House Music Gonna Set You Free…(continued)

Chicago, 1986.

By now, the movement known as House is gaining momentum with every record dropped on a slipmat. The sound, borne out of the sweaty, crowded dancefloors in New York, Detroit, and Chicago is fanning out across America, and the globe.

The irony of House is it was a music style that originated in America, heavily influenced by European music, that was heavily influenced by American music IN THE FIRST PLACE.

That ought to keep you up for a few nights trying to work that out…

House music is an odd bird. You can say where it may have started, but it always feels like it was just waiting for its time to emerge, as if it were always here to begin with. Just laying dormant beneath the veneer of cocaine and garish polyester.

Just like it had been with disco, those that exist at the margins of so-called polite society carried the torch. Black, Latino, and Gay influences abounded in House, and still do, right up to present day. The producers, the singers, the musicians, the dancers.

House also had a significant deeper meaning. With AIDS ravaging the community, House music was literally a sanctuary. It was the gospel for a forgotten tribe, the soundtrack for a misfit family. The Reagan/Thatcher years ushered in a new Puritanism. Its proponents and supporters preached that AIDS was “God’s revenge.”

House music provided an alternative message. Not without a sense of irony, House also borrowed heavily from gospel music. The call and response was lifted right out of Black American churches. When placed in juxtaposition with House, it fit seamlessly.

In a lot of ways, House music is a lot like Jeet Kune Do, the martial art developed by Bruce Lee. Yes, it is pretty badass, but that’s not quite, what I had in mind…

House music is a form without form. It can be whatever you want, and marries well with other forms and styles to create a new style. It adopts all kinds of instruments naturally.

Like a piano, for example…

In 1986, Marshall Jefferson was producing music and DJing in Chicago, like so many others. He came into contact with Larry Sherman, owner of Trax Records. He had an idea for a new House track, something completely different from the heavily synthesized, almost metronomic sound of most House at the time.

Jefferson wanted to breathe a little humanity back into the music.

He decided to use piano instead.

“Move Your Body” became the first House music track to use a piano, and the effect was seismic. People went mental for it. It became the House anthem. It seemed to perfectly encapsulate the joy of the music, and make a definitive social statement about the culture at the same time.

House music gonna set you free, indeed…

Meanwhile, similar things were happening across Lake Michigan, in Detroit, a city with it’s own storied musical legacy. The Midwest would prove to be the epicenter of a major musical revolution…


The only way is Frankie Knuckles' way, Baby...

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