I:Mopinion

Frankie Knuckles: The Godfather of House

I:Mopinion
Frankie Knuckles: The Godfather of House

"Disco's revenge," was the way Frankie Knuckles, who died two years ago aged 59 after a long period of ill health, mischievously described house, the style of music that was born in his club, the Warehouse, Chicago.

Growing up in New York, just down the street from R&B/Soul legend Luther Vandross, his entry into the music industry began when he and Larry Levan, his childhood friend and fellow DJ, worked for Nicky Siano at the Gallery in Manhatten. Before his stint at the Warehouse he came to prominence in the mid-70s, playing alongside Larry Levan at New York's infamous Continental Baths, a club with steam rooms, pool and private apartments that has been described as most closely resembling "an orgy" with added music.

He transformed the global success of the music he had helped invent into a high-profile remixing career where the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson were clients. His incredible remix of Sound of Blackness-The Pressure is the perfect example of what he could do.

Sadly he stopped making records altogether in the late 90s, fearing his style of music had become outmoded in an era of hard house and trance, and had to have his foot amputated in 2008 following a snowboarding accident. But around the same time, he was lured back into producing. Hercules & Love Affair-Blind shows a man with his powers utterly undiminished by the passage of time.

Perversely, FK would doubtless have told you that what his music so artfully captured was spirituality. Looking back over past interviews you can't help but notice a marked tendency to talk about music in religious terms. Packed solid with sweating dancers, The Warehouse may have looked like "a pit of hell" but in fact the club was "a church" with a "soulful" atmosphere. He wasn't the inventor of house music, he was its "godfather". Indeed, there was a faint hint of the clergyman about Knuckles himself. For a DJ who presided over some notorious acts of hedonism and who began his nightclub career as a runner employed to hand out LSD to dancers at a disco called The Gallery, he seemed curiously puritanical. 

Funnily enough, Knuckles claimed that he had never heard of house music until he passed a Chicago bar with a poster in the window claiming they played it: on inquiring what it meant, he was told: "It's the stuff you play."

As a testament to his impact on Chicago and the dance community, back in 2004, thanks to a campaign backed by Barack Obama, who was then a Senator of Illinois, South Jefferson Street in Chicago, the original site of the Warehouse, was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way.

The euphoria you can feel on a dance-floor is a notoriously tough thing to capture or even describe: that's why most nightclub scenes in films or in TV drama are so awful and why most accounts of a legendary club or rave fall so short. I won't attempt to do this, as it could never do justice to a man who has changed the way I listen to music forever.

 

Daniel Sharp, President