"I think technology, in the sense of new kinds of rhythm machines, new kinds of sound machines, certainly allows new mutations of music. But what really defines western culture are the specific thresholds that get crossed at any given point. It's the specific new limits of rhythms, the new limits of tones, the new rhythms of melodies that a machine allows. Sound machines allow new kinds of tones that don't belong to the old system of notated music. You get things that are in-between texture and rhythm: texture-rhythms. You get things that are in-between rhythm and melody: rhythm-melodies. You get a whole series of new kinds of musical forms that have nothing to do with that traditional way of making music. In this way, I'd say technology allows a new kind of music that doesn't really have much to do with the West anymore. It's more to do with particular kinds of personal music systems. Almost like machine mythologies."
- Kodwo Eshun, "The Reinvention of House" in "Modulations: A History of Electronic Music," Peter Shapiro editor (Caiprinha Productions, Inc., New York, 2000), pp. 70-71.
"Rule number one: Never let the music stop."
- David Mancuso
XXXV. AFTER THE WAREHOUSE
It's tempting to draw some parallels between the dance music community in the early eighties and EDM culture of the first years of the twenty-first century.
Dancing and disco dance music enjoyed immense popularity and provided attractive economic opportunities for recording companies, artists, DJs and venue owners in the late seventies. A Puritan, anti-pleasure backlash and the DEA focus on dance culture substance enhancements brought an end to the disco dance era at the beginning of the eighties. Major recording companies pulled out of the dance music business; smaller genre-focused houses went under. DJs and dance enthusiasts were left with a dwindling number of dance venues and new dance-oriented recordings. Those who see the cup as half-empty announced the end of dance music and culture. Destructive Reaganomics created a poor economic climate and we were on a war footing.
In the late nineties EDM experienced it's own wild run, moving from subcultural clubs and underground raves into the mainstream and the money-oriented exploited this new market. Another conservative, pleasure-hating reaction set in, again attended by the DEA, and dancing and dance culture was back on the hit list. Yet another experiment in unfettered greed failed, predictably, and the economy of the early 00's was in the shitter. Bushonomics, similar to the Reagan brand, was back along with war and military spending. Doomsayers again proclaimed the end to "raving" and all-night dancing. Like their mothers and fathers in the seventies who were in it for the fashion and filled Goodwills with discarded leisure suits and platform shoes, the trendoid kids of the disco generation dropped the phat pants and tuned in MTV with depleted credit cards in hand waiting for the next big thing.
In both eras, however, neither the dancing or the music stopped. In the early eighties the same people who were dancing before it became fashionable -- gays, Hispanics, African Americans and other subcultural elements for whom music, dance and pleasure were an integral part of life -- continued to dance. The Paradise Garage continued on into the Keith Haring era, as did other venues serving the dedicated dancers. Hard times incentivized innovation and a new and wondrous form of dance music was born in the eighties: EDM. The jury is still out on the 00's, but it is my belief that those who were dancing and raving in the early nineties will continue on; the trend infatuated will drop off; new blood will mix with the old to reinvigorate EDM and give birth to new dance genres and wider dance communities. Raving is still in its infancy.
There are two major differences between then and now. In the eighties recorded dance music began to dry up because the recording companies no longer invested in expensive, heavily produced dance tracks. DJs and producers were forced to innovate, and they turned to the technology available at the time to provide fresh music inexpensively. And in the eighties many of those who danced were living under a viral death sentence. Now any person with a couple grand can sit in the bedroom and make music and, although the horrid drama of AIDS is far from over, denial prevails, the disease has been integrated into our thought control systems, death has been pushed a bit further out, and many of us no longer dance as if our lives depended on it. Illusion, but we live in a culture of illusion.
A. FRANKIE MOVES ON
As we discussed in prior issues, it was the convergence of technology (drum machines, technics turntables, synthesizers and the like) with need (the lack of good prerecorded dance music) that facilitated the birth of house music and ultimately all EDM genres.
Innovators like Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse and Ron Hardy of Music Box fame began augmenting their disco and other tracks with special sound effects and beats from the first inexpensive drum machines. Knuckles' reel-to-reel edits and relatively minimalist, driving Roland 909 drum machine beats are credited with creating the original "Warehouse" or house music sound.
Frankie left the Warehouse in 1983 and started his own club in Chicago called the Power Plant.
Frankie's musical style at the Warehouse had a profound influence on house musical innovators to follow, like Jesse Saunders, Larry Heard, Farley Jackmaster Funk and Steve Hurley. The 4/4 tempo, the rhythm, the feel of house music was in the air and on the floor in Chicago well before the first official house music record was released, and many credit Frankie with the invention of that genre: thus the term "house" derived from music played at the "Warehouse." I personally believe that there were many paradigm busters floating about at the time, most unknown now, who were experimenting with house-like sounds. Certainly Larry Levan was moving in that direction. Many local Chicago musicians began making what were not much more than drum tracks with house-like beats for DJs to mix with their old disco, Italian disco imports, rock, euro-pop and whatever they could get to move asses on the floor and create a constant and danceable groove.
There is little doubt, however, that the first actual house music release was Jesse Saunders' "On and On." Jesse himself has done much to give credibility to the claim that he is the "originator" of house music.
In the next issue we will look at the life and career of Jesse Saunders, the self-styled originator of the house music genre.
NEXT ISSUE: JESSE SAUNDERS