Pour One Out For Frankie Knuckles, Inventor Of House
Frankie Knuckles died yesterday at the age of 59, and if you don’t know the name, you certainly know what he gave the world: house music. Knuckles started Djing in the late 1970s, when dance music meant only disco, but he brought an utterly catholic sensibility to his DJing, and would play anything, remix anything, add a drum machine to anything, as long as it kept people moving.
Though he came from the disco clubs, Knuckles came into his own spinning his own signature style in a club in Chicago he called The Warehouse, which is why, dear readers, we now call it house music. That club is gone now, but the love Chicago had for Frankie never went away, and in 2004 a guy you’ve probably never heard of, this state senator named Barack Obama, helped get August 25 declared Frankie Knuckles Dy in the Windy City.
What did house music sound like? It sounded glorious. It sounded like everything. It kept some of the soaring strings and big vocals of disco, but then Frankie threw anything else he could find at it, chopped it up, turned it around, made it new.
It’s criminal that we don’t have more DJ sets from that time at The Warehouse, but we never knew way back then that we’d want to memorialize a DJ set just like we do a concert.
He went on to make his own tracks and then started getting tapped to do remixes for high-profile artists like Chaka Khan. His remix of “Ain’t Nobody” from 1989 is like a house music manual. Slinky bubbling synths, the ubiquitous piano, Chaka’s voice big and beautiful riding over the mix with the familiar “Ain’t nobody/loves me better” refrain before that vocal snippet gets overdubbed and echoed into something completely familiar and totally different.
If you were a young gay person in the 1980s or early 1990s (raises hand), house music and the clubs that played it were often the way you knew that being gay was going to be OK, that you would always have a place to go, and that it would be filled with everyone: gay kids, straight kids, club kids, black people, white people, disco-loving gays from way back, other DJs hoping to pick up a tip or a new track. Thanks to dance music finally coming into its own as a genre (and, of course, the homosexxicans beginning to take over the world) there are a ton of full Frankie Knuckles sets from that time, and you should probably listen to all of them.
Knuckles slowed down in later years, but was still doing live sets. Today, literally everyone on the internet is posting this Boiler Room set he did last year, and who are we to buck that tide?
He also continued to do remixes, like this almost unbearably good remix of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” from last year’s Donna Summer tribute record, Love To Love You Donna.
Knuckles had his own official channel/page/whatever the kids call it these days over at Soundcloud, and it is full of things you should probably go listen to right now. Have yourself a little a dance party in your office or your daycare or your car or anywhere in honor of Frankie.