Styles & Forms | House | Dance

Disco had successfully been portrayed in the backlash as un-American, of questionable sexuality, lacking the substance and resonance of rock. In underground clubs, however, house music constituted a mutation of the sound, concentrating its energies on the synthetic noises and elements of repetition that were common in many disco cuts.

House music derived its name from the Warehouse gay club in Chicago, where Frankie Knuckles would spin records to an adoring crowd. Taking just the instrumental break of a disco record, Knuckles would splice and loop it onto reel-to-reel tape, or boost the bottom-end rhythm section of dance records with a drum machine. This 4/4 kick-drum house music is still maintained today.

The first house record, however, is widely thought to be ‘On & On’ by Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence, released in 1983 on their own Jes Say label before Larry Sherman’s Trax stamp picked it up. Along with the DJ International imprint, Jes Say helped to spread these new ‘tracks’ (rather than songs) to other US cities and beyond. Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk and Jesse Saunders’ ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ (a cover of the Isaac Hayes song) is credited as being the first worldwide house hit.

At any rate, house was a new approach, which made old music relevant again with cut-and-paste montages and the judicious use of sampling techniques, borrowed from early hip hop. It was, like disco before it, a DJ-led form, but in a creative explosion facilitated by new technology in the mid-1980s, with tracks by US producers such as Marshall Jefferson and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley spreading out of the house clubs and into the pop charts.

Divisions In The House Sound

While disco popularized remixes of bands, house dispensed with the band altogether, leaving just a producer and his machines. Studio producers recruited gospel-trained vocalists, such as Robert Owens and Daryl Pandy and disco divas such as Jocelyn Brown and Loleatta Holloway. House split into two camps. The soulful side – featuring humanist sentiments and skilled musicianship – with direct linkage to disco, emphasized elements of R&B. A deep-house track such as Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ evoked the civil rights movement by echoing Martin Luther King’s equality speeches.

Meanwhile, on tracks such as Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’, the freaky sounds of impersonal machine music were emphasized, their repetition attempting to offer a kind of spiritual enlightenment by encouraging trance dancing. Jacking in clubs – a kind of object-humping, jerky dance, performed as if you were plugged into the national grid – developed to these stripped-down acid tracks. The acid house sound would soon provide the impetus for the revolutionary new dance scene in the UK.

As it matured, house music dominated dance floors. As the 1990s progressed, house consolidated its position as the dominant worldwide dance-floor sound, increasingly being produced at faster than the 120bpm heartbeat speed – such as in the ‘handbag’ offshoot of the mid-1990s. In addition, the late-1990s saw Subliminal introducing filtered disco sounds and...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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