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  • Writer's pictureSara Morgan-Beckett

The House that Frankie Built

After the sad news that the Godfather of Dance Music, Frankie Knuckles had died at the age of 59, I thought it was timely to revisit the blog post I wrote after interviewing him in 2012. Heartbreaking to read tweets from ill-informed EDM followers asking who the Chicago DJ was. Without Frankie there would be no EDM.

Written Friday June 22, 2012:

This week I met a legend. That word gets bandied around willy nilly, but I think the man behind the birth of House Music is undeniably deserving. Frankie Knuckles has been around since the days of Disco and hearing about New York’s Paradise Garage, the less commercial Studio 54, was like discovering a treasure trove. Even more enlightening was his account of Chicago’s The Warehouse which started in 1977 - the place where House music began. Frankie told me that other clubs in Chicago started saying they also played "'house" music and so the genre was born. At 57, Frankie talks about these times with the enthusiasm of a teenager. As does David Morales. David Morales; ever loyal to the velour tracksuit/gold chain combo, his enthusiasm is highly infectious, and it took me back to my days as a teenage raver in the south of England.

House took off in the UK in the late 80s thanks to Frankie showing a visiting bunch of British music journalists the Chicago scene. After it was reported back in the UK, we embraced House music on a scale unseen in America. Frankie flew to England for 2 weeks and ended up staying for 4 months after landing a residency at Manchester's The Hacienda. Margaret Thatcher had troops of riot police clamping down on illegal dance parties all over the country, you would drive for hours to find one and if that closed down we'd move onto the next. But her police force were powerless to prevent bad fashion permeating youth culture. I may have initially been too young to attend these ecstasy-fuelled raves, but I wasn’t too young to adorn my neck with club jewelery in the form of a finger-sized stalagmite. Quartz crystal pendants and arse-avoiding, baggy jeans were de rigueur. And what rave chronicle would be complete without the regrettable mention of whistles, glow sticks and white gloves? But bad fashion aside, the scene was unifying, subversive and the music was a journey through the night, somewhere we felt we belonged. I’ve seen Frankie and David play in Ibiza many a time at Pacha. Both have a fading love for the White Isle, and an active distain for the onslaught of EDM. Deadmau5 was their notable exception. A dance formula has been applied to R’n’B and absolutely everyone’s doing it - Usher, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Bieber. Once more, it’s impossible not to blame the Black Eyed Peas as patient zero with Will I am, the biter of beats, infecting all and sundry with his watered down version.

Frankie and David have Dance careers spanning 35 years. They’re the aging rock stars of House. And as such, there’s a real sense of disillusionment with where the scene is today. Gone are the 9 hour sets, the dance floor odyssey into the next morning. A more cynical cash-infused ideology has taken over, in their opinion. It’s all about the big money 2 hour sets, and then you’re dumped like an unwanted lover. It’s not about the coming together of beautiful people on a journey anymore. Kids today don’t know what they missed out on.

How Clubbing Changed The World, a two hour documentary on the history of House Music, will be screened on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday August 20th.

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