Culture House Daily

House music is great music – or can be

8 April 2014

12:14 PM

8 April 2014

12:14 PM

When Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles died last week, a novelty number by a Brylcreemed Aussie pop punk group had just reached number one. It displaced Duke Dumont & Jax Jones’s I Got U and ended a three week-run of house singles at the top of the charts. I suspect the following statement may piss off dance nerds, but it’s fair to say that Knuckles had as much claim as anyone to having ‘invented’ house music thirty odd years ago. Essentially, he took the kitsch out of disco and turned it into a synthesiser-heavy global brand. Was it worth the effort, though?

Frankie Knuckles and the other Chicago house pioneers made some genuinely great music. For one thing, they understood that the point of a remix was to turn a song into something you might want to dance to (the threat of the photos cropping up on Instagram was just a sci-fi dream). His early records were stripped back, imaginative and exciting. And although tracks like Baby Wants to Ride sound dated now, the sheen of naffness that comes with age is actually quite charming. In any case, he was producing stuff that avoided the usual clichés of the ageing DJ well into his fifties.

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House has never actually been this popular, which is impressive given that I grew up associating it with FCUK adverts – its euphoric piano riffs and insistent beats made it instantly popular with yoof TV producers. But the term itself – which apparently comes from the Warehouse, a club Knuckles ran in the mid-80s – means a lot of things to a lot of people. Think of an adjective and the chances are it will work as a sub-generic prefix (though to my knowledge, no wag has yet thrown a lute into the mix for an instant ‘mock Tudor’ punchline.)

But (if you’ll excuse the pseudo pun) I’d say that most of the house producers he inspired come out with Barrett homes like Tears or Your Love. Investigate those three recent number ones (the other two being Route 94’s My Love and DVBBS & Borgeous’s Tsunami): none of them have much in common, but all fit comfortably under a dictionary definition of ‘mediocre’.

The biggest hits at the minute are coming from acts like Deadmau5, Avicii and Swedish House Mafia. If you’ve never had the pleasure, this stuff – which the Americans call ‘EDM’ – is witless eurocrap that has an odd ability to make any room it’s played in smell like Lynx Africa. It’s a return to the ultra-cheesy stadium dance of the late 1990s. To invert the Modernist mantra, it makes the absolute worst of contemporary possibilities.

On the other hand, the massive success of British duo Disclosure, whose music shares at least some of the adventurousness and odd fragility of what Frankie Knuckles, Mr Fingers and Jamie Principle were doing in the late 1980s, is genuinely encouraging. Sure, it’ll be ruined by the time it soundtracks the credits to a Gok Wan vehicle in six months, but as mainstream dance music goes, it’s about as un-embarrassing as it gets.

Forget the dross, the anal categorisations, the truly horrendous clothes. Forget, if you can (it’s a stretch), the berks who stand around in clubs shouting ‘tuuuuuune!’ Condemning Frankie Knuckles for all this would be like blaming Socrates for The Jeremy Kyle Show.


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Show comments
  • dado_trunking

    Chicago house is not an art form, it’s a lifestyle.
    In Britain, Mancunians could tell you all about it.

    • Joseph Darling

      couldn’t it be all three?

  • Hilton Holloway

    This kind of music (and much harder stuff) is huge with the toff brigade, old-house raves and all that. Indeed, a very bright Northern Irish friend brackets all electronica under the heading ‘Tory trance’.

    And I think Guido’s days a rave organiser is a large part of his libertarian roots.

  • Chomondley Warner-Winterbottom

    Digby you invidious mooncalf! Your ill-informed claptrap is the work of a veritable greenhorn, underexposed to the true glory of this supposed house music. I can personally recommend the illicit thrills experienced on a dancefloor listening to the incessant boom-boom of this delightful confection. I can remember fondly times spent with Tennyson-Smythe and my other Eton chums whiling away hours zonked off our little minds in the capital’s sadly prole infested dens of iniquity.

    • dado_trunking

      got mugged often did you?

    • laurence

      Superb.

  • timinsingapore

    For heaven’s sake, Digby, the white, glutinous substance that people in the past put on their hair was Brylcreem, not brill cream. I am shocked and stunned that someone so achingly in touch with popular culture should not know that.

  • anncalba

    Is this for real?

    • laurence

      Though it was just me.

    • timinsingapore

      Probably. Speccie trying a bit too hard. House music is vacuous and repetitive tosh that does yer ‘ead in, as well as destroying your hearing. It really only makes sense to those whose faculties have already been dulled by certain – er – substances.

  • Jez

    I for one fondly reminisce of the club scene 1990 to er, later, as i gladly sacked off my apprenticeship to instead sit in the corner of some banging club filled with a thousand like minded self perceived trendies, gibbering to whatever monged out fool i found myself next to about how much i loved them.

    As a point of interest, one of the most successful Dance acts of today is Chase and Status. They have very cleverly combined several proven styles of Old Skool Rap / House / Hip Hop to smash it up.

    You will never beat Creamfields in 2000.Fat Boy Slim (A bit BBC old Boy network i know) but then Orbital (started with Dr Who- which was beauty) and then Chemical Brothers (started with Super Star DJ’s)….. then i seemed to wake up of the Coach back to Yorkshire. :)

    The there was the Northern race riots- which changed loads. Boo! Nice to reminisce though. Cheers!

    • La Fold

      Can remember sitting on the S 17 s bahn back to Ostkruez after an allnighter in Berlin and some fella with an old school ghetto blaster was playing Little fluffy clouds by the orb at half 6 on a glorious july morning. Good times.

      • Jez

        Ha Ha Ha Ha! Spot on!

        I was trying to come to terms with my existence sat staring at the dawn horizon at a banging Sun Rise party mid Nineties…. suddenly this hippy type sprinted past me- totally stark naked and starts thrashing about about in the sea approximately three foot away.

        Lol! New part of beach was required for contemplation at that point! :-))))

        • La Fold

          ARF!
          I can remember being at some party once( in maidstone i think) and there was a squad of your designer dreadlock spiral tribal sorts there and i can remember thinking to myself…”they’d be quite attractive if they had a bleeding shower.” Turned out one of them was the heiress to the andrex fortune or something.
          I always tried not to go down the contemplative avenue because my small brain couldnt handle it!

          • Jez

            It’s not underground if there’s no soap dodgers…… who eventually use their family contacts and wealth to totally leave behind a scene they’ve acted the most ‘street ‘ out of everyone. Lol!

            :-))

      • Jez

        I used to take my double cassette ghetto blaster everywhere i worked around the age of 18- and the site-work was all over the UK. I cannot hear Orbital’s Belfast without flashing back to some grim B&B with whichever meatball contractor i was paired with, telling me to turn ‘that c**p down!’

        Philistines! ;-))

        • La Fold

          Older lads than myself were in the same boat as you and you’d hear tales of adventures in places as exotic as Tiffaneez in Doncaster or The Palace in Peterborough. Or like my brother and his mates who would finish work early doors on friday, pile into a clapped out ford orion and drive for hours to go and try and find an Orbital party. His claim to fame is to have spewed in the toilet as Danny Rampling at the same time.
          I thought about having a reneactment society based on those times and call it the Armani jeans sealed knot society!

          • Jez

            I went to Doncaster Warehouse with the London bus in the yard outside. Bit of a dodgy venue that one! :-)

            I’ve done the magical mystery tours trying to find a party somewhere at draft o’clock In the morning- shocking now when you think about it …… I think you’ll find members of the Armani jeans sealed knot society suddenly appear at Christmas do’s or other associated rare get togethers after a shandy or two when a classic gets played!

            A wedding disco a couple of years back- one tuuuuuune was blasted out and then it all went bonkers.

            We are the new army of embarrassing parents taking over from our Mums and Dads bopping away to Elvis & the Beetles.

            :-))

            • La Fold

              Haha, its like when you use tosee folk doing the two step sahuffle to a bit of northern soul that’ll be us soon enough.
              Can remember an interesting night outside Back to Basics in Leeds which was a bit dodgy and an interesting walk back from a junior boys own night in Islington which ended up walking along the Caledonian road before it was full of dobbers in raincoats and drainpipe jeans

              • Jez

                Many a high class dance venue I’ve tactically used my sock as a wallet- with a diversery couple of quid in my pockets to hand over if the resident clientele get a bit fresh.

                Happy days. A long time ago but they don’t make them like that anymore.

                Frankie Knuckles. RIP x

  • laurence

    Why is this adolescent piffle published in The Speccie? Can’t Digby get a column in The Funday Times?

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      How dare the magazine publish an article about something outside my cultural hinterland!

      • laurence

        There are many places where, I presume, your ‘hinterland’ is catered for: Moran-lite, metropolitan, word-dreck (doubtless typed up on a MacBook air) is hardly in limited supply. I have no doubt that many a pop up mag-blog insta-tweet exists to cater for those with an interest in ‘house’ ‘music’. I prefer the stuff written by big boys and girls for other big boys and girls. That is, alas, increasingly rare.

        • Jez

          Lol.

          I wish I was you lawrence.

          😉 x

        • La Fold

          I feel exactly the same whenever I see a theatre reviews or a piece on post modern dance. Pretentious w@nk for pretentious w@nkers but hey lawrence, all shapes and sizes fella.

          • laurence

            No argument from me there. Modern dance is, at least, hilarious. My point is that, say, House Beats Monthly or whatever, doesn’t publish anything on Modern Dance, or ideas, or wine, or food, or political gossip. It presumably doesn’t employ sozzled, fusty old donnish types to review the third volume of the collected letters of Samuel Beckett over lunch at Simpsons. The Spectator does: that’s why I like it. If I wanted to read about adolescent pursuits, I’d purchase an adolescent publication. Encountering Digby here is like picking up some serious novel to find that someone has inserted a chapter written in crayon about why they like ice-cream and cartoons and fizzy drinks and spinning around and around and around until they get dizzy.

            • Joseph Darling

              why are you commenting on an article that you have no interest or appreciation for? some of us have taken a subject like electronic music and discovered a great deal of intellectual capital and artistic acumen where others may’ve made dismissal as adolescent dross. House Beats Monthly?! have a little respect or just don’t bother engaging, man.

        • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

          I don’t actually like house music, I don’t live in the Metropole, and I don’t own anything made by Apple.

          Nevertheless, this was a fun article about a subject I was otherwise unaware of, and certainly preferable to another interminable screed about how the country is going to the dogs.

  • Perpetually Astonished

    You can scoff at blaming Socrates for the Jeremy Kyle show, but the evidence is what it is. Jeremy was a reasonably renowned Platonist scholar before deciding to be ‘relevant’ by following his hero and engaging the public in rational exploration of the most profound questions relating to the nature of the world and how best to live one’s life. Some of the resulting dialogues have been transcribed and are now studied by philosophy and classics students around the world. If some of the words were ‘rapped’ to the charming house music you celebrate I suspect you would change your tune. As is well known however Knuckles was an aristotelian, and rejected the most important features of Kyle’s metaphysics and ethics.

  • La Fold

    Admittedly some of the old Chicago house tunes have defintely aged badly with a certain Kitschness or campness however even stuff like Jackmaster Funks Love Cant turn around featuring the, ahem, slightly flamboyant Daryll Pandy still sounds good today and is far better and fun than any of that chin stroking minimal nonsense.
    Also I take issue with the Lynx Africa jibe, you mean Joop aftershave and its the smell of a clown.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Lynx is a quantum leap ahead of Blue Stratos.

      • La Fold

        I am quite glad that i have never heard of this Blue Stratos. Its sounds like an abomination though.

        • Hexhamgeezer

          D’un autre generation as the French doubtless don’t say :-)

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      I quite liked Joop back in the day, though it was reminiscent of candy floss.

      • La Fold

        Just always reminded me of fellas with bum fluff moustaches and vauxhall novas.

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