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House Music and its Chicago Roots

Wed, Jun 26, 2013

Since the break of the mid-1980’s, the bass has been thumping louder and louder the moment when House first escaped from the underground clubs of Chicago and evolved into a genre that is both ever-present and undeniably entrenched into the world of dance music as we know it.

“House music is the stepchild of disco,” said Czarina Mirani, founder and editor of 5 Magazine, Chicago’s premier House music publication. During Disco’s prime, some songs began fusing melodies made entirely using drum machines and synthesizers, producing a solely electronic sound. “What made it House music was that these artists didn’t use live instruments. It started out with the drum machine, the kick drum,” said Mirani.

Today, the core of House music is uniquely defined by not only these electronic facets – including synthesized basslines and drum machines – but it would not be complete without the repetitive 4/4 beats, the kick drum and hi-hat cymbals.

DJ, Producer and Remix Artist Jesse Saunders is dubbed as the founder of the House movement, thanks to his 1984 album On & On. “Everyone thought that was the first House song. Soon, House music began to get its legs,” asserted Mirani.


According to Phil Cheeseman of DJ magazine, Saunders was influenced by more than just Disco. The electronic pop movement of Europe, dominated by groups such as Depeche Mode and Soft Cell, played an integral role in Saunders’ synthesized sound. DJ Frankie Knuckles was also an influence on Saunders, as Knuckles entertained groups of club-goers at The Warehouse, Chicago’s top House club that first opened in 1977. Since Knuckles’ musical work was mostly confined to The Warehouse, Saunders decided to take this emerging style of music and spread it to the rest of Chicagoland with the release of On & On.

In retrospect, the emergence of House music can be considered a team effort, as its development and dispersion throughout the world would have been stunted without the work of both Saunders and Knuckles. But the popularity of the genre – and also the name – can be credited to the fame of The Warehouse as a premier nightclub. After all, “House” music would still be a song in someone’s heart had it not been for this oh-so-popular spot in which it was first played for raging crowds of Chicago partygoers.

While Chitown can proudly stick out its chest and declare its right as the founder of House music, cities across the nation and across the globe have taken the style and morphed it into their own. Styles like New York’s Afro House, Detroit’s Techno House, Philadelphia’s Soulful House, Italy’s Italo House and UK’s Hard House are all unique and essential members of the giant House family that is still growing and still evoking beat-thumping changes on the musical world.

By Brittany Langmeyer
StreetWise Publisher


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