its own tradition of African American music. Thus, blues and jazz presented a part of the mix. To sum up, the soul music produced in Chicago, Detroit and Memphis certainly had an impact on Chicago house.


Early DJ techniques

In the early seventies the DJs’ tools began to improve as the market for dance music began to expand. Yet, the beginnings were hard, for there were only two types of records available, 45s and 33 1/3 LPs, which had "A" sides and "B" sides, and different songs were recorded on both sides. A record which allowed more creativity, namely 12" dance mixes specifically intended for DJs, had not yet appeared on the market. DJs had to manage without basic equipment such as DJ mixers or headphones. What is more, the turntables ran only at two speeds, 45 RPMs and 33 1/3 RPMs. It was impossible to vary the speed, so the turntable moved continuously. In practice, it could be described as follows: DJs started to play one record. Then they took it off the turntable, prepared another record, put this one on and played it. In reality, "putting on and taking off" the record cannot be called mixing. As expected, DJs needed time to change the vinyl disc and thus dancers had to wait between the records.

Turntables There was, however, one way that helped DJs overcome these technical problems. This method was called slip-cueing. The main part of the trick consisted in a duplication of records. In other words, the record collection needed to be copied. DJs had two good turntables at their disposal. They rigged the two tables with a switch into the amplifier so they could move from one to the other. Then they put the same recording on each turntable, to try to extend the mix somehow. The least DJs could do was play the same record twice in pretty rapid succession, which was better than making the dancer wait until they changed the record. Instead of playing the record twice, there was yet another possibility, namely to build the mix by isolating various instrumental, vocal and drum segments and extend them by jumping from record to record.

This technique was probably invented - or at least given currency - by DJ Francis Grosso and widely used by radio station DJs. It required much practice with individual recordings, great agility, and nerves of steel. Great turntablists of the seventies like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash developed such techniques into an art form.


The success of House in the U.K.

House music first came to England in the late eighties via the party island of Ibiza. In the summer of 1986 three House records appeared in the top ten: Farley’s "Jackmaster" Funk "Love Can’t Turn Around", Raze’s "Jack The Groove", and Steve "Silk" Hurley’s "Jack Your Body". It is said that House music was popularised by the British who invented Acid House and then brought this modified version of House back to the United States. Acid House was perceived differently and that was probably one of the reasons why it attracted the attention of the mainstream. In this way, House music became acceptable dance music also for white folks.
Steve "Silk" Hurley

Acid House

In reality, Acid House had already started in Chicago in 1985. DJ Pierre and some friends pushed a button on their Roland 303 and found that that Acid sound was already in it. They produced a track called "Acid Trax" which, they allege, was stolen by Ron Hardy and delivered as "Ron Hardy’s Acid Trax".

As Pierre once said, "Phuture was me and two other guys, Spanky and Herbert J. We had this Roland 303, which was a bassline machine, and we were trying to figure out how to use it. When we switched it on, that acid sound was already in it and we liked the sound of it so we decided to add some drums and make a track with it. We gave it to Ron Hardy who started playing it straight away. In fact, the first time he played it, he played it four times in one night! The first time people were like, ‘what the fuck is it?’ but by the fourth they loved it. Then I started to hear that Ron was playing some new thing they were calling ‘Ron Hardy’s Acid Trax’, and everybody thought it was something he’d made himself. Eventually we found out that it was our track so we called it ‘Acid Trax’. I think we may have made it as early as 1985, but Ron was playing it for a long time before it came out."

There have been various explanations for the term ‘Acid’. The most popular was that acid used to be put in the water at the Music Box. Pierre though, emphasises that Phuture was always anti-drugs, and cites a track about a cocaine nightmare, "Your only friend" that was on the same EP as "Acid Trax". "Acid Trax" came out in 1986 but did not prove to be successful outside Chicago. The first Acid track to make it to vinyl was called "I’ve Lost Control" which was made by Adonis and Marshall Jefferson.


Mixing in the history of House

Scratching in 1937? Believe it or not, sound mixing was not born in the 1980’s. Take a look at the important dates and recordings that have defined music mixing.

1937 Artist and experimental musician John Cage discusses the merits of sound manipulation using the phonograph.
1948 French avant-garde composer Pierre Schaffer champions turntable-based music.
1973 Bronx DJ Kool Herc originates hip-hop by DJ’ing with two turntables and extending beats by "looping".
1977 Grand Wizard Theodore invents "scratching" by rocking a record back and forth while the needle was resting on it.
1983 Herbie Hancock’s hit-record "Rockit" features scratching by Zulu DJ Grandmaster D.S.T..
1987 The first Disco Mix Club World Battle (DMC) is held, establishing DJ competitions world-wide.
1990 "Beat Juggling" is pioneered by Steve D. and introduced at the New Music Seminar.
1992 Rocksteady DJs pioneered crew routines at the 1992 DMC.
1996 Legendary battle between the X-Men and the Inivisbl Skratch Piklz

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Mix Terms

If you want to learn to style with the best of them, you have to know the difference between a "tear scratch" and a "chirp scratch". Here are mixology words that will help you get your "act" together.

Baby scratch: Simple pushing and pulling of the record back and forth under the needle in a rhythmic manner. This scratch is the basis for all othe scratches.

Breakdown: A basic beat juggling technique consisting of a manual slowdown of the beat by using the hand to rhythmically pause the record on every beat count.

Chirp scratch: Pulling the record backwards with the crossfader on, turning it off at the end of the sound, and turning it back on as the forward stroke is initiated.

Crab scratch: Popularised by DJ Q-Bert, this is a three-click flare scratch using a drumming motion of four fingers on the crossfader to create faster, syncopated sound.

Drag: A slow, long pushing or pulling of the record.

Fills: A basic beat juggling technique performed by playing one record and cutting in a sound element from the second, such as a snare or bass drum. For example, the kick drum of the second record is used to double or triple the kick drum of the first record.

Flare scratch: A scratch consisting of turning the fader on, moving the record forward while turning the crossfader off and on in a quick rhythm, then moving the record back to the start of the sound in two stages while still moving the crossfader back and forth in a rhythm. This complex scratch has many variations.

Forward scratch: The record is pushed forward with the crossfader on, playing a sound, then cut off with the crossfader, rewound to the beginning of the sound silently and played again.

Hydroplane: A scratch performed by pushing the record in any direction with one hand while applying counter pressure with a finger from the opposite hand. The finger should bounce along the record surface, creating a "bubbly" sound.

Looping: A basic beat juggling technique. The DJ plays one section of a record and then switches over to the same beat on another copy of the record while rewinding the first record, then switches back to the first record while rewinding the second one.

Orbit: A term used to descrie any scratch that can be performed forward and backward.

Rub: Similar to a hydroplane, except the forward and/or background strokes are slowed down as if the sound is decelerating.

Scribble: A very fast, vibrating sound created by holding the record idle and tensing the muscles in the arm, causing the record to move back and forth very quickly over a small distance.

Stab scratch: Similar to forward scratch, but the sound is cut off and repeated faster.

Tear: A tear is performed by moving forward or backward with pauses between strokes, all within a single sound or sample on the record. A two forward tear would be forward, pause, forward, pause creating the sound "ahh, hhh, hhh".

Transformer: A scratch performed by moving the crossfader to a rhythm while dragging the record back and forth or letting it play by itself.

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How to Mix

It is all about technique. That is what separates the players from the posers in the world of DJ mixing. Check out the essential scratches every mix master should know.

Baby scratch

Creator: Grandwizard Theodore

Style: Push and pull the record back and forth in a rhythmic motion at a slow speed. This is the foundation for all scratching.

baby.gif (3237 bytes)

Creator: DJ Flare

Style: Turn on the fader, move the sound forward, then turn the fader off and on. Continue moving the record forward and back while turning the sound off and on quickly.

flare.gif (4379 bytes)

Creator: Unknown

Style: Move the record forward or backwards while creating pauses. Keep your hand placed on the record at all times.

tear.gif (3219 bytes)

Creator: Spinbad

Style: Move the crossfader to a rhythm while dragging the record back and forth.

trans.gif (4219 bytes)

Creator: Unknown

Style: Start with your fader open, pull the sound backward, close the fader, open the fader and push the sound forward. Your hands should move together at the same time.

chirp.gif (4336 bytes)

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