The History Of House Music

Written by on May 26, 2016

House Music Evolution
House Music is a genre of dance music that has spread like a wildfire across the world. It has been keeping people dancing for well over 20 years and has become a lifestyle many have come to love and appreciate. Deriving from Disco, House Music has evolved into many sub-genres that have gained mass appeal and will continue to grow exponentially. Let’s explore how this niche underground sound was born and how it became globally recognized as the soundtrack to the club culture that exists today.

House Music Origins
No other music movements have gained as much critical mass as House Music. House Music was the first direct descendant of Disco. It’s said that “House was born from the ashes of Disco,” covered further down about ‘Disco Demolition Night.’ Disco emerged in the early 70s as an underground movement born out of the urban gay culture in New York City. Predominantly Gay, African American, and Latino communities popularized underground clubs and accelerated dance music culture. These clubs acted as safe havens for homosexual partygoers to dance in peace and enjoy an euphoric experience away from public scrutiny. Legendary clubs such as New York’s ‘The Loft’, ‘Paradise Garage’, and Chicago’s ‘The Warehouse’ set the stage for modern club culture and catapulted the club DJ to rock star status.

Early Mixing Techniques
Early producers and club DJ innovators such as Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, DJ Ron Hardy, and the Hot Mix 5 played a major role in evolving Disco into early House Music, forever shaping the modern dance scene.

Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan

Club DJs began exploring mixing and beatmatching records, applying editing techniques, playing narrative DJ sets, and experimenting with innovative ways to overcome the limitations of the DJ equipment in those times. Many of these DJs helped merge the roles of DJ, composer, producer, and remixer by creating and playing their own edits of their favorite songs on reel-to-reel tape. Some even took the music to the next level by mixing in effects or using drum machines and synthesizers which introduced the consistent 4/4 tempo.

Tony Moran | Reel-to-Reel Remixes

Disco quickly became a global fad, particularly after featuring films such as Saturday Night Fever in 1977. Commercialization lead to an explosion of club culture, and the record companies were looking to cash in on the popularity. Record labels would hire club DJs to bring their expertise to the studio as a helping hand to create music they knew would hype the dancefloor, and because they already had a direct connection to the dancing public. They often supervised studio-recording sessions as well for other artists and bands. In addition, record companies began commissioning remixes in an effort to help break and popularize artists through the underground channels of discotheques.

Larry Levan | Paradise Garage 1978

Death to Disco
In the late 70s, Disco quickly fell out of fashion almost overnight largely due to attacks from anti-disco DJs across the country. In addition, record companies had flooded the market with Disco songs. One of the most memorable and extreme anti-disco rallies was ‘Disco Demolition Night’ at Comiskey Park, July 12, 1979. Anyone who brought a Disco album to the double-header game between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers would be admitted for only 98 cents. During the game, radio personality Steve Dahl detonated a large collection of Disco LPs in an explosion on the field. Soon after, major record companies scaled down or eliminated their dance music production divisions.

Disco Demolition Night | July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park

Music Technology Influences
During these times Chicago still had a strong underground dance scene, and with the halt on dance music production, DJs had a hard time finding new music, which lead them to further explore remixing and re-editing. New approaches towards music creation lead to a sound that was deeper, rawer, and more designed to make people dance. At the same time, synthesizers and drum machines became cheaper and more accessible allowing bedroom producers to emerge. DJs and producers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit delved deeper into dance music production and began embracing these machines. It was around this time when legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles, also known as the ‘Godfather of House,’ moved to Chicago from New York. He soon became a regular at ‘The Warehouse,’ a predominantly Gay and African American nightclub. It was there that the Grammy Award winner played a pivotal role in creating the House Music scene by pioneering a new sound that fused seldom-heard disco cuts with soul music, and then adding four-on-the-floor beat loops with a drum machine. The term ‘House Music’ originated as a reference to the music Frankie Knuckles was playing at ‘The Warehouse.’ It’s been said that record stores began to sell some of these records and labeled them ‘As Played at The Warehouse,’ which became shortened to ‘House Music.’ Some other early pioneer artists that played a major role in the development of House Music in Chicago are Jamie Principle, Jesse Saunders, Chip E, Adonis, Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson, and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley to name a few.

Marshall Jefferson | Last Dance Studio 1988

The increased access to music technology continued to drive the creation of new styles. Around the mid-80s, distinct electronic music styles and subgenres began to emerge. We began hearing defined characteristics such as tempo, type of drum machines and synths used, as well as how vocals were being edited to create the music. We also began to see geographic scenes emerge with the global spread of House Music after Chicago’s record labels quickly made House Music popular.


Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer | Roland TB-303 Bass Line

House Music
Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer | Roland TB-303 Bass Line

House Music is Here to Stay
House Music is here to stay and will continue to evolve and develop new subgenres with the help of globalization, emerging technology, and cross-genre influences. There is much more to the story, so I encourage you all to explore more of the rich and controversial history of House Music.

House Music Documentary
Pump Up The Volume: The History of House Music is recommend documentary to watch that tells the story of the social and cultural rise of House Music.


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