jump to navigation

This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to….the House sound of Frankie Knuckles April 5, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

I was standing on the edge of the dancefloor towards the end of last Friday night. Only went for a quiet pint and in search of another, later, quiet pint I ended up in front a DJ who was playing the famous Rhythm Controll acapella.

In the beginning, there was Jack, and Jack had a groove.
And from this groove came the groove of all grooves.
And while one day viciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldly declared,

“Let there be HOUSE!” and house music was born.

“I am, you see, I am the creator, and this is my house!
And, in my house there is ONLY house music.
But, I am not so selfish because once you enter my house it then becomes OUR house and OUR house music!”
And, you see, no one man owns house because house music is a universal language, spoken and understood by all.

You see, house is a feeling that no one can understand really unless you’re deep into the vibe of house.
House is an uncontrollable desire to jack your body.
And this is our house and our house music.
And in every house, you understand, there is a keeper.
And, in this house, the keeper is Jack.

Now some of you who might wonder,
“Who is Jack, and what is it that Jack does?”
Jack is the one who gives you the power to jack your body!
Jack is the one who gives you the power to do the snake.
Jack is the one who gives you the key to the wiggly worm.
Jack is the one who learns you how to walk your body.
Jack is the one that can bring nations and nations of all Jackers together under one house.

You may be black, you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It don’t make a difference in OUR House.

And this is fresh.

You can get very tired of nightclubs and we all have but that speech, bellowing preacherman over an almighty kickdrum, felt as true then as it has always done. This is fresh.

House is a bit of a funny thing to define sometimes, ever changing in style but utterly consistent in ideal. Hedonistic for sure but all the old cliché about togetherness and release is really what has kept people coming back for three decades now. House is a feeling and it’s in our bones.

I had hoped to be in London last weekend for Frankie Knuckles at the Rulin 20th birthday but other not so quite weekends had finished off any travel plans. Sickened then to hear of his passing on Monday night and saddened more so. Influential or famous figures dying is a strange one but I instantly felt the loss of something. The outpouring respect all week has been remarkable and really underlines how much this music means to everyone.

Frankie Knuckles changed lives and the world for a lot of people. There have been great tributes from those who were actually there but he has been with all of us every weekend.



The old and short version of the story goes of two New York kids getting their DJ start at the Continental Baths. Larry Levan went on to The Paradise Garage and Frankie to Chicago. As Levan’s club gave it’s name to Garage,  Frankie’s sound at the Warehouse did the same.

Nice synopsis here from Miles Simpson

The New York disco sound underpinned Frankie’s set: songs, orchestration, and big studio production. But something happened during his time at The Warehouse. As he became integrated into the Chicago scene, his slick New York musical style began to meld with the more electronic synth pop and post-punk new wave styles championed by the likes of Herb Kent on his ‘Punk Out’ radio show and by the ‘Hot Mix 5 on their hugely influential WBMX show.

This style of music was also favoured by many of the younger, often straight, kids that were beginning to attend The Warehouse parties, as well as their own regular haunts like The Playground. At this venue, a young DJ by the name of Jesse Saunders played alongside Hot Mix 5 DJ, Farley Keith Williams, or Farley Jackmaster Funk, as he was later to become better known.

Frankie was increasingly mixing this more modern music by the likes of Skatt Brothers, Yello, and Gino Soccio, with what was becoming one of his trademarks: the re-edit.

Frankie had been schooled in the discos of New York, where pioneering DJs such as Walter Gibbons had started using two copies of the same record to extend rhythmic break sections to work their dancefloors into a frenzy. This in turn saw the development of remixes by Gibbons, friend Larry Levan, and mentor Tee Scott, that took short album tracks and transformed them into longer, percussion driven tracks designed for the dance-floor.

Frankie’s edits were essentially a lower cost, more rudimentary, extension of this idea; a halfway house between live mixes and remixes, using spliced sections of tape to extend drum breaks and loop particular lyrical refrains. With the help of his friend and sound engineering student, Erasmo Rivera, Frankie rebuilt popular records, stretching out the percussive elements, making them more in keeping with the modern electronic music, which he now played alongside. This allowed him to tease his dancers with looped snippets of tracks the dancers felt they knew, building the anticipation and tension, before satisfying their need by hitting them with the song they knew and wanted.

One could argue that these re-edits were actually the first House records, and soon the original versions of many of these tracks, along with the new electronic music Frankie was playing, started to appear on the wall of his favoured record shop, Imports Etc, with the label ’As Heard At The Warehouse’. Shop staff, like Brett Wilcotts and Chip E, began to shorten that description to ‘Warehouse Music’ and then further still to ‘House Music’.

Thus, the name was born – not to describe a specific genre of music, but more a DJing style: Frankie’s DJing style.

In 1983, Frankie left The Warehouse to set up his own club, The Powerplant and  Williams brought in another DJ to fill void Frankie left and renamed the club. That DJ was Ron Hardy and the club’s new name was the Music Box. And the hotchpotch of different records that sound-tracked those heady nights and hazy mornings at The Warehouse had already made their mark on many kids that had danced to them – kids who went on to dance to Ron, the kids who were just about to become the first wave of true House Music producers and create the music to fit the name.

Record shoppers at Imports Etc one day found a new shelf where staff had selected music they heard the night before.  And House music was born. There is something deeply universal about the whole thing, malleable enough to accommodate any changing or localised trend while always arriving at the same place. People always remember their first time walking into a proper club. When it hits you and for most it never leaves.

At this point the point the music was still very much DJ lead, the ashes of disco, uptempo R&B, European imports and gospel all in the mix.  Once Frankie got hold of an early cassette of Jamie Principle’s ‘Your Love’ Chicago took off.

House was part of a democratisation of club music, mirroring artists like Mantronix and Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ in New York, it was now possible for one guy and few machines to fill dancefloors. House was ‘disco on budget’ according to WestEnd Records boss Mel Cheren and while Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson would travel to the Warehouse before returning to Detroit with heads full of ideas, the DJs themselves were crossing the Atlantic.

Frankie three from the back at the Hacienda

Frankie three from the back at the Hacienda


For millions of people in Britain, the first sight of House music was Daryl Pandy’s – still incredible – performance of ‘Love can’t turn around’ on Top of the Pops in 1986. Within a few short years they were dancing in fields on the M25. House completely changed British culture forever.

The 90s charts were so dominated that we saw the pushback of Britpop in a move with many echoes of Comiskey Park. There were, in fairness, many elements to push back against but House, along side Hip Hop, Reggae, Rhythm & Blues, remains one of the meta-genres. Timeless, foundational and from which everything else flows. All the little tributaries arise and collapse back into the source before returning as something new. Every Summer with out fail House returns as the sound of holidays and release from the rat-race. As for Frankie, I really liked this take from David Drake.

A producer’s sound can be defined in concrete terms; in hip-hop, think of the musical signature that runs through the work of its biggest names, like Premier’s drums or the Neptunes’ guitars. For a DJ the common denominator is elusive, speaking as they do with songs created by others, and for an audience whose reaction helps mold the set’s ebb and flow. The songs Frankie Knuckles was drawn to have an effusive quality that drew from the uplift and transcendent energy of gospel. His art was, in that sense, a continuation of tradition.

But to the aesthetic mainstream of his time, he was positioned at the extreme, and it’s a tribute to his vision that much of the world soon re-centered around the approach he cultivated at the outer edge. It wasn’t the sherm-addled sonic extreme of clubs like The Music Box, the atmosphere-rending sounds of acid house. It was an ideological extreme. A strain of dance that found strength in exposing sincere, un-self-conscious emotion, values inherited from disco. Frankie Knuckles was the house producer closest to that ideal: his was a confident, muscular vulnerability. It can be difficult to identify one thread that runs through his diverse and important work. But at the core of his art—evident in his DJ sets and his production alike—is a boldness, a certainty that inverts the usual dynamic, so choices typically associated with fecklessness and weakness instead feel like the strongest possible armor.

I haven’t really posted any music here as I wanted to mark his legacy more so than anything else. His work, particularly in remixing, up until  the early nineties is pure bliss and best appreciated on dancefloor at four in the morning. Away from production Frankie Knuckles should be remembered primarily as a DJ, one harder to find in modern times, who managed to carve out something new.

When founding the Paradise Garage, the other boss at WestEnd Records, Ed Kushins said that “If people can dance together, they can live together”.

It will take a lot more than nightclubs before we get where we want to be but Frankie Knuckles at least gave us a glimpse of what’s possible.


1. WorldbyStorm - April 5, 2014

Lovely appreciation. Seeing as we were talking about Billie Ray Martin a month or so back have to post up this remix Frankie Knuckles did of Electribe 101 “Talking With Myself”.

There’s an odd gentleness to his work, it’s very appealing.


2. sonofstan - April 5, 2014

Great tribute. The comment on house being a meta- genre is so true. In one of my first classes this year, I asked students to name their favourite type of music; something like 6 out of 20 odd said ‘house’ straight away, with variations on a sort of pitying ‘you wouldn’t understand’ look. The fact that 19-20 year olds can still think of it as their music, 25 years later is telling testimony to the ability of the music to to be always the same, always new.


3. eamonncork - April 5, 2014

Beautiful stuff D5. Best tribute I’ve read this last week.


sonofstan - April 5, 2014



GypsyBhoy - April 5, 2014

+2. Lovely tribute Doc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: