Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014 | New music reviews, news & interviews
Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014
RIP the Godfather of House
It's rare that you can trace a genre to one man. But house music is well documented: “house” originally simply meant the music played at the Warehouse club, by one Frankie Knuckles, who died yesterday in Chicago from diabetes-related complications. Knuckles was a disciple of New York disco, who'd served his DJ apprenticeship in the city's spectacularly decadent gay bathhouses in the mid-Seventies as an understudy of Larry Levan (who would set up the Paradise Garage, which itself gave its name to another genre – garage).
Seeking a club where he could have complete creative freedom, he moved to Chicago in 1977, opened the Warehouse, and almost single-handedly created the scene that would put the city on the dance music map. Reworking the disco tracks of the day with a drum machine – often live, as he DJed – he created a sound that was imitated thousands of times over; and once the sound of house was adopted by European audiences, the fabric of global music was altered spectacularly and inexorably. Since then he has been club royalty, reducing hard men to tears with his voyages through all sides of house music, always shot through with a rich seam of pure soul.
In 2010 I spoke to UK house music kingpin Terry Farley – member of the influential Boys Own organisation, who brought mega-acts like Underworld and The Chemical Brothers to the world. He had nominated Knuckles as the greatest DJ of all time.
"Was Frankie the father of house music? Well, he ticks every box – black, gay, he was in the DJ booth with Larry Levan then he took that New York thing to Chicago... In the early days there was Ron Hardy playing harder, weirder, more European sounds, and Frankie playing records full of soul, and you can tell which of those first Chicago house tunes was influenced by which DJ.
"When we started Junior Boys own, real house DJs in London wouldn't buy our Black Science Orchestra release – 'Oh it's just them Balearic boys!' Then suddenly they started flying out of the shops, and we found it was because Frankie was playing it in the Sound Factory NYC. There's a gravitas in saying 'as played by Frankie Knuckles'!
"To this day he will play anything, not because it's cool but because he likes it; he has his style, he's never changed it, yet somehow his sets still sounds fresh. He's just a really nice, humble guy – he's very assured, he knows where he is in the scheme of things but he's just nice. And Frankie Knuckles is his real name – how cool is that?"
Hear Frankie Knuckles & Satoshi Tomiie's "Tears"
Hear Knuckle's remix of Loose Ends' "Hangin' on a String":
Hear Frankie Knuckles DJing on WBMX Chicago in 1986:
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more New music
Music crosses borders in the shadow of war, with Bassekou Kouyaté and Paul Weller
Peculiarly packaged two-volume collection of essential Seventies Nigerian soul-rock
Scottish and English folk ballads are given the ambient drone treatment by the Earth mainman
British space-funk collective blend local and global while keeping rumps shaking
The producer and record label boss delivers a beautiful blend of influences
Yet another frustrating album from the art-punk outfit
A glimpse of what Europe's cosmopolitanism can really mean in Barcelona
From alt-pop to doom metal to Haitian party tunes, all musical life is here
Expect the unexpected on Canadian songwriter's immersive breakup album
This self-declared official 40th anniversary of punk compilation misses the mark
Game-changing US producer embraces the new with mixed results
The distinctive singer struggles to find a unique voice